Mayor Oh sticks with Gwanghwamun redevelopment plan

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Mayor Oh sticks with Gwanghwamun redevelopment plan

An artist's rendition of Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul after renovations with a larger plaza and fewer lanes of traffic. [YONHAP]

An artist's rendition of Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul after renovations with a larger plaza and fewer lanes of traffic. [YONHAP]

The overhaul of Gwanghwamun Square will continue — not because it’s a great plan but because so much taxpayer money has already been spent on it, said Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon Tuesday.
 
“I didn’t agree with the plan to redesign the square […] but I also think it’s important for policies to be continued through different city administrations,” Oh said in a press briefing at City Hall.  
 
Gwanghwamun Square was built in 2008 as a project of Oh, who was mayor from 2006 to 2011. He was re-elected this month in a mayoral by-election to complete the one-year term left by the late Mayor Park Won-soon, who committed suicide last July.
 
The redesign of Gwanghwamun Square was announced by Park in 2018. It involved expanding the square westward and eliminating southbound traffic lanes between the square and the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts, expanding the square northward to connect with the Gwanghwamun Gate of Gyeongbok Palace, and restoring the woldae, or terrace, in front of the gate to the way it was during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910).  
 
After facing some backlash from the public about the impact on traffic, the plan to expand the square northward was scrapped. The woldae would be restored in a separate project later, the city government said.  
 
Following the death of Park, the plan continued under the direction of acting Mayor Seo Jung-hyup.  
 
“With the launch of reconstruction of the square last November, the work is already 34 percent in progress, and it cost about 25 billion won [$22.5 million] so far,” Oh told the press. “Ever since I returned as mayor, I’ve thought hard about whether to go ahead with the plan or to scrap it.”
 
Oh said that he decided to carry on because so much money had already been spent.
 
“If we intend to scrap it altogether and return the square to what it was before, it will cost at least another 40 billion won,” Oh said. “And if we redesign the plan, it will mean the square will be off limits to the public for an even longer period.”
 
The Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul undergoing construction in March. [YONHAP]

The Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul undergoing construction in March. [YONHAP]

Thus the plan will continue, Oh said, with one alteration: Bringing back the woldae faster.  

 
“The woldae is something we should not give up if we are thinking about the historic value of the square,” Oh said. “The woldae is a symbolic area where the kings of Joseon communicated with the people.”
 
The king used to hold public rituals and ceremonies at the woldae, which provided a rare view of the king to commoners.
 
During the Japanese annexation of Korea (1910-1945), Japan built its general government building in front of Gyeongbok Palace, where King Gojong (1852-1919) reigned from. The Japanese moved the Gwanghwamun Gate to the east of the palace. The gate was restored to the front of the palace in 1968, but the woldae was not.  
 
Oh emphasized that rebuilding the woldae will not mean rerouting the traffic in front of the gate.
 
“The woldae will protrude about 50 meters [164 feet] from the gate, and it will not require rerouting of the road in front of the gate,” Oh said.  
 
The original plan was to have the square revamped by October.
 
With the restoration of the woldae to be executed simultaneously with the revamping of the square, that deadline may be extended one or two months, Oh said.  
 
“We will be making another announcement shortly with more a detailed plan and schedule,” Oh said.  
 
BY ESTHER CHUNG   [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]
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