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A bold plan for August Town

MP wants to redevelop community into tourist attraction

KIMONE FRANCIS Sunday Observer staff reporter francisk@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, August 03, 2014    

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AUGUST Town has, over many years, developed a reputation for violence. However, member of parliament Andre Hylton has vowed to redevelop the community which, he insists, is capable of becoming one of Jamaica's most famous cultural/tourist attractions.

Rocked by bloody gang violence, mostly over the past 15 years, this gritty St Andrew community, according to Senior Superintendent of Police Fitz Bailey, has seemingly made a significant turnaround, having recorded a total of two murders since the start of this year, equalling the corresponding period last year.

Encouraged by that data, Hylton pointed out that the community's name has great significance in Jamaica's history. It was named on August 1, 1838 when Emancipation was declared in Jamaica, Hylton said.

A number of factors have been key to the community's history, one of which is the emergence of revivalist Alexander Bedward.

Bedward was said to have been a healer and preacher who established his own form of religion, known as Bedwardism, which is reported to have gained more than 300,000 followers. The remnants of his endeavours remain in August Town in the form of his temple and a stream he allegedly used to heal people.

Bedward died on November 8, 1930. His grave lies in a cemetery a short distance from his church.

Professor Ian Boxill from the Centre for Tourism and Policy Research at the University of the West Indies, Mona, having admitted to a long history of involvement with the community through the university's film festival project, said that Beward is of great significance to the community's development.

"The university has had a long history of involvement in the community of August Town... we did a film on Bedward this year, which created quite a lot of interest, a lot of people came out and saw the film, so Bedward, in himself, is a figure who will attract quite a lot of interest," Boxill said.

"When we did a tour this year quite a few people came to see the church (temple) and to see the community itself," he added.

Hylton shared similar sentiments, stating that he believes the revivalist and his work have been of great significance and have created the possibility to further develop the community.

"In August Town we celebrate the history of Bedward, one of the greatest black leaders in the last century. A man who started a religious group that rivalled mainstream Christianity. He is an extremely important person who helped to bring consciousness to our ancestors. We believe that the history of Bedward is something to show off," said Hylton.

"His temple has been declared a heritage site, and so there are plans to restore it to its full glory so people can see and explore. We also plan to capitalise on the Bedward healing stream, which attracts many on a yearly basis, and we hope to resuscitate it, drawing a larger crowd," Hylton added.

In addition to plans for the development of the community, Hylton said he intends to capitalise on the numerous entertainers the community has produced, the most notable to date being dancehall act Sizzla.

"Another big attraction in August Town is our entertainers. We have the noted Sizzla, who was born and raised there," Hylton boasted. "He is greatly involved with the community, his latest project being a museum, currently being built. Along with that, we are seeking to establish an entertainment area where tourists can have a stop to experience live shows as well as purchase some of the locally made craft and authentic Jamaican products, which is part of the package in creating this tourism product.

"It has always been a community full of activities, huge with entertainment, and we believe that as we move forward into the 21st century we can rekindle the old spirit of the culture that exists in August Town," said Hylton.

"I personally want to develop community tourism in August Town, and I say this because locking our tourists away in all-inclusive hotels is fine in that regard, but I believe that there is a place for the average citizen of Jamaica to interact with tourists. And so, in the same manner we have tourists coming to Trench Town and the Bob Marley museum, the same can be done for August Town," the People's National Party MP continued.

He said the community has the potential to be the next "big thing" because of the "greatness of the people and the cultural richness that exists".

Boxhill agreed, saying that the fascination that tourists have demonstrated with the community has been remarkable. In fact, it has exceeded expectations. He believes that if the effort to redevelop the community is done correctly, is properly organised, and gets the support of the Ministry of Tourism as well as other stakeholders "it can be very successful".

Said Boxill: "This is an area of tourism... that is not being developed, it is being ignored, and I think that from our experience so far there is a strong interest in this type of [community] tourism."

Another way Hylton says he is seeking to develop the community is through the establishment of a university town. He said in the constituency of Eastern St Andrew there are five tertiary institutions, with two being the largest universities in the Caribbean.

Because of that, he said, "there is a huge demand" for student housing. "We have been in discussions with the University Township Project and Jamaica National to look at giving loans to homeowners to expand their homes so that they can accommodate students," Hylton told the Jamaica Observer.

"Hundreds of students live in August Town and in surrounding communities, and so housing students there will prove to be another source of income for residents. With that said, I think the universities are the biggest investors right now," the first-time MP said.

"We are also working with the KSAC (Kingston and St Andrew Corporation), the NWA (National Works Agency), the churches, and all the business people right now to develop this university town," he added.

He said plans are in place for funding this development initiative through contact with the Ministry of Tourism as well as the private sector.

"We want to include TPDCo (Tourism Product Development Company) on this matter; we have spoken with the minister in this regard. But equally important is the private sector, because the private sector plays an important role in investing in a product, and this is a tourism product that we're developing in August Town," said Hylton.

"We have reached out to the private sector, but it is still in the preliminary phase. We are also looking at other stakeholders in the tour business to get them on board with this."

Hylton said it is his aim to get this redevelopment of August Town completed before the next general election.

"It's an ongoing process. However, I would like it to be completed before the end of this term [of government], in the next two-and-a-half years," he said. "We have started an experiment with Professor Boxill, but we believe that there can be more; community tourism is an important element in the life of August Town for the future."

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