The 11.7 million US dollar sustainable tourism project is one of the most important tourism initiatives currently underway in Belize.
The project is about enhancing key destinations to encourage longer visitor stays by the overnight tourists.
It is targeting civil works for major tourism areas in San Ignacio, Placencia, Belize city and San Pedro.
Work in san Ignacio is already underway in the downtown area, and Belize City's project component saw its groundbreaking today.
As we found out, the project will re-fashion much of the north side of the downtown area.
Here's how it will all come together:
Jules Vasquez Reporting
Ground was broken and a tree was planted in the Memorial Park today to set the stage for the refurbishment of this park - in fact, more than refurbishing, it will be completely transformed - to look like this:
Christy Mastry - Sustainable Tourism Program
"At the end of 16 months, we really want the residents to expect a completely enlivened, heightened, improved 2-acre Memorial Park, which will really be the merging of the history of the park, which is the Memorial - the war memorial, which we are standing in front of today, as well as the collaboration of tourism which has now embarked upon in this area. The park will be transformed. What we really want to do is create a very significant space for the memorial - the war memorial itself, and keeping that in memoriam of the activities that happen here throughout the year. So we will be recreating a new podium, a new area for the war memorial. We'll be placing plaques in commemoration of the 3 bodies that were buried in here. We'll be doing a new amphitheater and stage as well, to accommodate 200+ seating for the area. And then, we will merge that with the trellis sidewalks covered so that you can walk through the park, shaded from the sun and from the rain throughout the day for tourists and other people engaging in park activities."
And the park is only the centerpiece for this IDB funded tourism project. Called the Belize City Fort Point Pedestrian Walk - the 5.47 million dollar project will deliver a comprehensive renewal of North Front Street from the bridge-foot to the Memorial Park and Tourism Village
"It begins at the foot of the Swing Bridge in front of the water taxi terminal, and it will start with widened sidewalks. We will reduce some park, but we will still allow for 1 side of the street parking at all times, perpendicular to the curb to maximize the effect of that parking. But the idea is to really allow the pedestrian to take some priority on those streets. If you walk that street right now, in front of certain properties, the sidewalk dies away completely. So it's really bringing the pedestrian back into this area, as well as organizing the vehicular traffic. One of the whole concepts is creating a uniformity of the area itself to really demarcate this as a pedestrianized area, that really wants to offer itself for 24 hours."
And that 24 hour activity, will see North Front Street's pavement replaced to one similar to the pavement in front of the Fort Street Tourism Village - which means major inconvenience for drivers:
"We anticipate North Front Street probably taking a total - once we get started digging up the roadbed - maybe a total of 4 months, but what we plan to do, because the street - especially at the foot of the bridge is very wide - is section the street in half because we are not doing a concrete or any mix in total on top. We can work from one sidewalk, cut the drains, start to put in the new culvert that we're putting in, cover the drains, put the pavers over that, and move into the centerline of the street, then block off that, allow traffic movement, and work on to the other side of street."
Today's open air ceremony was held after two and half years of preparation with the IDB - but happening now two weeks before elections with the UDP-friendly I.E firm as the contracting firm may raise a few eyebrows:
"Whenever a public contract is completed 2 weeks before an election, it always draws adverse commentary, especially if the contracting firm is believed to have connections within the ruling party. Are you able to say that all the awarding of contracts was above board?"
"Yes, IDB has a really stringent evaluation process, and a non-objection to go to contract negotiations, let alone the signing of the contracts. It is a series of checks, and it's very simple. Once a firm receives all of those checks, they become a qualifying firm according to IDB standards. And from there, we then pick the lowest bid. It is their procedure for lump-sum contract awards. We have to follow it. We have to submit it. It goes to IDB here, it goes to IDB Washington, and then it's logged in their system."
Work on the project is expected to commence in the next few weeks...
Preliminary work is tentatively set to start before the end of this month - and core works will follow in March.