(part one)

The dream of Parliament Square Cultural Center in Freeport, Grand Bahama began with my stepping out of bed one morning in 2008 and saying the words “Parliament Square" to my utter amazement.I was not dreaming nor speaking to anyone including myself. I knew this had something to do with Junkanoo our major cultural celebration but I was convinced that it was incorrect. I argued with this because in my mind I knew that this was not the place I should be thinking of. I asked some of my colleagues what they thought and they confirmed what I was thinking that it should be Rawson Square. Rawson Square is like mainstreet when it comes to the annual beginning and year end JunkanooParades. On insistence form an inner voice I went to the internet and found that the British House of Parliament looked much like the drawing which I drew a few months earlier when we had discussed at work a place to house Junkanoo.

150132 363499283713874 1281510028 nA few months later my company sent me to London for training (what makes that trip more unbelievable was the fact that I didn’t feel I would be sent on such a journey as it took some 26 years for me to be promoted). In London we visited Westminster Palace as it is also called and I bought a book that gave information on the House of Parliament.        

I returned home but still not clear on exactly what I was to do with this Parliament Square. I heard the inner voice that said you have  the book read it. I found that it was saidin the book that the House of Parliament contained British cultural heritage that spanned many centuries. Thus the concept of housing all aspects of Bahamian culture in Parliament Square Cultural Center was born. 

I developed a plan including a diagram of what this new place should look like and the format that it should take based on what ideas came to me. I determined the funding necessary using a shoe string budget of $70K. Realistically, I would have required over $3M using conventional block building. After acquiring the assistance of a consultant who tried to dissuade me from proceeding, I determined that the project was possible with the meager budget as many of the items that were included in his assessment were unnecessary and his suggestion to do something else was not consistent to my skills or desire.I sourced the funds form my savings but after having been turned around with a place to house the venture, I lost more than a third of the money.Realizing that the project could be completely derailed, I sought and found a warehouse building at the south end of Oak Street behind Savemore Food store 4 minutes from downtown Freeport.

I sought the help of my family: wife and children, brothers and sisters, mother, and brother and sister-in-law. With their help I had the necessary funding to begin. Together we place a facade on the building giving it the appearance of Parliament Square in Nassau. My oldest brother was responsible for most of the construction work inside and outside. My second oldest brother painted a mural of Bahamian undersea life on the western wall inside the show room. My sister gave a major portion of the funding necessary. Along with her research skills, assistance from her husband and children created several spaces of interest. We acquired replica cannons from a third party who purchased them form Nassau. They are still on guard at the old location.

Bahamian Flags and flag poles were purchased from Compusec Printing to grace the front of the building. We created an interior that takes you through aspects of Bahamian culture such as government, Christian, music and arts, islands Junkanoo and back yard or Over-Da-Hill. The prime ministers and governors general were hung on the wall in the foyer and the hall way to give the tour a significant starting point. This was accentuated with a video playing of an interview of Sir Lynden Pindling, our first Prime Minister with Dr. Keith Wisdom of Cable Bahamas. (This was one of many interviews that I had purchased from Cable Bahama to show Bahamians and visitor some of the prominent persons in our country and culture.) A display in the foyer also gives the guests a view of the Bahamas constitution before and after independence all of which came from out of thegarbage after having being thrown out). This type of format graced the other rooms that although they were small give more than enough information to even the most learned visitor and guests to Parliament Square Cultural Center.

We had two opening one in October of 2010 at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church and January of 2011 at Parliament Square Cultural center Oak Street. Strangely enough, although I was told that I need to invite all the dignitaries on the island including the business community not one showed except Dr. Eric Brown to any of the openings. Mrs. Smith from Tourism was the highest ranking government official if you can call her that since she came on her own interest. Both functions were well supported by family and friends. My mother, sister and brother and his family flew in from Florida on both occasions. Undaunted we opened to small groups mostly from the local schools.

After opening our first patrons were the Kindergarten class from the neighbouring Hugh Campbell Primary School whose teacher was Ms. Moss. Many students came on field trips even though the message was “muffled” and did not reach many of the teachers. Our largest group was from the school in Chicago with some 77 persons. We had another group from Bonaventure College of about 65. Sometime after opening, we received visits form the Ministry of Tourism executives. Ms. RennamaeSymonette of the Ministry gave us assistance with much need brochures which were designed by my oldest daughter as our first order was running out. Visits from the taxi and tour community proved unfruitful.

We were finally able to convince one government minister and an ambassador to visit but that was to no avail. Our most promising visit came from a local tour operator who after seeing the front had already made up her mind to bring guests to us as part of her tour but she came in the week we had to fulfill our eviction notice. The land lord had been good to us but as he said business is business; especially when you can increase your bottom line. Note, I left owing nothing even though as one prominent Bahamian business man said “you need land, a big place, and you have no money. You are bankrupt”. I may have no money but I am far from bankrupt as long as God gives me ideas and the opportunity to pray.  

The road thus far has been difficult because of the difficulty of attracting guests from the cruise ships that come to Freeport, Grand Bahama. We did everything possible but to no avail.We were not able to attract numbers that were consistent in keeping the doors open. We have a website and Face Book presence and have done other promotions but were not successful in attracting any of the more than 2,500 passengers a day. The cruise lines have said that there is nothing on the island but that has to be said another way: "there is nothing on the island that the certain people wish the passengers to participate in". 

I thought I had good news, as I was able to negotiate an old building Queen’s Highway. That deal soured as the land lord wanted to lock me into a situation where I was not given fair concessions to ensure success. One of our reviews on Trip Advisor said that we were “not the usual "tourist tour". Months after are closing we were still doing well on Trip Advisor and receiving requests which we turned over to those taxi drivers who would have assisted us. 

After closing the business, we have had to store all that we could remove from the building and took losses on those that we could not. At present the sign for Parliament Square Cultural Center is in my garage albeit even though “my” refers to partnership with the bank that has already sent letters regarding the inability to pay the full mortgage. Some of the costumes are in my in-laws’ house who themselves are victims of the downsizing that is epidemic on Grand Bahama; despite which there are any number of individuals plotting the failure of legitimate Bahamian companies knowingly and unknowingly. But should we come together on this island in the face of this atmosphere we can achieve much even though the powers that be are not tilling the ground for our success. God is on our side and in due course with the proper funding Parliament Square Cultural Centre will reborn and provide for this community and country what many have not envision or believed.