BEIRUT — Beirut could soon feature a new park, if plans presented today are carried out. In a press conference on Monday, caretaker Culture Minister Mohamad Mortada, caretaker Public Works and Transport Minister Ali Hamieh, and the chair of the board of the Railway and Public Transportation Authority (OCFTC) Ziad Nasr unveiled a new project to turn 10,000 square meters of the old Mar Mikhael train station site into a park complete with a museum and an artist workshop and exhibition space. The museum will present archeological materials alongside Lebanon’s industrial heritage.
The 10,000 square-meter park would occupy a portion of the massive 62,000 square meter site, which also houses depots for state-owned buses, including the recently donated French buses, and the offices of the OCFTC. Initial drawings suggested it would not include the historic main train station building itself but will include other historic buildings, which will be preserved.
There are 40 abandoned train stations in Lebanon, and 402 kilometers of track, including the sprawling 19th century complex in Mar Mikhael complete with rail yards and repair workshops. Rail service of any kind has not operated in the country since 1994 and these sites have mostly laid in various states of abandonment. Part of the Mar Mikhael complex was occasionally rented out as an event venue or seasonal nightclub. According to a study by urban planner and Train/Train board member Joanna Malkoun, OCFTC owns roughly 80 million square meters of property in Lebanon.
The project is funded by the Italian Embassy via UN Habitat, according to a representative for the Culture Ministry. With funding secured, the government is “getting ready” to begin work, the representative added.
Caretaker Culture Minister Mortada told reporters “it appears” that 100 percent of the funding comes from Italy but he was unable to confirm the precise amount at this time, saying there would soon be a meeting to put “final touches” on the project, including the necessary legalities to convert part of the property into a park, establish a museum on the site, and so on.
Speaking at the site today caretaker transportation minister Hamieh said that following the August 4 Beirut port explosion they began holding calls and meetings with the culture ministry because the damaged neighborhoods included areas of “excellent heritage value.”
Speaking to reporters, he affirmed the government’s interest in restarting rail transportation in Lebanon but said that the current project would not include a revamping of the transportation capacities in other parts of the site.
“We will start with the first building block for [rail transportation] and the following governments will complete the journey,” he said.
Mortada said the project will take about a year to complete. The new public space will be a place where “the people of Gemmayzeh and Beirut meet,” he said. “And we want the station to play its functional role later to receive all arrivals.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly named the Culture Minister as Wissam Mortada. His name is Mohamad Mortada.