Estepona Projects are Cherry on Cake of Incredible Transformation

I have written more than once in the past about the decade plus transformation of Estepona into a world class city. In the process, the remarkable developments have made Estepona one of Spain’s most liveable, as well as tourist friendly, cities.

Aerial View of Estepona

This year, we have already seen the tendering of two new projects, which are the cherry on the cake of this transformation. We have also seen the official opening of the Avenida de España pedestrian boulevard and the Junta declaring the mega project by Starlite a project of strategic interest.

And it’s only May.

Let’s begin with the official opening of the new Avenida de España, which took place in April. This was once a busy highway, a slightly scary thoroughfare that had to be crossed to reach the sea. As part of the transformation of Estepona’s old town, known as the Garden of the Costa del Sol, this was converted into residents-only access for traffic purposes and widened to accommodate the increasing number of pedestrians visiting Estepona. It is now officially open and is spectacular. This new boulevard extends over a kilometre along the coast, connecting the city with the sea. It includes renovated infrastructure and a bike lane and prioritises pedestrian access with an open, barrier-free design.

The opening of the Avenida de España joins last year’s opening of the ‘Balcony of the Mediterranean’, which saw the addition of the Mirador del Carmen Arts and Cultural Centre. This stunning 15-storey building contains a library, music conservatory, auditorium, and an exhibition hall with works from the Carmen Thyssen collection. There is also a planned restaurant with incredible sea views.

The Mirador del Carmen puts the “finishing touch” on Estepona’s urban remodelling process, according to Andalusian President Juan Manuel Moreno. At the opening, he emphasized that the cultural centre will demonstrate how culture can be an economic engine generating employment and wealth. With the Mirador, Estepona has positioned itself as one of Andalusia and Spain’s most attractive destinations, Moreno stated. The centre fuses music, art and books in a space for reflection, thought and coexistence.

Two New Projects Make Their Debut

What’s amazing about Estepona is how forward-thinking its local leadership is. They aren’t just sitting on their past developments and letting the city stagnate in past glories. They continue to find ways to make the city more beautiful, accessible, and liveable.

Just this year, it was announced that two new important projects for the city would be underway: the revitalization of Calle Terraza as a pedestrian and commercial street and a major project to create a promenade on San Lorenzo, described as the ‘finishing touch’ to Estepona’s transformation (with apologies to Moreno for his premature pronouncement—it isn’t over yet).

The Calle Terraza remodelling project aims to completely transform this key commercial artery to make it more accessible, safer and sustainable. With a €2.4 million budget from EU Next Generation funds, the project will prioritise pedestrians, unify road levels, renew paving with safer materials, and integrate the street into the old town’s pedestrian axis.

The intervention will cover 8,668 m2 over 3 phases, with approximate dimensions of 600m length and 10-20m width. Plaza Virgen del Rocío will be made more open and accessible. In addition, there will be an increase in rest areas, new public lighting and shade awnings. Street-level planters will also be added for greater visual permeability.

On a bigger scale, the San Lorenzo boulevard project was presented by the mayor at FITUR – an international tourism trade fair. This initiative will create a major new 22,000 m2 pedestrian space in the heart of the city. It will fuse the Avenida de España coastal boulevard with the renovated historic centre. The San Lorenzo project includes re-urbanising the area to generate another grand pedestrian boulevard with leisure and commercial spaces. As well, there will be an underground car park with over 300 spaces at the city’s standard €1/day rate. Works are expected to begin after Easter and will last for 20 months.

At the FITUR announcement, Mayor José María García Urbano explained that the San Lorenzo initiative advances the sustainable, quality-of-life-focused urban model Estepona has developed over the past 12 years.

It is notable that both of these projects are designed to make Estepona an accessible city that emphasizes quality of life and mobility. People love safe pedestrianized streets that generate more intimacy, more exercise – and the opportunity to get out of the car and enjoy the great weather on the Costa del Sol.

Starlite Music World

I wrote about Starlite’s expansion last year but it’s worth revisiting this project. Being much larger in scope and earlier in the development process, Starlite Music Festival’s expansion to Estepona is a little farther out, but still exciting.

Just recently, the Junta de Andalucia declared Starlite a project of strategic interest. It will bring a major new “adult attraction complex” to Estepona, just north of the city, near Selwo Adventure Park. Starlite Music World aims to be the world’s first major music-themed amusement park, aspiring to do for music what Disney has done for cartoons and children’s characters. The €286 million project will span 170,000 m2 and include attractions, audiovisual spaces, a 200-room hotel and more.

“Just as Disney has focused on Mickey Mouse and all those cartoons for children, our focus is on music, which in the end is a universal language that is understood in all countries, all languages, all social classes,” Sandra García-SanJuán told El Español in February 2024. She is the creator and executive president of Starlite Group.

Full details are still being defined, but the complex is envisioned as a natural extension of Starlite’s highly successful Marbella concert venue. Starlite Marbella’s impact over 12 years is estimated at €1.8 billion, with 350 million generated in the 2023 edition. By expanding to a year-round permanent site in Estepona with a much larger capacity – from 3,500 to 15,000 capacity – Starlite Music World is expected to have an even greater economic impact. The current estimate is that the construction alone will be close to 300 million euros and will provide 450 jobs.

Still A Hidden Gem

There’s no doubt that Estepona is a city with a great future ahead of it. It is just now really beginning to appear on the radar of large numbers of people. While property prices remain affordable – cheaper than Marbella, for instance – its hotels are performing better than almost anywhere else in Spain. Estepona hotel revenue per room hit €152 in 2023, the third highest in Spain and ahead of Marbella’s €140, despite lower awareness. The city is also growing rapidly, with 56% population growth since 2003 compared to Marbella’s 29%.

Estepona is also going gangbusters in home sales. While Marbella’s population is double Estepona’s, its property sales are only 47% higher. Yet, as noted above, Estepona remains a relative bargain. Average prices in the city in 2022 hovered around €3,000/m2 compared to Marbella’s €4,300/m2.

As these new projects come online in the coming months and years, they will merge with the excellent developments of the past decade. It will create a thematically and culturally unified core with excellent services and infrastructure. Estepona’s development is truly a model for the rest of the coast.

By Adam Neale | Opinion | April 30th, 2024

Estepona Projects are Cherry on Cake of Incredible Transformation

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