The story first went out a few weeks ago when the Reporter newspaper ran a story saying that the City Council was looking at a proposal to turn part of the BTL park into a casino parking lot, and then the casino owner who needed the parking space would then in exchange build a public beach in front of the park.
That report blew up into one more public outrage this week – and it sent the Mayor and her councilor Dean Samuels scrambling to explain that there was no formal proposal – it was just an idea that was being floated. But still, they did not back away from it – in their public pronouncements, they stressed that the idea is still live – even if it is at a very preliminary stage.
Today councilor Dean Samuels who was given the tasking to investigate it gave us his outline of it.
Dean Samuels, City Councillor
“The Council, as one of its manifesto pledges, pledged that they would have done a beach at the BTL park. The Venezuelan would have funded that program and it fell through. My Mayor, God bless her soul, as a person who never gives up, I was tasked with the job of 'Dean, see if you could find anybody that would finance this project.' [It is] key that this whole scenario is in a proposal stage. It is nothing concrete that we can stand on or that we can move off on. I sat down, approached one of the directors from the Hotchandani group or Pickwick group, either one. And we put forward the council proposal, what the council would want to get done in that said area. …These people said do a feasibility study on it and then present it back to us and we will see if it is something we are interested in.”
“What the council wanted to do, if half of the park was taken for parking, then half of the sea was gonna be reclaimed back for the park. So in no kind of way would we have lost any part of the park. One of the proposals that the council put forward was that we would reclaim half of what was taken for parking, fill it, put a retaining wall, Jules, and full up it, beautify it, enhance the park for the Belizean public. … So that is the proposal that the council put forward. Again the investors haven't even come back and said yes we are going to agree with this project after the feasibility study. We approached a private architectural firm which did the feasibility study for us free. The council can't even pay for the feasibility study and when it was done, it came up to nearly 1/2 million alone to just re-fill, reclaim and do the retaining wall. The beach project would not have materialized to the level as how we would want it to be, but then again, we would have still built an area where we would put a wall out in the sea on a U that people could swim within that area being protected from the elements.”
“Two things, first you keep saying the council had the idea. I've spoken to at least two councillors who said they never had the idea. They didn't know about the idea."
“Like what i was saying, if this materializes to the state …we have something concrete to move forward on, the proposal would have been put to the caucus for them to vote on. “
"At the same time, voters should not be held hostage because you all sold us a dream. we voted for a beach. I don’t want to hear about a parking lot. I wanted a beach. Don’t tell me now, 'No beach, but parking lot, but then swimming.' As a voter you can understand how they might say, ‘You cant be serious.’"
“What can I say about that comment? That is true. That was the idea. The council had all good intentions. Anything that the council proposed, the council does it in the best interest of the Belizean people. And the truth is if a beach could have been there, that would have been there.”
“What you all are looking at is a parking lot. I am saying that is your concern. You want to appease a big developer who went and built a monstrosity without thinking about parking.”
“It wasnt the big developer with all due respect that approached us. The big developer does have parking in his parking lot where he is. The truth is the big developer said, ‘Do a feasiblity study.’ The big developer didnt come and say, I will finance this and I will get this done. This personally is something that we asked to get done. We proposed to them, this is what the council wants in the benefit of the Belizean people.”
“Not the council. What you and the mayor are pursuing. Because many of the council have already said ‘We are not with it.'"
“I agree with you again. It’s not me nor the Mayor that runs the council. At the end of the day, this had to come to council but you cannot bring something to council that isn’t there.”
And while Samuels energetically defended his council’s position, he clearly was not prepared for the slap upside the head which came from on high this evening. The Cabinet release discussed only one subject – and it’s that park-to-parking-lot trade-off proposal. It says, quote:
“Cabinet, especially members from Belize City constituencies, is completely against any contemplated sale or swap of any part of the Telemedia Park in Belize City.”
It goes on to say,
“If necessary, Cabinet is prepared to approve Central Government’s acquisition of the park for its continued use and enjoyment by residents of Belize City.”
That is enough said, pretty much the end of that story. But, just to frame it properly, that is an official Cabinet release decisively over-ruling designs by the Mayor and at least one councilor. One wants to say, “so much for autonomy and dialogue...” but that ship probably sailed long ago.