A spruce-up plan for Bridgetown to make it more welcoming to Barbadians and visitors ran into a wall of concern from residents, business owners, and even the Barbados Fire Service during a Ministry of Tourism-organized town hall meeting last night.
Government intends to redecorate Bridgetown with the assistance of an Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) US$20 million loan that covers the island’s plan for the 2014 to 2018 period.
The plan for The City includes: providing new, informative signage; increasing the number of public toilet facilities; installing tour guide paths; making historic signs more attractive; and making sidewalks accessible for the physically challenged.
But following an outlay of the plan by designer/architect Robert O’Neal, several Barbadians expressed reservations about some of the changes.
Among them was fire prevention supervisor with the Barbados Fire Service Wayne Vaughan who was concerned about access to Beckwith Square, including seating arrangements which appear to encroach on the road.
“Barbados already has relatively small streets,” he said, pointing out that “even now with Swan Street as it is, it creates a bit of a problem for us.
“Getting large fire appliances in that area in a relatively quick time would be vitally important to us.”
Noting that the proposal currently includes bollards or posts at the road edge, O’Neal agreed that the fire department’s concerns must be taken into consideration.
“Those bollards I don’t think are advisable because a visually impaired person could easily be hitting into those things,” said Roseanna Tudor of the Barbados Council for the Disabled.
Urging the project planners to fully consider accessibility she said: “Your visitors are getting older and they’re coming to us for ease of access to restaurants and hotels. They don’t want to go on the beach alone anymore. They want to know where offers ease of access – and those are your returning visitors.”
Phillip Garner of the Bridgetown Taxi Association expressed his organization’s objection to the plan to reduce spaces for the more than 29 vehicles regularly parked in Beckwith Square to ten.
O’Neal agreed to the plan to make further provisions for taxis, but said that as far as Beckwith Square was concerned, “the area needs to be controlled”.
“Ten taxis will always be there and the others in the immediate area will be called up once a space becomes vacant,” he explained.
The spokesman for the taxi drivers also expressed reservations about a proposal for water taxis to ferry tourists along the river, which he said could take away business from his colleagues at Heroes Square.
“Carry the water taxis down to St Lucy to bring people down to town,” Garnes suggested.
Jackie Harewood-Pope of Furniture Limited, in her contribution to the discussion, argued that Bridgetown was “a dead town” and none of the proposals she had heard last night would promote tourism.
“We want to give people things to do. We want a city that is live, inviting, not sitting all the time. We want entertainment, a moving city,” she said, calling for facilities such as a movie theatre and bowling facilities.
Despite Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy objecting to the suggestion that Bridgetown was dead, Harewood-Pope received support from fellow City businesswoman Ram Mirchandani.
“The amount of people we used to get for purchasing in Bridgetown has [slowed down]. When we say Bridgetown is dead, it is not from the point of view of people not walking around, but it is the money that is being spent in town. The majority of the people go out of town for their shopping and otherwise,” she said, pointing out that many Government offices had been relocated from the City, while the promised move by the University of the West Indies to the old Mutual Building was not yet a reality.
Melvina Jones, who said she has been guiding tourists through the City for several years, simply wants Bridgetown to return to its once clean state.
She also supported the idea of reintroducing entertainment in The City.
“There has got to be something happening for people to come,” she said.