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Calle Real, Iloilo City’s historic business district, is now undergoing a facelift to boost its potentials for business and tourism, an initiative of Iloilo Cultural Heritage Foundation.

Calle Real or J. M. Basa street, one of the main thoroughfares in the city where traffic is always heavy, remains a shopping haven because of its low-cost buys despite the entry of giant malls in city.

Iloilo City Cultural Heritage and Conservation Council (ICCHCC) cited the Central Business District (CBD) area celebrates the past and serves as reminder of events that shaped Iloilo City as enshrined in buildings, streets and homes of some well-known businessmen and leaders located thereat.

The thriving and striving business hub now covers the streets of J.M. Basa, Aldeguer, Mapa, Guanco and Iznart at the heart of the city which has been declared Iloilo City Heritage Zone contained in Ordinance No. 00-054 otherwise known as Local Cultural Heritage Conservation Ordinance enacted in April 2000.

It is a home to Art Deco-styled commercial buildings built during the 1920s-1950s. It also formerly refers only to J. M. Basa street but has evolved to generalize the city’s CBD.

The ordinance has mandated that the use, maintenance and preservation of landmark structures practicably should always be the concern of the city government.

Such regulation has likewise created the ICCHCC, a local body composed of city officials, culture advocates, building owners, concerned citizens and celebrities, among others, responsible in advancing cultural heritage conservation and promotion for the city.

“Calle Real remains an important shopping destination in the city despite the presence of big malls. Sadly, its heritage buildings and structures are slowly wearing out to the forces of nature and human neglect,” stressed Jose Roni Peñalosa, chief of Planning and Development Office (CPDO) and ICCHCC member.

With the deteriorating conditions of establishments in the area, ICCHCC has pushed for an ambitious plan of restoring Calle Real.

“There is a need to preserve the buildings because aside from being testimonies to Iloilo City’s glorious past, they are potential tourist attractions that can bring in much-needed income for the city and the residents,” Peñalosa pointed out.

As first step of reviving Calle Real’s boom, the stakeholders had the chance to recommend inputs that would be considered in the efforts to conserve the city’s best heritage site.

Peñalosa noted they presented during a forum on May 25, 2006 the draft of the “Iloilo City Downtown Central Business District Heritage Conservation Guidelines” which highlights restoration and development measures for buildings and sites.

Entitled “Save Calle Real,” Peñalosa said the forum drew policy makers, urban planners, architects and stakeholders from the business community as well as the arts and culture circle to enjoin on such undertaking.

ICCHCC and CPDO with the support of Canadian Urban Institute (CUI) conducted the forum.

CUI is a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the quality of life in urban areas across Canada and other parts of the world wherein Iloilo City in particular has been granted assistance for its development programs.

This modified story first appeared in The Guardian May 10, 2006