Marbella's central marina is embarking on a period of much-needed change. The contract for the works to extend the quay to allow cruise ship shuttle boats and vessels of more than 30 metres in length to dock in the port has gone out to tender. And more improvements are to come wth the project for the new "boulevard" link between the marina and the seafront promenade.
While these new projects are still taking shape though, the recent remodelling work carried out over the last 18 months is already paying off. The port area has had more than just a facelift. The nautical and commercial activity has recovered, turning the Puerto Deportivo Virgen del Carmen, to give its full name, into a must-see attraction for tourists.
"This isn't Puerto Banús, and it doesn't want to be. Marbella's marina has a different feel, it has its own ambience and an excellent location, which sets it aside from the rest," explains the manager of one of the nautical attractions based in the marina as he helps a group of tourists climb onto his fast boat.
It's a hot August afternoon but the scorching sun has not put off a group of friends from Madrid from seeking an "adventure" on the star attraction of the summer: the Fly Boat.
While the business owners working in the marina agree that the summer season "has been slow to arrive this year", the numbers show that the Puerto Deportivo is doing well. The water activities' turnover this year is up 30 per cent, according to figures offered by the port's director, Javier Mejías, who puts another relevant number on the table: the occupation of the berths.
"Not only are we a hundred per cent full, but there is also a reservation list. This year there has also been a noticeable increase in boats changing hands," he explains.
The users of the Puerto Deportivo have traditionally been Spanish, although now owners of other nationalities who are already familiar with the area are starting to moor their boats there, according to Mejías, who speaks highly of the work carried out by the local council, through the municipal ports company, to "breathe life back into the area".
The list of the improvements carried out over the last few months is long. While none of the projects have been major, they have all helped boost the marina "which was primitive" as Pilar Rosas, spokesperson for the Association of Port Business Owners, points out.
"We need significant remodelling work and for the planned improvements to be carried out as soon as possible. The port can't go on with its back to the sea."
The opening up of the marina to the town will come with the construction of the new boulevard linking with the Paseo Marítimo promenade.
This is expected to cost around 600,000 euros, the plans have already been drawn up and the administrative process to obtain the relevant permits from the APPA (the Andalusian Public Ports Agency), which is part of the regional authority, has been initiated.
It was at the end of last year, though, that the first major project aimed at joining the marina with the town centre took place. The creation of a large, pedestrianised square to improve movement between port and town. Some 144,000 euros were spent on this project which gave the area north-east of the port, opposite the lighthouse, a complete facelift. Now the bars and terraces that populate the square are an attraction for tourists.
The pedestrianisation of the area included laying new paving slabs, adding urban furniture and lighting and renewing water and sewage pipes, among other work.
"This has seen the rebirth of the port. Where before only two business premises were occupied, now they are all full. Business owners have seen that the area has a future and have invested," adds Rosas, who called for a fast solution to the location of the car parks as well as the connection with the town.
"There are a lot of tourists who don't know that there's a port here. They look over from the Paseo Marítimo and all they see is a car park," she says.
In January the improvements were centred around the conservation and maintenance of the pilings and beams that support the Levante quay. The work cost 50,000 euros and was the first phase of a project that continued with numerous embellishment tasks such as repairs to roads, planters and bollards as well as painting and maintenance, all of which has changed the port's image.
Within the next few months work will start on expanding the "waiting" quay with a platform with two eight-metre-long lay-by berths. A new footpath will lead as far as the terraces. This extension will allow boats of more than 30 metres in length to moor there, as well as the shuttle boats from cruise ships.
"The objective set by the mayor is to turn the town's marina around so that it becomes a meeting point for locals and visitors, encouraging nautical attractions and activities in the bar area," said the councillor responsible for beaches and the port, Manuel Cardeña, adding that the aim was to make the marina a lively place during the day and at night.