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Kingston, Jamaica: November 28, 2012 – With a commitment of $30 million in funding, the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) continues to demonstrate its conviction that Montego Bay has enormous untapped potential. The city has many undeveloped resources and the funds will be used to underwrite an initiative to showcase Jamaica’s history, culture and architectural heritage to further enhance Montego Bay’s tourism product. The intervention could breathe new life into downtown Montego Bay and redound to the benefit of all stakeholders including craft vendors, artisans, taxi operators and restaurants that have been clamouring for a greater share of the tourism pie.
TEF is placing these resources behind a major project to revitalise the city centre, Sam Sharpe Square and the Montego Bay Civic Centre.
The TEF, an agency of the Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment, functions under the Tourism Enhancement Fund Act which commits the agency to: (a) implement projects and programmes which impact on the growth and development of the tourism sector; (b) encourage better management of environmental resources in Jamaica; (c) enhance the overall tourist experience in Jamaica and (d) provide for the sustainable development of the tourism sector.
Given its remit and against the background of growing consumer interest in cultural tourism, the Minister of Tourism, Hon. Dr. Wykeham McNeill and TEF Chairman, Senator Noel Sloley, embarked on a quiet campaign to bring to Montego Bay a major cultural attraction, which would serve to broaden the overall scope of the city’s tourism product.
The first step involves maximizing the potential of the historic Montego Bay Civic Centre, which is situated in the heart of the city. The plan is to transform the Centre into an interactive multi-dimensional museum and cultural centre with related amenities to create the ambiance expected of a market leading attraction. Features will include; upgraded and modern fencing, parking, state of the art lighting, safety and security arrangements, research and learning facilities and experiences for teachers and students, comfortable seating, interactive audio visuals, modern exhibition cases, periodic art shows, dining facilities, an open courtyard for meeting and greeting, monuments of Sam Sharpe and those hung in relation to the 1831 Christmas Rebellion as well as other features catering to the needs of Jamaicans and visitors alike.
The Montego Bay Civic Centre has had a colourful and storied history; construction of the original building was completed in 1810 and became the civic, commercial and political centre of St. James. Razed in 1968 by a series of four mysterious fires, the facility was rebuilt under the San José Accord at a cost of $155 million; construction was completed in December 2000. Today, the Civic Centre, sited on the remains of the old court house and Albert George Market, is in dire need of perimeter fencing.
Throughout the years, the Civic Centre and its courtyard has been plagued by a multiplicity of problems including leaky roofing, public urination, illegal vending and vandalism chiefly in the courtyard which includes what was supposed to be a speakers corner abutting the site of an obelisk listing the names of those hung by agents of the British government in the aftermath of the Christmas riots of December 1831.
Formerly, the original building housed vestry offices, the St. James Parish Council and regular court sessions such as a debtors' court at which slaves were sold to pay the debts of their masters. In 1832, it was in that court house that the trial of Sam Sharpe and the hundreds of slaves, who were accused in the 1831 slave rebellion, was conducted. Sam Sharpe and the slaves who were found guilty were hung in the Square; formerly known as Charles Square; and in the adjoining Albert George Market. Six years later, from the balcony of that storied building overlooking what is now Sam Sharpe Square, the Proclamation of Emancipation Act was read on August 1, 1838.
Over time, tourism stakeholders in Montego Bay have hoped to find a way to exploit this rich cultural history. In that respect, the slated TEF funding will facilitate the transformation of the Civic Centre into a ‘National Museum West’, restructuring the operations, marketing and policy oversight of the facilities. The new entity will be under the leadership of an Arts Commission, a Curator and a Centre Manager. The St. James Parish Council, Institute of Jamaica and the Member of Parliament are all participating and have voiced their support for this superb initiative.