Stabroek Market to close this weekend
-life threatening state cited, $60-70M needed for repairs

By Miranda La Rose
Stabroek News
August 20, 1999

Mayor Hamilton Green announced yesterday that the 19th century Stabroek Market will be closed this weekend in order to prevent a catastrophe.

Briefing reporters in the Council Chambers at City Hall and flanked by five councillors and officers of the council including Town Clerk, Beulah Williams and City Engineer, Cephas James, Green said that arrangements were already in place to cordon off the historic Stabroek Market to effect emergency works.

However, stallholders are asking that the market be closed in sections and repairs be effected in phases as a total closure of the market would result in untold hardship for between 4,500 to 6,000 persons who earn their living in the market.

The mayor said that funds were sought each year for market repairs but they were never sufficient to do the extensive work needed. He said that an inspection done "just a few hours ago reveals that there has been rapid deterioration in the structure itself and that we now have hanging metal in certain parts of the building," that is a threat to life and limb.

The councillors present had been alerted just prior to the press briefing about the decision to close the market and the majority of the others had not yet been briefed. The mayor said that three statutory meetings ago councillors deemed the Stabroek Market "a crisis" and agreed that they needed to "do something about it".

Councillor Patricia Chase-Green expressed concern about a total closure resulting in a possible flood of street vendors, but Green chided her saying that now was not the time for sentimentality or emotionalism.

Green stated that President Bharrat Jagdeo whom he had briefed about the situation yesterday morning, had expressed concern and had assured him that the council could rely on his personal intervention and that of the government to deal with "what is clearly a national crisis".

Green said that the police will be alerted about the activities to take place in relation to the cordoning off of the area and suggestions as to the way forward will be considered from not only stallholders, but the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Questioned on how long the closure would last, Green said that the City Engineer will not risk his integrity to put a time frame to the shutdown. Even though the council knows "what is wrong. We do not have a detailed examination of all the structures so that we can shape or cost to a complete new structure," he added. However, he said that the life-threatening concerns at present were the canopy to the east of the building, the bell tower and the wharf.

Stressing the enormity of the problem, Green said that the municipality had recently repaired the clock in the bell tower of the market but could not activate the chime because its resonance would have caused the bell tower to collapse.

In response as to how much the repairs to the market would cost, Green said that when his predecessor Ranwell Jordan was mayor the council had prepared a budget for $50 million for basic repairs to the canopy, bell tower and rewiring. He said that the council did not have detailed drawings that could provide a figure, but that the amount will now be between $60 million to $70 million. Estimates for the repairs, he said, were now being done under the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)-funded Urban Rehabilitation Programme.

He said that when the Urban Rehabilitation Programme completed its draft, Bourda Market was identified as a priority and the Stabroek Market placed in the second phase. "Based on knowledge of the conditions... and in discussions at the level of the council and the ministries of finance and local government we prevailed upon the IDB that the Stabroek Market should be the priority."

Time, he said, "will not permit the tedium of the IDB bureaucracy and, therefore, consistent with the statement I made earlier, we have no choice but to cordon off the area over the weekend and close the Stabroek Market completely. There will be difficulties of enormous proportions. The dislocation will be unimaginable."

However, he said that "we will if possible avoid the complete closure of the market. The ideal thing will be to close the market completely so that we will not compromise the work to be done. Not only the structure is bad but the electrical work is bad and we have had a running battle with the GEC [Guyana Electricity Corporation] as to who is responsible for the rewiring of the market." He said that the fact is that all of the wiring is unsatisfactory and if the market was not a municipal operation, the electrical inspector would have closed it down long ago.

Recently, too, he said, the market had been beset by a number of fires because of electrical faults. Clerk of Markets, Schuler Griffith, said that the proximity of the Central Fire Station was what had prevented a major conflagration so far.

Stallholders said yesterday that monthly rates had been imposed on them in recent years with the explanation that this was to cover the rewiring expenses. But Green said that the council did not have money and financing would have to come from outside the council. A lot of the work will depend on the flow of cash.

Jordan, he recalled, had sought a loan from commercial banks, which required a government guarantee. The minister responsible for local government at the time, he said, felt that it was not appropriate or convenient for government to offer itself as guarantor and had offered instead to pay the rates that government owed the council. To date the rates have not been paid, Green said. Green contended that the alternative to closing the market was to wait for the IDB project, but added that he did not think that was the way to go.

It would be an act of gross irresponsibility on the council's part if it did not take into consideration the unusual weather prevailing, including high winds, he said, adding that it was more prudent to close the market instead of waiting for it to collapse.

Stabroek Market is known as the largest public market in the Caribbean and ranks among the largest all-metal markets in the world. It was designed and built by American architect, Nathan McKay. The market which covers an area of 77,000 square feet of land and water, was opened on November 1, 1881. The entire market, including river wall, wharf and foundation cost $200,000. This market replaced an older wooden structure which was built in 1842. The previous market was rated among the best in the Caribbean in its time.

Stabroek Market sells a wide variety of items ranging from clothing and haberdashery, jewellery, groceries, fish, fruits and vegetables and cooked foods and has some 1,500 stalls. It provides employment for upwards of 4,500 persons.

Green said yesterday that the architect's choice of building material has left many unanswered questions. One such question, he said, was why did the architect, a builder of steel locomotives and steam vessels choose to use imported steel when Guyana had an unlimited supply of timber. In those days, he claimed, steel frames were not widely accepted or used as their usefulness or viability as building material had not been tested. The steel industry was in its infancy, he said, adding that the first steel frames in the United States appeared a few years after the Stabroek Market was built.

Steel, during that period, Green said, had been competing with wrought iron as a metal. As a builder of locomotives McKay's contact with steel might have influenced him to use it to build Stabroek Market. Wrought iron, Green said, does not rust as easily as steel.

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