If Belize city can ever be said to have a skyline, the Commercial Center at the foot of the swing bridge would have to be a part of it. Over the years, the hulking structure has gone from one of those famous bloated contract white elephants to a part of the municipal administrative superstructure, in other words, a bunch of ragtag city offices with vendors on the ground floor.
But, change is on the way…Today, ground was broken for the renovation of the Commercial Center. It’s is part of a large scale initiative named “The House of Culture and Downtown Redevelopment project” funded by the Taiwanese government. Mayor Darrel Bradley held an on site press conference to outline the grand scale and vision of the project. Courtney Weatherburne has the story:..
"We are all familiar with the commercial centre in downtown Belize City, 22 years after it was first built is run down and delapidated. Thing is you probably never notice how run down its become because it has become such a permanent part of the landscape, but the mayor wants to change that reality by transforming the center into a rubust eye catching metropolitan center"
Darrell Bradley - Mayor, Belize City
"The commercial center for the last 2 and a half years has a had a very bad reputation. It has been a blight on our light as a city. Many people were clamouring for us to renovate the commercial center, just as how we are transforming Belize City, we need to transform the space. And so the renovation of the commercial center is a project which was very important to us as a municipality because it is in the heart of our downtown. We hope that this renovated commercial center will be a space that members of our community will gather. Where they will share ideas, where I hope I would meet my friend many times, the ambassador from Taiwan and where we can engage in meaningful and productive dialouge as it relates to how we move our city forward."
Last week we spoke to some of the vendors and they expressed their discontent with the renovation. They say they were not given sufficient notice and were forcibly removed. The Mayor disputes that:
"Well nobody was forcibly evicted. This was something we've been working on for the last 8 months. We have met with the vendors before, we had showed them some of the design concepts that we were toying with, we try to work out some of the issues with the vendors. We had actually toyed with the idea of doing the renovation and having the building still occupied. Because we are closing up some of the open spaces and because we are are doing some demolition work and electrical and plumbing systems, the bathrooms would be closed down for an extended priod of time. That became not feasible and so we had to take a direction that the vendors had to relocate, we gave them notice prior to the letter I had indicated to them and prior to that we've been meeting with them. I met with them as recent as yesterday to deal with some remaining concerns that they had. We had to give poeple letters to assure that they would come back in the commercial center. I know that when you are doing anything it is always going to rub someone the wrong way. You will have some kind of opposition. We're trying to work with the vendors as best as possible."
It seems that the Mayor was able to pacify the vendors in a meeting yesterday but they still have some concerns
Elsy Dyer, shop owner
"Well you see they make I feel good right but what happened we had a lot of meetings for Tuesday to agree on the location again. They said they will not raise our rent but this place will look beautiful. I don't think they will go with the same rent, it must will be higher because every 5 years they raise the rent. So if every 5 years they raise it, then will be double because this will look beautiful when this is done."
However, the Mayor assured the vendors that there is no cause for concern
"A lot of their concerns had to do with the time frame of the project because they want a short possible time and they were asking in relation to any changes in their rental and trade license and I asured them that the rent will remain the same not withstanding the significant expense we're bearing to renovate the building."
The renovation project will cost 2 million dollars. Renovations will start in September and the project is expected to be completed in 8 months.