Merida’s new U.S. consulate taking shape at Via Montejo

Architects also building U.S. State Dept. buildings in Africa, Central America

The new U.S. Consulate is in the Via Montejo project, which is rising near the Periferico in Merida’s north. Photo: Courtesy

Merida, Yucatan — The new US$130-million consulate at Via Montejo is under way.

With the three-hectare/7.4-acre site selected, the U.S. Department of State began a selection process earlier this month to find a construction company.

The Miller Hull Partnership of Seattle is the architect. The project is still in the design phase and renderings have not been released.

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The new complex, replacing one just north of the centro on Calle 60, is anchored by a 5,250-square-meter three-story office building with space for 63 employees. There are also auxiliary buildings, a warehouse and a parking lot. Ground was broken, next to the Harbor mall in October.

The U.S. Department of State Bureau of Overseas Building Operations previously commissioned the same architectural firm Miller Hull, to build embassies in Niger and Guatemala.

New U.S. consulates will be also built in Nogales, Hermosillo and Guadalajara for a combined cost of US$520 million.

Foreign embassies and consulates are expensive. They have very specific security features such as electronic countermeasures that block spying, armored doors and walls to protect against terrorist attacks and redundancy systems for emergencies. The U.S. Embassy in London cost $1 billion.

Merida’s consul general, Courtney Beale, has been at her post since June. But the top diplomatic post has been vacant since U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Roberta Jacobson, resigned in May.

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History of the U.S. Consulate in Merida

According to State Department records, the first consul to Merida was Charles Thompson Jr., in 1843. The opening of a U.S. Consulate was probably in response to Mexico’s decree that ports of Sisal and Campeche were duty free.

Between 1843 and 1897, 10 consuls were appointed to represent the United States’ interests in the Yucatan. Most notable was Edward H. Thompson, the renowned archaeologist and explorer of the Mayan ruins at Chichén Itzá. Thompson was appointed by President Grover Cleveland with the understanding that he would be allowed free time to explore. His book “People of the Serpent” details his exhaustive research at Chichén Itzá and discusses what led to his appointment at the consulate.

In 1897, the Merida outpost moved to Progreso, remaining 37 years, tracking U.S. ships, agricultural and commercial activity, reports of missing Americans and of contagious diseases in the area.

The consulate returned to Merida in 1934, first near the Parque del Centenario and then near the Cathedral.

In 1959, the consulate leased a site on the Paseo de Montejo at Avenida Colon — today’s hotel zone. The consul and vice consul originally lived in homes on the compound. In 2001, the lease expired on the property and a temporary extension was signed while officials searched for a new spot.

Five years later, the U.S. Consulate began work in its current location.

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The land, however, has increased in value since the new International Convention Center was built nearby. It has been sold to a hotel developer.

Until the Via Montejo complex is finished, nearly five miles to the north, consular business remains at Calle 60 No. 338-K x 29 y 31, Col. Alcalá Martín, 97050.

A timeline for the new complex was not announced.

Sources: U.S. Secretary of State, Reforma, Miller Hull Partnership

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