When Belize City Council relocated the street vendors from ‘ground zero’ parking lot that was once the Paslow Building to Battlefield Park, Mayor Darrel Bradley had warned the vendors not to get too comfy since the Council had a major renovation of the park scheduled in 90 days.
Well, that day has come, the vendors packed up all their paraphernalia over the weekend and relocated, as workmen began demolishing all the concrete structures in the park on Monday, April 22.
That included the concrete park benches, which had become home to so many indigents, the walkways, and even the concrete bandstand, a gift from Hans and Nandini Bhojwani, which former Mayor Zenaida Zoya inaugurated in 2010. It took the workmen and backhoe operators less than a day to reduce it all to rubble.
International Environments Ltd., a company owned by former speaker of the House Emil Arguelles and his brother, the architect, have been awarded the $394,000 contract to redo the park. This is the same company which has been redoing the Memorial Park as part of the Belize tourism infrastructure project.
The work also forced the relocation of the taxis parked on Albert Street and Treasury Lane beside the park on Albert Street, and apparently no one bothered to inform the taxi drivers in advance, and they were understandably upset.
Bradley hastily called a meeting with the Albert Street taxi drivers cooperative to assure them that they would have their same parking spaces to ply their trade as usual, once the work was complete.
Those drivers of the Downtown Taxi Cooperative who park on Treasury Lane beside Brodies won’t have that option anymore as that section of Treasury Lane is to be paved with cobblestones, to be used as a strictly pedestrian walkway, and no vehicles will be allowed in there.
As an olive branch Bradley promised to allow them to park on Church Street and a few could be accommodated in front of Brodies on Albert Street.
After smoothing over those ruffled feathers, Mayor Bradley decided to remedy the public’s ignorance of the project by briefing the media at hastily summoned press conference in his office, where he unveiled the architect’s concept drawing for how the park will look when the works are completed.
The Arguelles’ design calls for a lot more trees in the park, a water fountain and no bandstand whatsoever; it’s a greening of the park, which had become mostly concrete.
The design also calls for a median island along Albert Street, which will partition off the taxis parking area beside the park.
In fact, the design was reminiscent in some ways of how the park used to look more than 50 years ago.
Bradley says the renovation is part of his master plan for the city. His plan also includes the renovation at Newtown Barracks, which also calls for the demolition of another bandstand inaugurated by Mayor Moya, which coincidentally was also a gift from Hans and Nandini Bhojwani.
The bandstand was in the center of the park so only half the park could be used by an audience wishing to see a band onstage.
His master plan calls for the bandstand to be relocated to the north end of the park, so that the entire park might see the stage when it is used for a concert.
It’s fortunate that the bust of Philip Goldson has found an appropriate location at the start of the Philip Goldson Highway by the Pallotti-Belcan roundabout, as only the bust of Antonio Soberanis has survived the demolition that befell the Bhojwani bandstand. Soberanis is regarded as the father of Belize’s labor union movement in the 30’s, which in turn spawned the People’s United Party and the fierce nationalist movement that eventually led to Belizean Independence. Arguelles’ design appears to have included a home for the Soberanis bust.
Bronze sculptor Stephen Okeke, who created the busts of George Price and Philip Goldson, has pointed out that it’s not a particularly good likeness of Soberanis, saying he could do a much better job. This writer would agree, having walked through the swinging doors adorned by the Panama flag of Soberanis’ barber shop beside the Belize Times to have his hair cut every two weeks for most of his youth; the present bust has little resemblance to Mr. Tony Soberanis, who deserves better.