By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – On Sunday, July 17th, Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes inaugurated a new stretch of the Orla Conde path in Rio’s revitalized Port Zone including the new public plaza, Praça Muhammad Ali at Avenida Rodrigues Alves. With the 2016 Rio Olympics rapidly approaching, Sunday’s opening represents one of the last pieces of the immense Porto Maravilha redevelopment project.

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The new Praça Muhammad Ali along the Orla Conde provides an additional 21,861 square meters of public space, photo courtesy of Prefeitura do Rio de Janeiro.

The Porto Maravilha project covers an area of five million square meters of the city’s port district, framed by Presidente Vargas, Rodrigues Alves, Rio Branco and Francisco Bicalho avenues in Rio’s Centro neighborhood. The soon-to-be home of the Olympic cauldron, Praça de la Candelária, remains as one of the final areas yet to open.

The November 2013 demolition of the elevated Perimetral highway, which once loomed imposingly over the district, opened the door for new scenic public plazas with walkways and bike paths along the Guanabara Bay waterfront, museums, such as the Museu do Amanhã (Museum of Tomorrow) and the Museu de Arte do Rio (MAR), and a new light rail transport for the area, the VLT.

Sunday’s opening of the new stretch of the Orla Conde path and Praça Muhammad Ali, provides visitors an additional 21,861 square meters on top of the already opened 283,000 square meters for public art displays, entertainment, sports and leisure activities.

At the opening, Mayor Paes spoke about the significance of this project to the area, exclaiming, “We are not just in the center of the city, we are in the center of Brazil. […] But, the coolest thing is to see what Centro is turning into.” The Mayor added, “Last week I was here with my son and saw that not only is Praça Mauá full of families, but so is Rio Branco, the Praça XV and the Albamar area.”

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Rio residents Oswaldo and Denize Duarte say the new public space is a must-stop for any visitor, photo courtesy of Prefeitura do Rio de Janeiro.

São Cristóvão residents, Oswaldo and Denize Duarte, who unknowingly stumbled upon Sunday’s opening ceremony while cycling through the area, were pleasantly surprised with the new public space and now consider it a must-stop for any cyclist.

“We usually always cycle the Aterro in Flamengo and Botafogo. We had not yet seen the wonder that is here,” Oswaldo told a government news agency. “The Orla Conde is getting beautiful and, what is more important, well policed. In addition to taking advantage of this beautiful view, we can now leave the car at home and come riding without fear.”

The Porto Maravilha project’s security measures for the Port Zone district include the increased presence of Operação Centro Presente officers, as well as the installation of 218 security cameras throughout the area.

Sunday’s inauguration included the new public plaza, Praça Muhammad Ali, located in front of the Utopia AguaRio VLT stop at Avenida Rodrigues Alves. During Sunday’s ceremony, Mayor Paes spoke about the legendary boxer and activist who passed away last June.

“Muhammad Ali not only represented a symbol to the sports world, he was an important character in the story of the last century and the beginning of this century, and we honor here him in this neighborhood.” Mayor Paes revealed that the city would soon add a sculpture of the celebrated sports icon in the new public plaza bearing his name.

During the 2016 Olympics starting on August 5th, the revitalized Port Zone will be home to several key attractions, including the Olympic cauldron, the Brazil hospitality house (Casa Brasil) and the NBA House.

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