Thousands of empty public buildings and white elephants in Spain

Centre for the Creation of Arts in Alcorcón (CREAA)

Centre for the Creation of Arts in Alcorcón (CREAA)

Thousands of buildings belonging to the Spanish state stand empty, including not a few white elephants, both in Spain and abroad.

There are 14,100 empty or unfinished public buildings in Spain, not to mention thousands of plots of land, according to a new study by MBQ Group, an architectural and urban planning consultancy.

The Spanish state also owns 350 buildings outside of Spain that are either empty or unfinished.

During the boom even the smallest Spanish municipality wanted grandiose public buildings like sports centres, cultural centres, and museums. Many of them were vanity projects promoted by local politicians trying to impress voters, and reward their friends with juicy contracts, not to mention themselves with kickbacks. Almost all these projects were financed with debt.

Now that boom has turned to bust, municipalities and regional governments don’t have the money to complete or run many of these buildings, so they stand empty or unfinished.

A good example is the Centre for the Creation of Arts in Alcorcón (CREAA), a municipality of Madrid, which the previous (Socialist) Mayor dreamt would become the “Guggenheim of Alcorcón”.

According to the present Mayor, it has cost €150 to date, will cost another €40 million to finish, and would burn €10m a year to keep open. Alcorcón is now €600m in debt, half of it related to this White Elephant.



7 thoughts on “Thousands of empty public buildings and white elephants in Spain”

  1. Roy

    It is a shame, but Spain is gradually returning to what it once was – a third world country run by peasants.

    Anyone buying property there at the moment must be mad if you consider all the corruption, inefficiency, sub standard construction and unfair property laws

    Just wait until the debt mountain explodes and the peseta returns, it will be complete economic and social chaos.

  2. Chris Nation

    Sadly, I believe Roy is right. My description of the people running Spain these days is, bandits and buffoons. You wouldn’t sign up to a country knowing that people of that stripe are in charge. You might well end up with Franco Mkll or another Enver Hoja.

    Valencia city is a positive herd of white elephants. Since it was decided two years ago they couldn’t afford to run an F1 race annually, they’re now talking to Bernie about pulling the plug on alternating with Barca. The America’s Cup ‘Village’ is no more than a collection of expensive sheds in black glass. Walk round it, as l have. You will see absolutely nobody. If the Kiwis keep winning against Oracle, the AC will be back in Auckland where they built an America’s Cup village which has been going strong ever since the race went to San Fransisco 10 years ago because they put up more than boat sheds. They were smart: they put in bars and restaurants and hotels.

    Then there’s the ridiculous Velas y Ventas building which has had no more footfall in it than the occasional cleaner – maybe. I’ve never seen even a single person with so much as a mop & bucket in there.

    Anyone for a trip to rubber-neck an airport? It has been mooted that the airport at Castellon could open as a tourist attraction. The arrivals and departure halls would make great skate board parks. Like the Top Gear lads at the one in Andalucia, the runway would make a great drag strip. It’ll never see an airliner.

    Spain has been like that bloke in UK recently who went from rural unemployed to Lotto winner to council dustman in about 5 years. He was dragging his backside before and he is again now. In between he wasted millions, a considerable proportion going up his and his mates’ noses.

    Rajoy and his mates may not be coming out of the gents sniffing and with white powder on their ties but as far as Spain is concerned it’s much the same story.

  3. Lionel Westell

    Tough and realistic notes on Spain and Valencia. Yes it has been bad and id bad but nothing lasts for ever. Every youngster I know, post university, has seen all this and they will be the ones to force change. Yes there is a risk of an ultra left or maybe right Government but change is on it’s way. My friends who have been forced to work abroad are seeing what democracy is, with all it faults, and will be back with new ideas.

  4. John Thompson

    Where there’s muck, there’s brass…. as many of the US vulture funds who are currently in the process of hoovering up as much distressed property and debt as they can lay their hands on from SAREB and the banks, at hugely discounted prices, have happily realised.

  5. Graham

    Despite the positive nature of reports that demand for property from Europeans & other non-Spanish nationals has increased? The simple fact is that if you intend investing in Spanish property you are probably still going to see the value depreciate over the next 24 months. If you have 200,000 euros to invest, where would you spend your money, Spain with falling prices, or perhaps London (UK) where property prices are increasing around 7-12% annually now, and even more in the trendier parts of the city?

    Currently it’s like two vehicles passing each other … One of which is going in the correct direction … think on?

    1. simon

      Fair point Graham
      Although realisticly a 3 bed villa with beautifull views, pool, large garden and great weather compared to a bedsit on Brixton high street has to be more apppealing for the average investor.

    2. Profile photo of Mark Stücklin

      Can you even buy a shoebox in London for €200K?

      There are some very good reasons for not investing in many types of Spanish property today, including high transaction costs, low quality build, low demand, low yields….but the argument that prices are crashing is not one of them. If anything, it’s the best argument for investing. London, on the other hand, is bubbling near the top, just like Spanish property in 2007 when everyone was buying. We know what happened next. It’s always better to buy in a crash, even if you are not yet at the bottom (nobody ever knows where the bottom is until after the fact), than in a bubble.

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