Those driving through the Hotel Zone would find it difficult to miss the new shopping center that is currently under construction in front of the Grand Venetian condominium towers. La Isla is a two-level, village-themed development which, when complete, will offer 80 commercial spaces. Some of the brand names that have already signed up are Crate & Barrel, Benetton, Guess, Starbucks, Coach, American Eagle and H&M. There will also be a multi-cinema with eight theaters and a restaurant court. There may even be a casino involved, although that hasn’t been confirmed. It is projected to open later this year, perhaps for the beginning of the next high season. La Isla is situated right next to another shopping center Peninsula Plaza, which rumor has it will now be focusing on becoming more of a financial center for banking, investment houses and related services.

This continues an on-going trend of businesses moving out, or closing down, in the downtown area. The Hotel Zone, where there are now four major shopping centers, plus numerous strip malls, along with Walmart and Sam’s, along this strip. Although it certainly makes access to shopping easier for locals and tourists, it has had a devastating affect on the commercial areas of downtown Vallarta. Calle Morelos, located one street back from the Malecón, is now riddled with empty commercial spaces for rent or lease where at one time this was a very active area of El Centro. The north side of the Rio Cuale has been most affected by the trend, although the south side, (Los Muertos, Olas Altas, Emiliano Zapata) to continue to do well, having come into its own after years of being the poorer sister to the “otro lado,” the other side of the river. It is not only popular with tourists, but also with people who want to live here. Numerous small boutique condominium development have sprung up over the past few years, fueling a demand for people who want to be where the action is and not have to drive to get there.

This downward trend where the downtown city wanes, is one that has affected many Canadian and American cities in the past, although many have managed to recover after years of decline through strong urban improvement programs. Perhaps that’s what downtown Vallarta needs to do, rediscover itself. Improving transportation and parking problems, making it easy to get to and enjoy (no buses passing through every 30 seconds billowing black smoke) and with a strong urban plan in place.