A new public space planned in the former Mar Mikhaël station

Beirut may soon have a new park. Provided, of course, that the plans presented become a reality. At a press conference on Monday, the outgoing Minister of Culture Wissam Mortada, the outgoing Minister of Public Works and Transport Ali Hamieh and Chairman of the Board of the Lebanese Railway Office and Public Transport (OCFTC), Ziad Nasr, unveiled a new project to transform 10,000 square meters of the former Mar Mikhaël station to a park with a museum, an artist’s studio and an exhibition space. The museum should house archeological artefacts as well as artefacts related to Lebanon’s industrial heritage.

The park will occupy part of the impressive 62,000-square-foot plot, which also houses a depot for state buses – including French buses recently donated to Lebanon – and the offices of the OCFTC. The original plans suggest that it will not include the historic main station building itself, but will include other historic buildings that will be preserved.

An abandoned and rusty train at Mar Mikhaël station. Photo by Richard Salame

Lebanon has 402 kilometers of railway tracks and 40 abandoned stations, including the sprawling 19th-century complex at Mar Mikhaël, marshalling yards and repair shops. No railway connection has been established in the country since 1994, and these places have mostly remained in an abandoned state. Part of the Mar Mikhaël complex is rented out occasionally for festive events. It has already been transformed into a volatile nightclub.

According to a study by Joanna Malkoun, city planner and member of the board of Train / Train, the OCFTC owns approximately 80 million square meters of real estate in Lebanon. a representative of the Ministry of Culture. With secured funding, the government is “preparing” to begin work, the representative added. The outgoing Minister of Culture, Mr Mortada, said on Monday that it “seems” that all the funding will come from Italy, but that he was not able to confirm the exact amount at the moment. He added that a meeting would soon be held to put “the finishing touches” on the project, including the legal formalities needed to turn part of the property into a park, create a museum on the site, and so on.

Buses recently donated by France, as well as other public transport buses, are stored at Mar Mikhaël station. Photo by Richard Salame

The outgoing transport minister, Mr Hamieh, for his part, said that after the explosion in the port of Beirut on August 4, 2020, his administration organized meetings with the Ministry of Culture because the damaged neighborhoods included areas of “excellent cultural heritage value”. “In a speech to journalists, he reaffirmed the government’s interest in restarting rail transport in Lebanon, but clarified that the current project will not include a review of transport capacity in other parts of the site.” We will start by laying the foundation stone for the building ” “, and subsequent governments will continue the journey,” he said.

Mortada says the project will take about a year to complete. The new public space will be a place where “the inhabitants of Gemmayzé and Beirut will meet”, he declared before adding: “We want the station to play its functional role in the long term to receive all arrivals.”

(This article was originally published in English on the L’Orient Today website, June 13, 2022)

Beirut may soon have a new park. Provided, of course, that the plans presented become a reality. At a press conference on Monday, outgoing Minister of Culture Wissam Mortada, outgoing Minister of Public Works and Transport Ali Hamieh and Chairman of the Board of the Lebanese Railway Office and Transport …

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