Okay, it's not exactly hot news, but it is news from Monaco and anything involving Monaco usually has at least a little something to do with the Royal Family and of course, our beloved Prince Al.
Monaco: If you build it, they will come
Thursday, November 21, 2002 Posted: 1:42 PM EST (1842 GMT)
*Tugboats pushed a 160,000-ton floating dock, the biggest of its kind in the world, from southern Spain to Monaco in August. The complex was put in place mostly in September.
MONACO (AP) -- Monaco had a headache only a princedom could gripe about: its postcard-perfect harbor was too small to host huge yachts and cruise liners.
So the wealthy Riviera enclave came up with a princely solution -- a $328 million floating breakwater longer than a football field.
The project may seem grandiose for a country smaller than New York's Central Park. But this enclave of wealth, wedged between the mountains and the Mediterranean, has been on a building craze for a half century.
Since Prince Rainier III assumed the throne in 1949, Monaco has expanded its territory by 20 percent with land reclamation. It has built a whole new port, an artificial beach, a sparkling culture center and an underground railway station.
The new breakwater is on a par with its predecessors.
Luring leisure boats
Built by a consortium that includes Spain's Grupo Dragados of Madrid, the dike complex -- put in place mostly in September -- will do more than still the waters for the wealthy. It also will include parking for 350 cars, rows of shops, ventilation and elevators.
"We can be proud of the work being accomplished here," Rainier enthused during a recent tour. "The new configuration of the port will open up new paths to economic development for our country."
The complex includes a 21/2-acre platform, a 145-yard jetty and a new quay. The centerpiece is a 352-yard-long floating breakwater constructed at a dry dock in Algeciras, Spain, and towed through the Mediterranean in August.
Dragados says the breakwater is the largest in the world not grounded into the seabed. With water in the port more than 165 feet deep, the floating dike will be anchored to the seafloor with cables.
The project adds 15 acres of harbor to Monaco's pristine 40-acre port, an addition of nearly 40 percent, and is designed to last 100 years, Grupo Dragados says. Monaco officials say the project is both economical and environmentally sound.
The princedom has little choice but to reach to the sea. Nestled on a steep, stony hillside in southeastern France not far from Italy, the tiny country is blanketed by high rises, elegant mansions, hotels and restaurants.
"The aim is to make Monaco one of the largest harbors for leisure boats," said Rene Bouchet, an engineer with the Department of Public Works.
Lifestyles of the rich and famous
If there's anywhere yachts and cruise liners should park, it's Monaco.
The tiny territory doesn't publish much economic information, but its gross domestic product is estimated by the U.S. government and others at $870 million -- about $27,000 for each of its 32,000 residents. That's among the highest per capita figures in the world.
Monaco has always been a magnet for wealth. The almost nonexistent income taxes and secretive banking system create a haven for people with money, while the luxurious Monte Carlo casino and clubs give them plenty to spend it on.
The territory has seen its fair share of celebrity. The late American actress Grace Kelly made history when she gave up a Hollywood career to marry Rainier in 1956.
Today, stars like former Swedish tennis great Bjorn Borg reap the benefits of the princedom's tax policies. And every spring, the streets of the principality are turned into a raceway for the Monte Carlo Grand Prix.
Rainier has overseen a diversification into finance, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and high-tech industries. But tourists are still a major moneymaker, and the government is always looking for ways to attract more.
Next stop: Venice
The harbor project has overcome several obstacles.
Foremost was an engineering problem: how to build a dike in water so deep. Monaco is so proud of the floating breakwater design -- based on techniques used in offshore oil rigs -- that the principality has a patent on it.
David Lopez, who runs Dragado's Monaco operations, said other technical challenges included making the dike impermeable and ensuring it was strong enough to last a century while light enough to float.
"We're talking about a structure of 175,000 tons," he said.
Some of the draft plans for the project were even more elaborate than what was eventually built. For example, some in Monaco wanted to build residential high rises on the breakwater, but that was deemed unfeasible.
Studies for the complex began in 1985, but arranging contracts and financing kept work from starting until 1999. It is expected to be finished in 2007.
Authorities are still squabbling about the price. Dragados originally bid about $52.2 million for the floating breakwater, but now is asking $151 million. The two sides are negotiating.
"The work we constructed ... is not the same work that had been initially designed," said Lopez.
In the meantime, Monegasques are busy dreaming up the next big-ticket item. The latest proposal is to build a full-size model of Venice on an island of reclaimed land in the bay and connect it to the mainland with a bridge.
Bouchet, the public works engineer, is all for it.
"From the point of view of technology it is not utopian," he said.