Belize City Mayor Darrell Bradley is coming to the end of his two terms in office, that’s six years at the helm of City Hall. Now, he has undertaken massive infrastructure works in respect of one hundred and sixty streets and roundabouts through a twenty-million-dollar bond. But there is one project that has eluded him and remains an eyesore in the downtown area. The mayor had intended this to be the crown jewel of the city; but that is not likely to happen before he demits office. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.
Isani Cayetano, Reporting
The Belize City Commercial Center stands on its last legs, despite a solemn promise by Mayor Bradley in August 2014, that the building would have been renovated in a most timely manner. The municipal leader is nearing the end of his second term in office and it’s apparent that his swan song will not include a spanking new business hub in Market Square. For now it is a much publicized and eagerly anticipated venture that proves to be a spectacular flop, despite monies being earmarked for the project.
Darrell Bradley, Belize City Mayor
“It continues to be a frustration to me in relation to the upgrading of the commercial center. I actually had maintained that this was a signature project for the city council and I would leave office and it still has not been commenced. We are at the stage where we have sourced funding from our financial institution Heritage Bank. They’ve approved our loan, all the plans with the contractor we’ve executed the contract. We have a supervisor of works, so that there is a consulting engineer who is about to supervise these works and we are just awaiting the permission from the Minister of Finance who has to approve the funding source. Sometimes that takes a longer period of time. Sometimes that takes a shorter period of time. Sometimes they have certain concerns, but we had actually negotiated quite a good finance package with Heritage Bank.”
Until the prime minister gives his stamp of approval on the source of funding, the decrepit structure endures as an ugly sight, attracting its share of vagrants in the downtown area.
“We have noticed that people are now loitering in the vicinity of the commercial center. It is becoming a nuisance spot, so this is actually a concern from multiple vantage points why it becomes an urgency. We actually need the space because the city council currently, is renting two spots for office space. We had to close down an area of the commercial center because the bathroom, the plumbing and so forth was no longer permitting people to work in the facility.”
The Belize City Council has instead resorted to tenancy, renting private properties to house the municipal court, as well as other administrative offices. Admittedly, Mayor Bradley says that these are monies that can be used to cover a mortgage facility, which would in turn serve a better purpose.
“We are now operating the lower flat of the Sagicor property and by where the Mona Lisa building is in the downtown [where] we have our municipal court. So that it actually costs us a significant amount of money to be paying rent. This is one of the reasons why it’s a good idea, because rather than paying rent, pay a mortgage and it‘s a facility that we own and we are going to upgrade it. We’re only waiting for that permission and once that is given then the monies will be released from the bank and we can start the project. We’ve done pre-demolition work, the building is entirely evacuated so that the contractor can go in there and they will renovate the building in eight months.”
With an established timeline for the actual renovation to be completed, minus the pre-demolition work that has already taken place, the question is whether or not there is the political will to give this project the go-ahead. Of late, Prime Minister Barrow has been consulting with Councilor Dion Leslie, the UDP’s mayoral candidate for Belize City, on other municipal projects that don’t seem to include market square.
“I’m hoping that works could start before the ending of this year and definitely before the ending of my term in office because as I had indicated at the beginning part of this interview, this was something that I made a big issue of that there needs to be remedial works to the commercial center. There has to be a significant amount of investment in the downtown.”
Even with the delay, Mayor Bradley has been able to figure out a repayment plan for a loan from Heritage Bank.
“We have an existing facility with them and they will extend that funding at the current outflow so that we are going to extend the loan facility and they’re going to keep the flows at a certain point. Don’t quote me on this, but I think it’s about twenty thousand dollars per month that we pay them on that existing facility and they will keep the payments at twenty thousand dollars to 2019, so that that actually helps the City Council because our cash flow will maintain at the current levels. And what will happen in 2018 is that we will pay off half of the municipal bond so that our cash position will increase and we’ll have a series of judgment debts, including to BML that we’re still paying off and those will finish in 2018, as well, so that in 2019 when we are supposed to pay additional monies for this commercial center facility, we can quite comfortably pay it because those debt servicing that we are paying off for judgment debts would have already been settled.”