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Jul 9, 2019

Construction of New Building begins at Ground Zero

Seventeen years ago, a historic building in the heart of the city was consumed by fire. The loss was immeasurable, wiping out part of history that came with the colonial Paslow building. At the time, a clerk was charged with deliberately setting the fire, but the case fell apart. The building was rich with history of a colonial nature in an era gone by; it once housed the Post Office and several magistrate courts and the Lands Department. In recent years, it has been used as a parking lot, but now that the city’s rejuvenation project is underway, construction has begun of another building to occupy that prime real estate. This week, News Five’s Duane Moody went to Ground Zero to check out what’s taking place. Here is a report.


Duane Moody, Reporting

Construction works have begun on a piece of prime property in the heart of downtown Belize City, right across from the Swing Bridge. When completed, a two-storey concrete building with parking space to the rear and various office spaces will serve as a welcome centre for tourists and Belizeans alike to gather information about the commercial city and Old Capital. A space for artisans and other organizations is also conceived.


Albert Avila, Downtown Rejuvenation Project

Albert Avila

“This project is a part of a larger project of the rejuvenation of downtown Belize City, which is coming under the Belize City House of Culture and Downtown Rejuvenation Project. This Paslow site is one of the projects that we are working on. This site is important mainly because of the historical context, which was t hat it was an old historical, colonial, architectural building. It is kinda strategic because right across the bridge is where the Downtown Rejuvenation Project will build an Ecom Museum.”


Ground zero, as it has been referred to for the past fifteen years, is a landmark; it is where the iconic Paslow Building once stood for almost a century. The three-storey colonial designed wooden and concrete structure was named after Thomas Paslow, who along with his slaves, had fought in the 1798 Battle of Saint George’s Caye. In 1945, it was acquired by the government and housed the Magistrate Courts, the Lands and Income Tax Departments of Belize City as well as the Post Office.


Lawrence Vernon

Lawrence Vernon, Chief Librarian

“The Paslow Building was constructed around the 1920’s as a three-storey building and it was built by the Jefferson Construction Company of New Orleans which around that time was building the Belize Swing Bridge and some other buildings in Belize City. The building was given the name Paslow because of the colonial aspect at the time; the Colonial Governor at the time, Sir Alan Burns, thought of giving the name Paslow. The building housed originally what was called the Belize Store and that existed till about 1931 when the Belize Estate and Produce Company bought over the building. Belize Estate subsequently sold it to the Government of Belize to be used as government departments/offices, including the post office, the magistrate courts and survey department.”


But on September twenty-ninth, 2002, one of the most devastating fires in the nation’s history spread through the third floor of the Paslow Building, destroying important legal documents and the integrity of the infrastructure in its path. Even as fire-fighters exhausted its resources to effectively battle the blaze, the damage was irreparable. An investigation revealed the unthinkable – the building was deliberately set on fire.


Ted Smith, Former Operations Manager, National Fire Service [File: September 30th, 2002]

Ted Smith

“At this present moment we don’t even know the area of origin, much less talking about the cause of the fire. Because you have established an area origin before you could even consider looking for a cause…an ignition source. So it’s sad that for some reason we’re hearing supposed cause of the fire on the radio and we ourselves the investigator haven’t yet commence this investigation the way we want. The fire service’s job initially is to focus on outing the fire, that’s what we were doing yesterday, outing the fire. When we finish outing the fire, then we think about investigate.”


Three days later, Ivan Ayuso a second class clerk/cashier with the Magistrate’s Court, was charged for arson. By 2005, the case was reportedly thrown out on a technicality. While the disaster was a major loss to the architecture and created a big gap in the face of downtown Belize City, the value of the loss was so much more. Back then, there was speculation that Minister of Housing, Dickie Bradley, who also had the portfolio for the National Fire Service, may have been involved because days before the inferno, he allegedly said that the building should have been burnt down. While he never did, Bradley maintains that the loss was tremendous.


Richard “Dickie” Bradley

Richard “Dickie” Bradley, Former Minister of Housing

“In terms of the few historical buildings that Belize City, plagued by so many fires in the past and by destructive hurricanes that have passed through, this would be a historic loss. It would have been one of the few three-storey buildings of its time.”


The name of the building is under review after concerns were expressed by residents and historians. Among those persons are attorney Richard “Dickie” Bradley, who from before the Paslow Building was destroyed by fire, felt that the building should be renamed.


Lawrence Vernon

“Thomas Paslow who was actually a slave owner and his only claim to fame was that he was a part of the Battle of Saint George’s Caye in 1798. He never occupied the land; he never owned the land that Paslow Building stood on. Actually he lived on the other side of Haulover Creek where the commercial centre exists now.”

Richard “Dickie” Bradley

“Another part to the gentleman which is that he has the notoriety—if I can use that word—that he was taken to court and he was tried by his follow magistrates. He was tried and found guilty, convicted and charged a fine—yo noh put a white man to jail—for mutilating some of his slaves. He was a slave owner to start with.”


Lawrence Vernon

“So I would hope that they wouldn’t include the name Paslow in this new building.”


Bradley has further concerns about the purpose of the building when completed.

Richard “Dickie” Bradley

“How come they are going to put; B.T.B. is going to put some foolishness there, when they should really build back that building and leave the bottom as a parking area. It’s another erasing of our history and our culture.”


Albert Avila

“The original Paslow Building was a colonial architectural design building. And it was important for us, since our project is about the history and culture of downtown Belize City—and if we are going to replace one of the buildings, an old historic building—we wanted to put something there as close as possible to the architectural design of that building and of the era of that building.”


The contractor is Eric Martinez and Sons. The project started about a month ago and is expected to be completed by early 2020. Duane Moody for News Five.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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