Downtown Rejuvenation Project Launched

Posted By: Marty

Downtown Rejuvenation Project Launched - 04/09/15 10:53 AM

Several strategic areas in the city will be transformed into cultural and historical landmarks. That’s the plan embodied in the Downtown Rejuvenation Project. It was officially launched at the House of Culture today and it covers the reconstruction of the House of Culture, upgrading of streets and parks in downtown Belize City and the creation of a more vibrant and flourishing commercial center. The outline of the project was unveiled today and Courtney Weatherburne has the details.

Courtney Weatherburne Reporting….

Diane Haylock - President, NICH

"Why did we think that such project was necessary? Well first of all, this house is history, this house is heritage, this house is an important part of Belize. And there was a feeling that perhaps the way it was being used, the way it was presented was not befitting it's status in that history, it’s place in that history."

In order for the House of Culture to take its rightful place in history, a rejuvenation project was launched to give the old house an overhaul and promote its historical significance.

Abil Castaneda - Chief Tourism Officer

"The initial idea was to do something with this ground, with this remarkable architectural feat we have in Belize and to really allow it to have Belizeans first and them our visitors be able to come to this facility, to these grounds and learn about the history, learn about the heritage. Not only of Belize city, but of the country itself."

But the project is not only limited to the House of Culture.

Abil Castaneda - Chief Tourism Officer

"While we began to look at just this little area here, that is in yellow, which is the house of culture where you are right now. As the process evolved, what we realised is that the true impact and importance of this house is not only limited to the boundaries of the house of culture. And that the history and the value of such an architecture because of the historical values that it has - it really impacts this entire area here as the original settlement of old Belize.”

And that portrait of “Old Belize” is guiding the project.

Abil Castaneda - Chief Tourism Officer

"So this is the basis on what it is that we are looking at for this project. We're looking at what Belize city downtown once was. The values that it had. They old port which was behind the supreme court building. The architectural buildings - both the brick ones and the wooden ones. All of these assets are things that maybe from a common perspective would say that these things are just old structures, best thing we knock them down. But from our perspective, we have realised that these really are very important vestiges and also assets that not only tell the story of how Belize city was settle but also it tells a very important story of how life was back in the colonial days. We saw it important to see how we could maybe not go back to what it once was but to use the aspects that are still with us to allow us to appreciate what our history was, our heritage is and use that to compel the development towards the future."

And in order to seize that future, the past must be preserved and embraced.

Darrell Bradley - Mayor, Belize City

"So much of our Belizeanes has been lost to history, our architecture, our unique expressions, these things are things which tell the story of who we are as a people. Where we have come from and where we're going. And it is in incumbent on us to be champions of preservation of our heritage and that must start in the area of highest concentration of heritage sites which is in our downtown Belize City.”

That is where most of the work will be done including building a boardwalk from the Swing Bridge to the Bliss centre

And upgrading the streets and the grounds at the House of Culture.

It is quite an ambitious project looking at key target areas in the city, but can it be done after years of just consultation?

Darrell Bradley

"All the stakeholders are very invested in the project. I have seen and worked over the last 3 years with the partners from BTB and from NICH. And I see the heart we bring to the project, I see that they have been very committed in terms of bring us to this point and taking us forward. City council like wise in terms of our technical persons and myself. We're very passionate about improvements in key areas including in the downtown so that we really put our seal on insuring this project is implemented in the way it was implemented. It's community led, that it has buy in - it targets the assets, that it's focused on heritage, preservation and enhancement. And we talk about a comprehensive approach so that the success of it will depend on the people who's face are on the project, talking about it, trying to build that consensus."

The 2 year project costs $15 million dollars. The project is in the bidding stage, but works are expected to begin in June.

Channel 7

Big Plans For Downtown Belize City

Posted By: Marty

Re: Downtown Rejuvenation Project Launched - 04/10/15 10:46 AM

Culture Critic Yasser Bemoans City Plan

Last night we told you about the launch of the city rejuvenation project that focuses on reconstructing the House of Culture as well as upgrading other key areas in downtown Belize City. While it has been approved and has received a resounding applause from stakeholders, one cultural critic says it stinks. Yesterday former NICH President, Yasser Musa went on a facebook rant against the project, calling it "retrograde, racist and disturbing." He continues by saying "The crowd called NICH must mark April 8th as a celebration of colonial and myopic thinking." We caught up with Musa today and he explained why he considers this project an affront to Belizean history and identity.

Yasser Musa, Artist
"To be pulling a very sick stunt like this is completely, in my view, retrograde, it is racist and it is something that should be thoroughly condemned. That colonial museum idea is stupid. With fifteen million dollars, that is what they are spending on a colonial museum. With that money there should be a culture fund that artists, musicians, writers, researchers, historians, teachers can access small grants to go and do their projects. They have to tell stories, they have to build exhibits, they have to design concepts, innovate things, and create things. That is the beauty of art. What this colonial museum is doing is taking the side of the colonial power, taking the side of the people who are the oppressor, not the oppressed. So my view is to flip the coin and to say that the teaching, the education system must be connected to the cultural system and that has to happen. Belize is not a building, Belize is not a colonial idea. Our people have overcome that long ago."

Musa recommends that instead of investing all that money in reconstructing and upgrading spaces, NICH should create a culture fund, transform Liberty Hall on Barrack Road into a museum and creative arts center and distribute the money across the country for artistic and cultural development.

Channel 7

Posted By: Diane Campbell

Re: Downtown Rejuvenation Project Launched - 04/10/15 11:32 AM

Musa needs to get a grip.
Colonial architecture is beautiful, and old Belize City was, from what I can see in photos, quite lovely.
They are talking about restoring old buildings, not bringing back slavery for heavens sake.

I applaud this initiative wholeheartedly!!!

Belize city is the gateway to the country, and it is a fairly bad ( although improving) first impression at this time. If it reclaims some of its former grace, the entire country will benefit. Civic pride enhances the lives of everybody. When about 1/5 of the population of the country lives in Belize City, I'd say this is a direct upgrade to the lives of people who matter.

Posted By: Katie Valk

Re: Downtown Rejuvenation Project Launched - 04/10/15 08:49 PM

What Yasser is referring to is the colonial museum, not restoring colonial bldgs.
Posted By: ScubaLdy

Re: Downtown Rejuvenation Project Launched - 04/10/15 11:51 PM

Maybe Musa could donate a million dollars towards his vision???
Posted By: Diane Campbell

Re: Downtown Rejuvenation Project Launched - 04/12/15 11:46 PM

Originally Posted by Katie Valk
What Yasser is referring to is the colonial museum, not restoring colonial bldgs.

Fair enough. Will read again before making further judgements on his stance, and may have to make an apology. I appreciate your comments and insightful wisdom.

As an aside, preserving the old architecture of Belize City is (IMHO) , utterly fantastic!!

Posted By: Amanda Syme

Re: Downtown Rejuvenation Project Launched - 04/15/15 09:33 AM

The story refers to the introduction of a colonial museum that will cost milkions of dollars. Whilst I agree that Colonialism is a very important part of our history that should be recognized and learned from, Mr Musa appears to be lobbying for financial,support to maintain, grow and develop our current history in the making. Helping our artists, muscians and cultural traditions stay alive and even prosper.

History is important and so is supporting our culture today.

I love the colonial building in the old capital and would love to see a full face lift project as it beautifies the city and suports pride in our communities too. Although many will see colonialism as a dark blemish in our past, it is a huge part of what our nation is built upon. We cannot ignore the past or only pick and choose the parts that are favorable otherwise the ugly truth in history is buried and therefore doomed to be repeated.

So, we have a limited amount of money to utilize for projects - the puzzle is always how to spend the money and end up with the best bang for the buck.

Sadly the choices made are often proven to be mistakes in hind sight.
Posted By: Diane Campbell

Re: Downtown Rejuvenation Project Launched - 04/15/15 11:18 AM

Mayor Bradley invited Mr. Musa to collaborate.
Hopefully they will find positive avenues for expression.
Often grants and loans come with requirements related to the use of funds. Some lenders or grantors are all about museums or all about something else, and if you want their money you must highlight their particular area of interest. It's complicated.
Posted By: Marty

Re: Downtown Rejuvenation Project Launched - 05/12/17 11:36 AM

GOB Hurries Legislation To Try And Save Funding For City Culture Project

The Belize City House of Culture and Downtown Rejuvenation Project - it's 5.3 million US dollars from the Taiwanese Government to revive Belize City and make it tourist friendly as a former colonial outpost. The project was approved in 2014 and publicly launched in April of 2015 - and tomorrow the Minister of Culture will got to the House of Representatives to introduce long overdue Heritage Preservation Legislation. That should have been passed some time ago - and the Taiwanese funders have reportedly said that they won't disburse anymore money for the project until that legislation is passed. So, right now the project is at a standstill - and it is still not clear if it can be salvaged before the funding expires in February of 2018.

The idea was that colonial structures in the downtown area like these ones would have been restored - as part of a route for tourists leading to a fully restored House of Culture. But there hasn't been much buy-in from homeowners, so the project has stalled.

One other key component is the mother of all eyesores in the downtown area, and that's the Commercial Center. In 2014, the City Council had a major launch to announce its renovation as part of the project, but today it is shuttered and shabbier than ever. The City Council has had to shut it down and rent private space for its offices. Today the Mayor told us that it's because the council has been unable to find its portion of the counterpart funding to match the Taiwanese:..

Darrell Bradley - Mayor, Belize City
"The problem with moving ahead with that project is that the City Council has been unable to source of doing the project. We've only gotten $800,000 roughly from the House of Culture and Downtown Redevelopment Project for the renovation of the commercial center. We needed to source the additional funding. The project overall would have cost roughly about 2.8 million dollars. We've been working with Heritage Bank on getting a facility to cover that remaining cost, but that has taken off a period going on now to 2 years and that's really the delay."

"One of the thing is of serious concern with us is because we have not been able to do that building. Now we are paying rent. We actually are renting now the lower flat of the Sagicor building and we are renting the Mona Lisa building right adjacent the commercial center, because we have had accidents in the commercial center. The bathrooms, when I did the last inspection were facilities that I wouldn't use myself, so I don't expect my staff to use the facility. So that it's actually costing us now, because we have to rent temporary space."

Jules Vasquez, 7News
"So what now is the status of the commercial center, is it wasting?"

Darrell Bradley - Mayor, Belize City
"Well it is wasting. I will accept responsibility as the mayor for that. I am the mayor of the city, I actually made that a signature project of this municipality. But again the delay with that project, the buck has to stop with me as the mayor, because I really made it a signature project and we have not been able to secure our part of the financing."

Jules Vasquez, 7News
"Your term ends in 9-10 months. It won't happen. Not in this term of office."

Darrell Bradley - Mayor, Belize City
"Well I'm hopeful. I think you cannot be a politician and not be hopeful."

Jules Vasquez, 7News
"It's a blight, it's an eyesore at the center of the city and you are responsible for it."

Darrell Bradley - Mayor, Belize City
"Yes I fully accept one hundred percent for that. I won't shark any of the responsibility. The fact that it is not done is my responsibility, but nonetheless we are trying to get it done. We have not secured the financing for it."

Jules Vasquez, 7News
"However, even if you were to secure the financing the larger project is in trouble, because of failings on the government's part."

Darrell Bradley - Mayor, Belize City
"The fact that as a government and I include myself in that government, the fact that we have been unable to secure passage of the legislation and that we have been unable to satisfy the investors and the people who have really been partners in the development of this project is really something that we have to accept responsibility for. It's a good project and it is things that are necessary for the preservation of the cultural heritage of Belize City."

Jules Vasquez, 7News
"Will this project happen for Belize City?"

Darrell Bradley - Mayor, Belize City
"Well again I can't say. One of the things that I would want to challenge through the media airways is that those people who have responsibility for specific components of the project, that those people awaken in themselves a certain energy and motivation, because one of the things that I am concerned about is that we are fighting for the very survival of our city."

"All I am saying to you is that the success of this project is on the governmental entities to really try to make sure that it works, to try to make sure that if 2018 comes, we have in place what needs to be in place to ensure that we can access those funds and we can get the project finish, including the commercial center."

Jules Vasquez, 7News
"But at the same time you are criticizing them. At the same time you can't get money for the commercial center. They proposed that they would build a building at Paslow building. But you have leased that out. You can't break the lease, so the city council itself is a non-cooperating component."

Darrell Bradley - Mayor, Belize City
"Well I wouldn't say first of all that we have been critical. I have the utmost respect for the persons who are in charge of this project. I think that they have been leaders and innovators in getting the project off the ground in putting together the project documents in creating a lot of energy and excitement about the project itself, but I am agreeing with you to the extent that yes, we cannot and we have not been able to get the commercial center project off the ground."

As we said at the top, there is now some urgency as the Heritage Preservation Legislation is going to the House tomorrow. Government would then foreseeably, have to ask for an extension to project.

Channel 7

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