This week PLUS News has received concerns from Belize City residents questioning the plans for the Fort George Tourism Zone which has undergone extensive renovation for the last eighteen months as part of the $6 million IDB-funded Sustainable Tourism Project (STP). Much of the City’s tourism activity is concentrated in this area but among the concerns raised are that the archway being built over North Front Street at its intersection with Queen Street north of the Swing Bridge will be used to keep ordinary Belizeans out of the zone. Concerns have also been raised that the project does not have tangible benefits for Belizeans living and working in the area and that the Memorial Park, used for large ceremonies and activities, will be off-limits when the project is completed. Project Director Christy Mastry gives us an update on the renovations and clarifies that rather than lock Belizeans out, the Project aims to give them even greater opportunities.

Christy Mastry – Project Director:
vlcsnap-2013-04-03-19h51m51s189Construction for North Front Street is probably about a month away. Right now we’re finishing up some of the drainage works, the sidewalks themselves, and then the Gateway.  To clarify right now any misconceptions of the Gateway, the Gateway is an archway. It has no physical gate.  There aren’t any gates anywhere in the project.  Everyone is allowed through.  Through traffic will continue just as it is always before.  It is just really an entrance and a signage, demarcating the zone that we have recreated for this tourism project itself.

As part of the program there will be increased regulation of vendors, taxi and tour operators and others, particularly in relation to concerns of traffic congestion, misbehavior and so on. But the greatest benefit will come for vendors who will be moved from their hemmed-in positions on Fort and North Front Street to spacious vending sites near the Village. Mastry explains:

Christy Mastry – Project Director:
We’re creating spaces for the members of the Vending Association and members who have been out there anywhere from 10 to 15 years, some shorter, some 5 years.  That was the real focus, their union that has come together, and they provided all of their names on a list.  There will be heightened requirements for them.  They understand that these will be paid spaces, but that we will create the opportunity for shopping and the shopping experience in the area, to really enhance the money that they’re able to make in the space.  We said that there would be very strict regulations.  If people don’t follow the regulations, those spots will open up, and other people will be able qualify and come into the vending space. We do have to limit how many we’re putting out there, but we’re putting several.  We’re putting between 30 and 40 different vending spaces out there to offer that business opportunity to al;l of the small businesses in the area.   

The project when completed will be managed by tourism stakeholders as well as the Belize City Council, which has previously spoken of plans to renovate the Downtown area and make it part of the tourism experience. According to Mastry, plans are in development for a boardwalk along the Haulover Creek and we are told that the Southside area will also benefit from a separate soon-to-be conceived project directly targeting them. The STP also has components in San Ignacio, which has been completed, and in Placencia and San Pedro Town which are respectively 2 and 6 months away from completion.