By Makeida Antonio
It was an emotional scene on Lower Newgate Street yesterday as family and friends assisted the owner of a 28-year-old bar and restaurant to remove valuable items after the Development and Control Authority (DCA) issued a notice for its removal.
Around 7am yesterday, DCA officials converged outside the building with heavy duty equipment, ready to begin the process of demolishing the building to make way for the ongoing port expansion project.
A final notice was delivered by DCA on July 15 to demolish the building that housed a well-established bar and restaurant owned by a Hispanic Mary Valdez and which has been in operation since 1994.
Mary’s New Horizon Bar and Restaurant is one of several buildings that would eventually have to be relocated to make way for the further expansion of the St John’s Harbour to accommodate a fifth cruise berth.
Government officials, including Minister of Tourism Charles Fernandez, contended that Valdez ignored several notices to relocate as well as attempts to set her up in a temporary location.
Fernandez told State media last week that Global Ports Holding has lamented the time spent waiting for the property to be cleared so that development in the area can be completed.
“One person is holding up the opportunity for hundreds of Antiguans to get employment. We have given her the assurance that when the project is completed, she will be able to apply for a space and she will be put at the front of the line in terms of occupying or acquiring a space to operate,” Fernandez argued.
He suggested that according the stipulated completion timelines, the project was now facing cost overruns as a result of the delayed demolition.
However, Valdez said she never said she would not move, she was simply unable to relocate because she has not yet received the keys or any document to a building as was promised by Prime Minister Gaston Browne.
Observer spoke to Valdez on Monday night to gain more insight into the situation, prior to the demolition of the area.
“They gave me five days to move. I didn’t move because I don’t have anywhere to go, I am waiting for the key. After that, they said they will come tomorrow to break the building but [the Prime Minister] said he is not going to give me anything for me to move,” she said in an interview.
While providing more information, Valdez shared she was also disheartened about the exchange between herself and Prime Minister Browne which she believed displayed a lack of respect towards her.
“In the back, I have a kitchen to move, but I haven’t found land to move the kitchen. I asked Fuller if I could build the kitchen and he gave me permission to do it. But [Browne] said I am a liar and the land doesn’t belong to Fuller. I don’t know who the land belongs to. I have been renting private. He has the preference, he is the Prime Minister, he can do it, but I believe that respect is important,” she added.
Late yesterday afternoon, one of Valdez’ family members told Observer that the owner had been given a new deadline of Friday July 29 to remove the detached kitchen from the premises before the DCA proceeds with the demolition.
Observer also approached Town and Country Planner Clement Antonio for comment, however, he declined to do so.