Trouble's brewing in the Fort George Tourism Zone. As we told you last week, stakeholders aren't happy with the plans to move them into the memorial park. It's part of a wider plan to clean up the scene in front of the Fort Street Tourism Village. That's where tour guides, hair braiders, craft vendors, and cab drivers have to jostle for the tourist dollars trickling out of the Village. For over a decade now, the BTB and the City Council have been trying to normalize that environment, but it's a fluid dynamic, and there's no one-size-fits-all solution. And now, one more variable has been thrown into the mix: that's the residents and overnight tourism interests in the area. They say that cruise tourism has wrecked the neighborhood and brought down their property values, and the experiences of overnight guests. And, now, they have all joined up to say a collective no to the Memorial Park plan. They held a press conference at the Radisson today where Radisson Manager Jim Scott says the cruise tourism interests have it all wrong:...
Jim Scott, Stakeholder - Fort George Tourism Zone
"We feel strongly that, 1) our voices aren't being heard and, 2) why we are not utilizing the basic facilities that were originally designed and financed. Why are we not using them the way they should be?"
"Unfortunately Memorial Park is not being utilized the way it was designed and the way it was originally designed was the busses were supposed to have their own independent parking spots based on their turn or based on when their customers were ready to get on the busses from whatever terminal they came from, they would leave their terminals, march through Memorial Park and then on the eastern side where the stand is they would then get on their busses."
"If you study that a little bit, you can see that it's very logical process because of the flow of traffic that was originally designed by professionals. Unfortunately as we can see now by the state of the park, it's not being utilized for that. We don't even have basic facilities for our local entrepreneurs and business people, let alone the visitors that should be coming out of the walls of the tourism village."
"Another problem we have - if you look at Memorial Park now, the drains are not covered properly, they are rusted, broken or just removed. They are dangerous for both local and visitors. There is no toilet facilities. We thought last Thursday when we heard about the fees, the audacity to implement more fees when we don't even have the basic facilities and cruise tourism and overnight tourism accounts for million and millions of tax dollars and normally when you walk out of in any public place you should have a trash bin. If you look to your right, you should be able to see a trash bin. If you look to your left, you should be able to see a trash bin. From terminal 1 to terminal 4 there is one trash bin. The evaluations that the cruise people are sending in to the cruise industry is that they don't like the way its set up over here in the cruise village. So they need to change that. So their ratings go up. What I heard when they told us about their ratings, is that they didn't care about my ratings. They didn't care about these guys ratings. They just cared about theirs. It's time we broke down the walls."
Tom Greenwood, Stakeholder - Fort George Tourism Zone
"The plan is to present a better picture for higher ratings, for what? More cruise ships visits? Where are we going to anchor them? Goff's Caye? The idea is to for the outside operators, the people outside the cruise terminal - for the busses to come to the east end of Memorial Park, load up people who walk from the terminal to there (a few hundred feet) and then go off on the tour and come back the same way. So they will be passing through what is now going to be a huge organized market of vendors etc., and then walking back through is. But the catch there is that the people coming out of the cruise village will go just down the street, a couple of hundred feet, load up in those busses, go off on their tours, come back there and go directly back into the cruise village."
"So none of them, from the operators inside the village will go through the park. So the crumbs that the hair braiders, artisans and the operators and guides and all that, are enjoying outside the cruise village, will turn into just a shadow of the crumbs. We insist that that must not happen. They can come to the east end of Memorial Park, people walk through there, BTB tells us it's a short walk. We know it's a short walk. That is the proper thing to do."
They were also joined by tour operators, food vendors, and artisans, who are vehemently opposed to new fees that the city council wants to put on them. Here's how they put it:...
Frank Malic, Arts and Craft Vendor
"The price they are talking for us to pay is too much. We are not getting enough tourist so that we can make the fee to pay. So we would like them to lower the price what they are charging us. They say they want to charge us $300 or $350. That too much, because we are not making, we are not getting enough tourists there to make enough to cover the fees."
Jules Vasquez, 7News
"How much you pay right now."
Frank Malic, Arts and Craft Vendor
"We are not paying anything right now."
Patricia Madrill, Food Vendor
"Now City Council wants to charge us $300 a month and it's a 8x10 booth. The only thing they put in it is a cabinet top and bottom and the tiles on the floor and the tiles are lifting and it's not even a month yet. They say the trade license will be $150 a year. But I don't agree with that $300 a month, because we don't have any bathroom. $300 is too much. It is too small [booth]. I know the government needs money, but don't take it out of us poor people, because we are locals and this is high season and this is the worse high season - worse high season I have ever seen and I am out here for 15 years."
Last week in an interview, the Mayor said that while he supports the move to memorial park, first the busses have to park there. For reference, here's how he very clearly put it:
Mayor Darrell Bradley
"And I will encourage the business vendors, the small business vendors to hold the various regulatory authorities to this, both BTB and the City Council and I'm the mayor: do not move unless you are assured that the buses will relocated and the tourists will go through the park. The reason why that park is a white elephant is a simple reason, if you make the buses park in the area (because anyone will drive out there, you see the area that's designated for the buses to park), the park was actually built with that as part of a whole core concept . The buses park in that designated area and the people walk through the park to the zone, if that happens, if that vision of the initial plan happens then the people have no fear because hundreds of tourists will be walking right past your booth."
Mayor Sympathizes, Will Work Out Issues
Late this evening, we got a response from Belize City Mayor Darrell Bradley, who told News Five that there has been a deviation from the initial tourism master plan for the Fort George area. Not only does the Belize City Council support the concerns of residents and the local business community, it accedes that the Fort George Memorial Park remains a white elephant, despite the significant cost of remodeling. As far as the cost of rent, Mayor Bradley says that vendors have been operating for free, at City Hall’s expense, since they’ve had to shoulder the cost of maintenance. The fee, according to the head of local government, is negotiable.
Darrell Bradley, Belize City Mayor:
“We absolutely, one hundred percent support the position of those individuals. Many of them have attended the several consultations that we have had. Recently we had a consultation in the last two weeks. We had one about two months ago likewise because we are continually engaging with members of the community on the best fit in relation to organizing the Fort George Tourism Zone. But the essential difficulty that I have and which is why I understand the frustration of the residents and members of the business community is that we’re not following the project design. The project design called for the buses parking right behind the Memorial Park. Any resident of Belize City can go there and you can see there are slips for buses and there’s a turnstile and that was designed to accommodate the many buses that would have been in the area. The residents have a very proper grievance that you have very small streets along Cork Street and those areas and you have these big buses going in there causing noise pollution, releasing gas and causing increased traffic flow in the area and that was not the original design. So that what we are saying is that we are supporting a plan or proposal to have the buses park in the area that it was always designed. This is something that would make the residents quite happy. I want to clarify that it’s not increases. Currently the vendors in that area pay nothing. So that there is significant maintenance cost in relation to Memorial Park. We provide significant support to the Fort George Tourism Zone with traffic officers, assisting with the police, dealing with maintenance and monitoring in the area. All of that has a cost. If we’re talking about developing Memorial Park to the extent that we want to see it, being a place that’s flourishing and teeming with economic activity, small business, booths opening, food, culture, life, entertainment. All of that comes with a cost so, again part of the project, part of the sustainability plan for Memorial Park called for the vendors in the area paying for something.”
According to Mayor Bradley, the implementation of the rent has been postponed from April first, until a fee is agreed upon with vendors.