With unemployment as high as 16.1 percent and tourism accounting for one of every four new job, Belize City street vendors are angered at having their piece of the tourism pie shrunk. Recent street works on North Front Street have forced them to abandon their prime business location over the weekend.
The operators originally operated just across the street from the Caye Caulker Water taxi terminal, in the open lot once occupied by the Paslow building at the corner of Queen and North Front Streets.
What’s more, they won’t be able to return to the Paslow open lot when the works on North Front Street are completed, because the operator of the Caye Caulker Water taxi terminal owns the lease on the open lot and has announced plans to fence it in and to charge bus and taxi operators a parking fee.
If this were not enough, the Belize City Council has also advised the vendors that their new location at Battlefield Park in downtown southside is only temporary, and they will have to find a new location in 90 days.
CitCo’s Public Relations Officer Kenny Morgan explained that extensive renovation and construction will begin at Battlefield Park in three months time, so the vendors will have to move on.
The Belize Tourism Board facilitated the vendors’ relocation, but each vendor had to find $200 to pay the truck with a hydraulic crane, which hoisted their sales booths onto the truck bed and transported them over the Swing Bridge to Battlefield Park, where the crane then lowered their booths into their new location.
The vendors are unhappy about their new location because of the great number of indigent vagrants who have made Battlefield Park their home, sleeping on park benches, surviving as best they can by panhandling and rummaging through dumpsters.
They are also bringing unwelcome competition to the food vendors who already occupy booths on two sides of the park, on Albert Street and Court Lane. So the only space left for the newcomers is facing the back of the Belize Bank building.
The BTB got into the act because the works on North Front Street are part of the Fort Point Pedestrian Walk Project under the Sustainable Tourism Programme, which has diverted the flow of traffic over the past couple months. The project is to upgrade the sidewalk and drainage along North Front Street.
Morgan said the vendors have known of the leaseholder’s plans for the Paslow lot weeks ago, because they were informed when they were called in to a meeting with the City Administrator and other City Council officials. He added that the Council has made space at the park available to them on a needs basis only.