MONTEGO BAY, St James — Councillor Richard Vernon (Jamaica Labour Party, Montego Bay South Division) has come out strongly against a call from one of St James’ top lawmen to demolish the crime-plagued People’s Arcade in Montego Bay.
“I do not agree that it should be demolished. I agree that it should be redeveloped inclusively with a multi-faceted approach,” Vernon told the Jamaica Observer on Monday.
“I can understand the pain of the police in trying to manage the space in terms of crime, given that the space has not necessarily lived up to its intended purpose — and because of that it makes it a logistical problem in trying to manage crime within the space,” he added.
The call for the arcade to be razed came after a recent double murder at the facility which has been a sore point for years.
The arcade consists of about 400 shops built on lands owned by the Jamaica Railway Corporation (JRC).
On Monday, former JRC CEO Donald Hanson told the Observer that the board will make a decision soon on a development slated for the lands owned by the JRC in Montego Bay.
“We are going to have a board meeting to make a firm decision. We are looking on the entire area to do a development down there. I can’t say anything definite. It cannot stay like that,” he said. “Everybody has spoken; we cannot allow it to remain as it is with people living in there and the kind of things that are happening in there. There was a recent double murder there. We are going to have an entire look at the Montego Bay property and come up with a decision which will include the People’s Arcade,” Hanson added.
He said he is in full agreement for the arcade to be demolished but stressed that the call was not his to make.
“It will be a board decision,” Hanson said.
In an interview with the Observer on Monday, head of the St James Police Division Superintendent Eron Samuels doubled down on his previous call for the venue to be razed and replaced with structures more conducive to policing.
“We are unable to police it due to the design of the place. It was not a design that allows for policing to be done,” he reiterated.
Pointing to the arcade’s frequent use as a hide-out for criminals, he said it would be best for it to be demolished and a commercial centre erected, which would incorporate law-abiding operators.
“It is not that we are leaving out the legitimate operators out of the picture, we want them to utilise the facility as well,” Superintendent Samuels argued.
But from where coordinator and spokesperson for the arcade O Dave Allen is sitting, the police and JRC are among those who have dropped the ball, resulting in the chaos at the arcade.
“It is a dereliction of duty on the part of the police why criminal activities have been allowed to flourish and tarnish the reputation of the facility which, for the most part, facilitates legitimate operators,” said Allen.
“We don’t support criminality but the continued presence of criminals at the arcade should be placed at the feet of the Railway Corporation and the police. I cannot understand how inefficient and incompetent the security forces are that they cannot manage the few little criminal elements that are inside the facility,” said Allen.
As the blame game and disagreement on the way forward swirls, some vendors who rely on the venue to eke out a living look on with trepidation.
Among those who are worried is a 71-year-old woman who said she has been operating there for almost 30 years.
“I am here since 1996; I don’t have anywhere else to go. This is where former mayor of Montego Bay [Arthur] Gilchrist put us. Some of us stayed, some gone. I came over here with my little board shop but parish council say, ‘No, we can’t put that over here.’ Them lot out the property and say we must go ahead and build here,” she stated.
Restaurant operator Dean Williams wanted to know if another location would be provided for vendors if the arcade is razed.
“If this place demolish, where are we going to go from here?” he asked.