Today the City Council re-dedicated another park that is the future, or some approximation of it. That's the BTL Park, 4 acres of the most heavily invested in public space in memory. With a budget of close to 2 million dollars, it looks spectacular. But today the mayor said it's more than just a pretty park, it's an investment in imagination. Sounds pretty high minded, but we went into the nuts and bolts of politics and economics to find out what will make or break the park as a sustainable public space:..

Jules Vasquez reporting
The new BTL Park is 40% larger than it was before - and that's due in large part to land reclamation.

The new park will have 27 rent paying stalls, compared to 9 previously. The section in the middle where you presently see soil will be filled in with grass, while the rough clay near the sea will be covered in beach sand, much like this play area, and in about 5 years, there will be sections shaded by Laurel trees which are still in their infancy.

It is the most expensive, and probably the most beautiful public space in Belize. And it's lyrical beauty inspired the mayor, nearly to poetry today:

Darrell Bradley, Mayor - Belize City
"What is a park but earth and dust and then I reflected and I thought what is a city but buildings and rocks and streets, but then I went deeper and I said that a park is much more than just the earth and dust, it is the people, it is the connectivity, it is the experiences, it is the friendships, it is the heart that is created here. In many ways a park is the soul of a city. Yes, we can build streets, yes we can build buildings as tall as the sky, but when you build a park you build the imagination of our young."

In his remarks, and that of councilor Roger Espejo, they returned repeatedly to Charles Lindbergh's flight to the park in 1917:

Roger Espejo, City Councilor
"In 1927, world renowned aviator/explorer an activist Colonel Charles Lindbergh landed at this very site, a time of great hope when Belize first welcome the age of air travel. His flight was one of goodwill. My point is simply that this park has always been and continues to be an inviting space for public good and a true symbol of democracy. It has and continues to serve we the people."

And that was on display already today - but the park will also have to pay for itself and to do that these stalls will have to collectively generate about eighty thousand dollars a year in rent revenue:

Darrell Bradley, Mayor - Belize City
"We've been working very closely with the CARILED Project and they had given us a gift to do 11 of the stalls. The City Council paid for the rest and they assisted us with training and they are also assisting us with the development of a business plan and an operations manual and that will set out issues of sustainability for the park because of course the electricity and water cost money, having security out here costs money."

Today, CARILED representatives joined corporate sponsors BTL and Bowen and Bowen in cutting the ribbon - and they also cut a cake. Why so much cutting? Well, they cut checks for hundreds of thousands of dollars to invest in the 2 million dollar project - because they bought into the mayor's vision:

Darrell Bradley, Mayor - Belize City
"We want to create a very safe and a very public and enjoyable space. One of the handing over that we are going to do today is to hand over the police booth. The City Council picked up the tab for that and we are going to hand over a very comfortable space for the police to just be out here."

And while we can all wax poetic about the tropical colours, the ample walkways, and the open spaces, in a prize project such as this you can't get away from politics.

Reports say a city councilor used his inside connection, the secure the most prime-ly placed kiosk, at the edge of the pier for a bar. The mayor said it's not that kind of bar:

Darrell Bradley, Mayor - Belize City
"We are not talking about a bar, we are not talking about a bar where people go and get drunk. The legal definition of a bar is a place that you can consume alcohol without consuming food. That's not what is going to be out there. What they are talking about and no decision has been made is that they will be granted a restaurant license and a restaurant license allows you to buy a beer or buy a mixed drink along with the consumption and only with the consumption of food."

"I don't see why or what the difficulty would be in terms of having the operators of that place who are going to do a restaurant there with food sell their people a drink along with their food. I mean, I go to Tavern a lot and I go to Hour Bar which is right up the street. You are telling me that I can't buy a beer along with rice and beans? That doesn't make absolutely any sense."

Jules Vasquez
"Is it advisable in such a clean public space that you have drinkers interacting with the community who is seeking sanctity...?"

Darrell Bradley, Mayor - Belize City
"Two flaws with you reason; the first reason is that we have not made any decision on that yet. If you notice there is a pier and there is an area on the pier which is a kiosk which is set for a business. I haven't signed any contract with any business yet. We haven't reached that phase yet. We haven't given out any trade license out here; we haven't given out any liquor license out here. We are still in our discussion phase. You are predicting a criticism even before there is a decision and we are taking all of the concerns including the criticisms on advisement, so that we haven't made a decision yet."

"The second issue is that you are killing an idea even before it starts. The reality is give the thing a chance."

And one of his councilors is among those getting a chance:

Darrell Bradley, Mayor - Belize City
"If you want a question answered, you ask me. Michael Theus has a booth here. I saw some report that they are saying that Councilor Leslie was involve with that. The information that I have is that is absolutely not the case. If Councilor Theus who is not a fulltime person, he is a councilor and he is also supposed to have a private job; if he is involve in a business, he submits his application just like anybody else, he participates in all of the training just like anybody else, he pays his fees just like anybody else - the same way I shouldn't discriminate against other people, I shouldn't discriminate against him and that is totally absurd, that is a wrong spirit and we are not about that. Every person who applies for a booth out here got a booth out here including Councilor Michael Theus, so people are making this hoop law because I saw it in the newspaper about Councilor Leslie, but you missed the big story that we actually have on record a City Councilor who has a booth out here."

Jules Vasquez
"And you aren't ashamed of it."

Darrell Bradley, Mayor - Belize City
"Why would I be ashamed? Sight me a law that which says that he can't do that."

Jules Vasquez
"It may be perceived as a conflict of interest."

Darrell Bradley, Mayor - Belize City
"I don't care how it is perceived."

Jules Vasquez
"Insider trading."

Darrell Bradley, Mayor - Belize City
"A conflict of interest has to do with a decision. Micheal Theus doesn't sit on any committee that makes any selection criteria."

Jules Vasquez
"But people who work under him, who knows him as one of the bosses..."

Darrell Bradley, Mayor - Belize City
"The spirit is which we operate things has been a spirit which has been a spirit very much on governance, accountability, fair play."

But fair or foul, for the long term good of the park, Theus and the other vendors had better pay this rent, because keeping the park pretty will be pricey.

And a correction, we are told that the IDB funded memorial park project with the extensive surrounding areas cost 6 million dollars, three times that of BTL Park.

As we noted at the top, with the reclaimed area this park is four acres, while the original was a little under three acres. Today was just the soft opening, the hard opening with a gala public event and concert will be be held in mid-February.

And if you were wondering about the beach leading into the sea that the Mayor had promised before he was elected, we'll tell you later on why that plan had to be ditched.


The Waterís Not Safe! (To Swim In)

When Darrell Bradley was running for mayor, the plan for BTL Park was that his council would build a beach there. Well, they've built plenty at the park, even a beach area is planned, but no real beach, you know, the kind that leads into the sea. Nope! not happening, and the mayor told us why today:..

Darrell Bradley, Mayor - Belize City
"One of the things why we moved away from the BTL beach concept is that we are not warranting anything in relation to the water quality out here. There issues that were raised preliminary and we want to first of all ensure that what we build is something that conforms to health and safety standards and that's one of the reasons why we went with the issue of the park and our marketing has been BTL Park. We are looking and I am reviewing proposals in rebuilding the cowl that was out here originally so that people could enjoy that. We are going to have water sports. One of the businesses is a zip lining business. We also have a guy by the name of Jenkins who is going to do jet skis and different kinds of water sports, kayaking and those kinds of things and no doubt people will swim out here but we have signs that will warn off that we don't provide any life guard and you swim at your own risks."

As we note din our first story on the park, there will be beach sand adjoining the sea and that will also include a beach volleyball area.

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