On July 22, Tourism and Culture Minister Randall Mitchell proposed a plan to transform Ariapita Avenue into an entertainment hub. Though this isn’t the first time the government has announced plans to make the area a focal point for entertainment, residents, business and other stakeholders still have mixed views on this proposal.
Speaking at Tribe Family of Bands’ SUNSETWKN (Sunset Weekend) launch along Ariapita Avenue, where soca king Machel Montano was given the key to the city; Mitchell said he wants to convert the avenue into a party strip. This he said will allow for an entire month of weekend-long band launches which will attract regional and international tourists outside of Carnival while capturing the essence of Carnival and the culture of TT. Soon after Mitchell made the announcement, disgruntled residents called on the authorities for more consultations or to rethink this decision.
"Let him take that stupidness downtown Frederick Street, don't bring that here," 75-year-old Vernon Narine of O'Connor Street said when Newsday visited the area last Wednesday to talk to residents. "I'm not for the Carnival partying every other day. I find that is impossible. Woodbrook was never like this. It was half resident, half commercial.
"When I came to live here 60 years ago there was one in everything, now there is a full street of just bars.
"They (government) just spending money in the wrong place at the wrong time. The country is plagued with issues and look at their focus, Carnival and party. Take the money, fix the road and pavement, and give us a better water system...We get enough of Carnival on Carnival day."
Stephan Warwick, 27, doesn’t agree with his neighbor. “We need to embrace the change. It will happen whether we like it or not. Young people need this kind of life and commerce in the community, we are the future, and it will benefit us.”
He said once proper consultation is done to ensure safety and security, the country will benefit from what Woodbrook has to offer.
Xianyou Mei, of Petra Street Woodbrook, said his only issue is traffic congestion and illegal parking. He said, "For people not living in this street they would have problems because they don't know there's a dead end."
Since he spends most of his time at another home in Arima, the weekend events do not bother him.
Former Port of Spain mayor Louis Lee Sing told Sunday Newsday on Friday night this proposal must be defined. In a text message he explained, “As always with those who have little to offer, we get what can best be described as 'an idea,' with no clearly defined plans and we sooner or later find ourselves between a rock and a hard place - forever groping in the darkness.”
He asked, “On what basis is the mayor, who is now famous for his AstroTurf King George V Park initiative, chosen to turn a major thoroughfare into a carnival /liming centre? In principle, it is a sound concept, but for God's sake tell me how it will work and how it will enhance the lives of the Residents of Woodbrook?”
But Port of Spain mayor Joel Martinez stands by his vision to evolve the area. In a sit-down interview with Sunday Newsday on Monday Martinez said while he agrees with the residents that consultation is needed, the area is naturally and quickly evolving into a cultural hub. He hopes the residents are willing to work will all stakeholders to live comfortably with the ongoing development.
"The ministry has certain ideas they would like because that's the Ministry of Tourism and Culture and they look at things nationally. I am looking at things from a Port of Spain perspective and we have to remember we are the city of festivals. We have the UNESCO designation for the city of music. We are a very high cultural people. We have had Carnival in Woodbrook for many years."
He continued his reasoning by saying Ariapita Avenue, “is the birthplace of so many steelbands, so many Carnival bands and mas camps throughout Woodbrook, and so Woodbrook is not just a residential area, it's residential, it's associations, it's camps, it's all the different things that create that whole melting pot of Woodbrook.”
He promised to meet and consult with all stakeholders.“The residents at this time have a voice and we would like to make sure that we attend to their issues, because at the same time, we don't want the residents to move away from Woodbrook. We want more people to come into the cityscape and to live, and so we want to be able to create that harmony between both.
"It is not where we would like it to be at this point in time. But I'm certain that if we continue the dialogue we will get there.”
Since the announcement, Martinez said he has not received any official complaints or meeting requests from the residents.
"Apart from what I've seen on television, I have not seen a letter from the residents that has indicated anything as such to me. But if I do and when I do, and even if I don't, I will find out what the pluses and the minuses are. What we could have done better, what circumstances need to be addressed differently."
He spoke about plans to do a post-mortem of the recent events.
“We will speak with tribe people. We will speak with the residents we will find out what can we do better, because there will always be little logistical issues along the way, and if we keep doing and we get better and better at it, those problems will eventually subside."
President of the TT Promoters Association Jerome Precilla believes the proposal can work, but raised concerns over security and safety.
"It has to be done based on consultations with the residents in the area. But once they get the residents in the area on board, then that would be a great idea, whether it be Ariapita Avenue or any other area where you have a strip dedicated just for events that would have to attract more people to come to TT for entertainment itself.”
Percilla said crime, parking, violence, and other major factors must be considered.
"Once all of these ideas are considered then I see it as a great idea to sell and boost entertainment in TT. They would have to have a proper plan in place (for) the security of persons if the area is considered a strip and entertainment hub.
“If you want to attract tourists to the area, or even the average Trinidadians you have to make people make sure that people are safe. Currently, because of the crime rate in TT, a lot of the citizens are not feeling safe. And on Ariapita Avenue as well they have a lot of street dwellers who harass the general public when they go to purchase food items even to go the bars.”
He hopes this proposal, which has been on the back burner for many years, comes to fruition.
Deputy Commissioner of Police of Intelligence and Investigations Wendell Williams believes the actions of Woodbrook businesses and crime are inextricably linked, and so some serious collaboration between police and business owners is needed for this epicentre to thrive.
“Back in 2011 we had a situation in St James where there were issues of illegal parking, urinating on public property, violence, loud music, and other incidents taking place and it was climaxing badly.
“I investigated and found those behaviours linked to bar operations. I was able to present to the owners in a meeting who they were harming. I got them to work on a project to close their bars two days a week for a month and to close at 3 am. I guaranteed them police response and this restored the order in St James.”
He believes a similar model should be considered in the Ariapita Avenue proposal.
“If you can show them what is that in the future you could bring them along to that collaborative approach.
“There will be problems without proper consultation without learning from what has already been learned and can be implemented.”
Owner of 51 Ingredients Shireen Pollard said this idea is good for business post-covid19. She also raised issues of crime and criminality which could be a major obstacle for buyers.
Workers at Coco Lounge Brimley said such a proposal is urgently needed.
One street vendor, sitting under a bus shed along the pavement near RBC said she had no problem with the idea, "Once they don't interfere with me here," she explained to Newsday. The woman, who has been a street vendor for 35 years, said she is also from Woodbrook and feels safe running her business, but said there has been a noticeable surge in crime in and around the area.
E-mails and calls to the Environmental Management Agency were not acknowledged or responded to.