US$4.3M needed to restore City Hall

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Ambassador of the European Union Delegation, Jernej Videti? presenting Minister of Social Cohesion, Culture, Youth and Sport, Dr. George Norton with a copy of the Comprehensive Restoration and Sustainable Conservation Management Plan.

…EU urges buy-in from all stakeholders as it delivers restoration plan

IT would take some US$4.3M to restore the iconic City Hall Building from its ruins, and while a Comprehensive Restoration and Sustainable Conservation Management Plan has been completed with funding from the European Union, the financing is now needed to execute the ambitious plan to save the building.

Located at the corner of Regent Street and Avenue of the Republic, stands City Hall – one of the Caribbean’s finest timber buildings erected in 1889 but with every passing day, the three –storey rectangular building that imitates the Classical (Gothic) Revival architectural style, continues to deteriorate. On Monday at the Pegasus Hotel, Ambassador of the European Union Delegation, Jernej Videti? formally handed over copies of the Comprehensive Restoration and Sustainable Conservation Management Plan to the Government of Guyana and the Georgetown Mayor and City Council.

An artist impression of sections of City Hall highlighting critical areas that must be repaired
Photos by Adrian Narine

The document, which was compiled by Alanet Global and Euronet in collaboration with their local counterparts, not only gives a clear picture of the deteriorating state of City Hall but outlines a timeline, that once followed, can result in the building being restored by 2020.
Ambassador Videti?, while making a pitch for all to buy into the initiative, said City Hall should not be left to decay, deteriorate or be destroyed by nature’s will. “Ladies and gentlemen the sustainable management and restoration plan is now ready. The next step for its implementation now rests in your hands. This plan must be executed. As a document I would hate to think that it will be left on the shelves to gather dust. I have been advised by the technical personnel that it is imperative that restoration works commence as early as possible,” the EU Ambassador told the government and private sector representatives present.

He is convinced that once restored and managed effectively, the 129-year-old building can return to its heyday at a time when the country is experiencing an increase in tourists.
“I am told that the building in its prime was used for weddings, balls and concerts. Surely this can happen again. The city hall in a restored form can become self-sufficient. This is a building that can become one of Guyana’s major tourist attractions. Statistics show that the number of tourist arrivals is increasing yearly to Guyana so as an example imagine if 100,000 tourists a year visited City Hall and paid a nominal fee of just 200 GYD? It may seem a small figure but in a scheme of sustainable management it can translate into much more,” Ambassador Videti? reasoned.

The EU Ambassador handed over copies of the comprehensive plan to Minister of Social Cohesion, Culture, Youth and Sport, Dr. George Norton; Minister of Communities, Ronald Bulkan; and the City’s Town Clerk, Royston King. The handing over took place at a time when Europeans continue to celebrate their diverse cultural heritage across Europe for 2018.

Minister Norton, who told Guyana Chronicle that he will lobby the Government to offer final assistance, said City Hall’s intricacies have always been a beauty to behold but today it stands in despair. “To see it crumble with each passing day is heartbreaking,” he told those present.

As he offered his gratitude to the EU for funding the development of the comprehensive plan, Minister Norton, like Ambassador Videti? expressed the hope that the needed resources can be pooled together for the restoration of the iconic building while expressing regret over the planned demolition of the St. Rose’s High School building.
“I hope that in time to come when City Hall is restored to its breathtaking glory that we never allow any of our heritage buildings or sites to deteriorate in such a manner, ever again,” he said.

Town Clerk of the City of Georgetown Royston King

According to the Town Clerk, the physical condition of the historic building presents both a need and an opportunity to the city, explaining that there is a need because the Georgetown Mayor and Town Council does not have the wherewithal to manage the restoration process due to the many constrains it faces.

“I also believe that it presents an opportunity to the city, an opportunity for us to work together, to restore a building that has great historical significance, an opportunity that allows the council, members of the private sector, the Government and all stakeholders to share in a project that would allow us to sustainably preserve part of our cultural heritage,” he added.

King pointed out that in 2015 when the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) Government took office; it pumped a significant amount of resources to restore the Georgetown to its former glory. City Hall, he said, since then continues to demonstrate willingness to aid in the process by restoring some of the city’s most pride buildings.

“We started with the engineers’ building that was in a completely ruinous condition, and we repaired that, we restored that. We continued with a constabulary building within the same compound, we restored that, and then we ventured out to the Kitty Market, and with our limited resources we saved a building that allowed for community pride, development and interaction, between and among the various fractions living in Kitty…,” King said.
Though the City Council ran short on financial resources to complete the Kitty Market, he said the Government stepped in with $25M to continue the work. Another tranche was also given to complete the project.

King said the Municipality is thankful for the assistance offered by the EU as he reiterated the need for stakeholders to pool their resources together to implement the plan. Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the National Trust of Guyana, Nirvana Persaud echoed similar sentiments. The National Trust is an important partner in the project.

Director of Cardno International Development, Andrew McLoughlin, in giving an insight into the plan, explained that while City Hall remains in a condition fully capable of restoration, it is rapidly deteriorating and as such the plan should be implemented with alacrity. Its porous roof and walls, termite infestation and decay of the woods are among contributing factors. In that document, it was proposed that the future management of the site be placed under a steering committee.