Heated row brings a halt to skate rink activities

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By Kadeem Joseph

There has yet to be an announced resolution to an impasse over the usage the Grays Green Community Center’s basketball court, which has caused to the operations of a skate rink to be halted.

Observer media responded to reports of a heated discussion between the constituency’s Parliamentary Representative Londell Benjamin, President of the King George V Restoration Committee Paul Davis, his Vice President Anderson Carty and owner of Sk8 Antigua, Arnold Merchant, as well as his associates.

Merchant’s use of the facility as a makeshift skating rink raised the ire of some members of the community.

Davis told Observer that the youth of the area should have full use of the government facility without hindrance.

“They are running off the people of the community from using the facility for the purpose that it was built for and that is a basketball court,” he said, adding that it is time for residents to “take back” the facility.

While Davis said he is not against an entity outside of the community utilizing the facility, he was adamant that there must be consultation before such a move.

Carty added that the court is one of the only spaces in the community that youth can use for recreational activities.

Calling the situation “disappointing” and “totally unacceptable”, he said children who would normally do their homework and then use the facility to play in the afternoons are now being deprived.

Carty said the people of the community have been deprived of too much for too long and enough is enough.

“No one is going to deprive our community of anything anymore,” he said. “We were deprived of a school; we are being deprived of this new community center and we have had enough of it.”

He said the next step is to determine how much time the government will be given to leave the main building, which presently houses the St John’s Magistrates’ Court. 

But Merchant, the owner of Sk8 Antigua — which has fast become a major attraction not only for youth in the area but other residents — said he sought the prerequisite permissions to host the activity at the venue.

He told Observer that he received the blessing of Chief Magistrate Joanne Walsh and the Minister of Works Lennox Weston, “who is officially over the venue”.

Sk8 Antigua has been operating at the location for about two months from 6 pm to 10 pm, with the first six weeks made free for those willing to try the pastime and Tuesday nights free to date.

Those wishing to enjoy the activity must pay a fee, according to the businessman.

The rink is operated every day save for Mondays and Wednesdays.

Merchant also claimed that the community members who had sought an audience with him, including MP Benjamin, did not approach him in a respectful manner, noting that if that were not the case, the incident would not have escalated.

He also disclosed that Ministry of Works officials had indicated that they would have informed Benjamin of the business venture.

In responding to criticisms that Sk8 Antigua was depriving the youth of the facility, Merchant said the complex was hardly being used before his intervention.

“I have been here day in – day out … I even skate in the daytime; the place is dismal. There is nobody here,” he said. “So again, this is why I said it is the perfect venue; it’s supposed to be basketball but there is no basketball happening here.”

As the row continued, patrons who were hoping to get ther opportunity to skate gathered, as varying pockets of arguments erupted over the issue.

Observer spoke to several young people from the area who shared their views on the disagreement.

The patrons said the skating rink was a welcomed attraction since they were not allowed to use the facility, which had remained in darkness before.

“Everybody expected that there would be skating, they don’t really use the basketball court until when they feel like,” a disgruntled young lady said.

“We basically could not do anything on the court. We could not play football or basketball until the skating came here and we could come out and do a little skating,” one young man added.

Others said the rink was a welcomed attraction to the otherwise slow social scene due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Observer sought to contact MP Benjamin for comment on Wednesday after he had declined comment on Tuesday night, but was unsuccessful.

Several meetings will be held in the coming days with hopes of bringing a resolution to the matter.

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