Valencia, SPAIN, December 19, 2006 "“ To welcome the competitors for the America's Cup next year, Valencia is opening itself to the sea. For the first time in more than 150 years "“ from June 23 to July 7, 2007 "“ Europe will host sailing's most prestigious event. Aficionados from around the world "“ some 6 million are expected "“ will flock to this sunny city on Spain's Mediterranean to watch the world's best yachtsmen from 10 countries battle it out as the Swiss Alinghi team defends its title against 11 other teams. Officials are predicting the America's Cup will create 10,000 jobs and generate $1.5 billion for the Spanish region's economy.

In 1851 Queen Victoria watched the last competition in Europe as the yacht America representing the New York Yacht Club beat 15 British vessels racing around the Isle of Wight. Since then, America's Cup races have only been held in Britain, the U.S., Australia and New Zealand. Reliable wind conditions, year-round temperate weather and the promise of a race that will bring spectators closer to the sailing action were key factors in convincing officials that Valencia would be the best venue. Preceding the America's Cup April 3 to 7 is the Louis Vuitton Act 13 Fleet Race and the Louis Vuitton Cup, April 16 to June 12. The winner of the final Act goes up against the Alinghi team.

Three years ago, Valencia began an ambitious urban planning program with a view to creating one of the top ports in the Mediterranean. One of the major projects has been the creation of a new urban area, the Balcón al Mar, which integrates the city with the port, marina and beach areas. Valencia has spent $637.5 million revitalizing the waterfront alone, and by next year the inner harbor and commercial port will be transformed into a state-of-the-art marina "“ or several of them. In the center of the inner harbor will be the mega yacht marina for vessels larger than 98 feet. A 1,968-foot channel has been opened to allow the racers and their boats direct access from their bases to the sea. A new breakwater provides marinas on either side of the channel with mooring for 700 sailing vessels. At the entrance to the canal sits the emblematic Sails and Winds building, the Foredeck & Owner's Club designed by David Chipperfield and Fermín Vázquez. Offering panoramic views of the inner harbor, the $45.9 million building will have six restaurants, 20 clubs, bars and other entertainment venues "“ all providing privileged bird's eye views of the races. Lying alongside the channel is the 34-acre America's Cup Park, where 600,000 sailing enthusiasts will follow the competition on giant TV screens. Here, more restaurants and entertainment venues will be joined to the lower seafront promenade by ramps leading down to Malvarrosa Beach and the mile-long, palm-lined Paseo Maritimo.

By the start of the America's Cup, the city will have a new metro line connecting the port with the airport. About $58 million is being spent on the airport including a new terminal and an extension of the runway. The new Central Station will eventually accommodate the AVE, the high-speed train connecting Valencia to all the major cities in Spain. Part of the city's two main arteries that lead to the station are being buried underground while above, a 74-acre park "“ the largest green area in the city "“ is being created. Cabecera Park will have: a Mediterranean river forest with a huge five-acre lake; Bioparc, a zoological park, and an amusement park with a botanical theme.

In its old quarter, Valencia's first "golden age" of the 14th and 15th centuries is reflected in the beautiful late Gothic Silk Exchange, the Gothic-Romanesque-Baroque cathedral and the 15th century Gothic palace, that now houses the regional government. Other architectural gems include: the 18th century Baroque mansion of the Marqués de Dos Aguas, fancifully decorated with ceramic fruits and vegetables and home to the Ceramics Museum, a 17th century seminary, now home to the Fine Arts Museum, the Museo de Bellas Artes containing some 2,000 paintings and sculptures and the Mercado Central, one of Europe's largest food markets, located in a huge Art Nouveau building of iron, glass and tile.

These architectural gems complement some of the city's stunning contemporary structures. After disastrous floods in 1957, the Turia River bed was transformed into a six-mile ribbon of green parks and gardens. In the late 1990s the city began expanding out along the river banks. There, in 1998 native son Santiago Calatrava began creating his futuristic City of Arts and Sciences. Measuring 1,000 feet long and 60 feet high, the dramatic white Umbracle serves as the entrance and shields a promenade of tropical plants and palm trees. Opened in 1998, the Hemispheric is a dramatic eye-shaped planetarium and IMAX theatre surrounded by a huge rectangle of turquoise water. The Museo de las Ciencias Príncipe Felipe (Prince Felipe Museum of the Sciences) debuted in 2000 and features interactive displays and exhibits of "Life and the Genome" and "Towards the Cosmos." In 2003, Europe's largest aquarium "“ virtually an underwater city "“ the Oceanographic, was unveiled. A series of parabolic buildings by Spanish architect Félix Candela provide a hi-tech tour of the marine habitats of the world's oceans. A striking subterranean restaurant "“ the walls are floor-to-ceiling aquariums "“ serves fresh fish and the region's signature dish, paella. Last October, Calatrava's spectacular Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía (Queen Sofia Palace of the Arts) opened with venues for opera, theatre and dance. Zubin Mehta, the president of the"Festival of the Mediterranean" and the Palau's music director Lorin Maazel kicked off their inaugural season last month. Down the river bank and closer to the old quarter, the Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno (IVAM) houses the world's largest collection of works by acclaimed sculptor Julio González. Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa of SANAA are designing the expansion for IVAM, enclosing the contemporary art museum in a large white shell.

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