By Gary Phillips
A few months ago, I was searching for a large area of land for an ambitions client. I uncovered several haciendas in the Urcuqui area of Ecuador– Hacienda San Jose with 950 hectares, Hacienda San Vincente de Las Flores, 550 ha., along with several surrounding haciendas of 50 to 100 hectares each.
My comment at the time was that this area was one of the most beautiful and productive areas in all of Ecuador, and incredible place to do some kind of project.
Now, the entire country is abuzz with the word from the government that a deal has been signed with the Korean IFEZ (Incheon Free Economic Zone) to take charge of a new Ecuador knowledge-based city development to be constructed in this very area.
The total project is valued at nearly $5 billion U.S. dollars and will be built in the area of these Urcuqui haciendas. The site is now about 3 hours north of Quito, Ecuador’s capitol. However, with the proposed new super highway construction, this distance will be cut to less than two hours.
Land acquisition is underway and planning and construction will take place beginning in 2012 and proceeding for 16 years. The project will focus on knowledge-based industries and education centers, a university, and a bio-industry based free economic zone. A memorandum of understanding was signed between IFEZ and Ecuador on Oct. 7, 2011.
The city, to be called Yachay, City of Knowledge, will cover nearly 2,100 ha (5,200 acres) in the first phase, and ultimately 4,200 ha (10,374 acres) in the second phase. The city will consist of 19 research centers including, educational institutes, technology transfer centers, world-class companies and organizations linked to the educational, developmental and productivity initiatives of the country. It is estimated that more than 40,000 people will ultimately live in the city.
The City of Knowledge research centers include: life sciences, renewable energy, petrochemical and information and communication technologies. It’s an ambitious plan to explore and develop new technologies and to export knowledge.
René Ramírez, National Secretary of Planning, said there is interest from the university of Cambridge, University of Illinois, and University of Sao Paulo to participate in the program.
The area around Urcuqui is known for its temperate climate, good water resources and rich farm land which is now mostly in the production of sugar cane. A new road plan connecting the Panamerican high way from Cayambe through Zuleta and Olmeda will provide excellent access to the new airport in Quito.
Initially, thirty-two property owners have been notified of the possibility of the government appropriating their land. The goal is not to affect land owners less than six hectares (15 acres). Payment amounts have not been disclosed. Ultimately 89 property owners will be affected.
No matter how you cut it, this planned city of the future is a game-changer for Imbabura province, of which Cotacachi is a part, not to mention Ecuador itself. Ibarra, a city of 150,000, will have much more rapid access to the new Quito airport. An influx of high technology professionals, business people, and educators will help Ibarra and Imbabura province become a major player in the future development of Ecuador and South America.
The new four- and six-lane highway system between Quito and the northern environs will allow for greatly expand trade between Colombia and Ecuador. As a resident of Ecuador, it is exciting to see a country and a leadership with a strong vision for the future, and the fortitude to implement it.
(This report was gleaned from a variety of internet postings, news paper articles, and conversations with residents of the area. A good friend of ours has a 30-ha dairy farm that will be incorporated into the new village. Another friend has a property that will be dissected by the new highway bypass to be constructed around Ibarra.)