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Ronnie's dream - Thwaites wants an 'Emancipation Park' downtown Kingston

Published:Monday | June 1, 2015 | 12:00 AMAndrew Harris
A man makes his way through the National Heroes Park under the mid-morning sun last Saturday.
The shrine for former Prime Minister Donald Sangster inside the National Heroes Park.
Children enjoying playtime in the National Heroes Park
A group of children making their way through the National Heroes Park last Sunday.
Playing 'ball' inside the National Heroes Park last Saturday was fun for these two youngsters.
Two young boys enjoy play time in the National Heroes Park last Saturday.

The transformation of a dust bowl to what is now Emancipation Park in New Kingston has been the envy of many communities across the island as residents wish for a place to play, exercise or just to have a good time.

But if Ronald Thwaites achieve his dream the people of downtown Kingston could soon have their version of Emancipation Park.

While downtown Kingston already has the St William Grant Park, Thwaites, the Member of Parliament for the Kingston Central constituency, wants to transform the National Heroes Park into a facility to rival if not surpass the New Kingston based facility.

According to Thwaites, his intention is to transform the city, where one can see this beautiful new area upon entering downtown Kingston.

"Can you imagine an atmosphere where there can be regular music, a place where students can do their homework at a gazebo, the opportunity of young couples to fall in love and the older ones to fall back in love, a place for friendship and even sports?" Thwaites asked The Gleaner.

He argued that transforming the park could be a face lift for the city and an opportunity to bring the surrounding communities together.

"Not only the communities, but also people of different social classes and economic background," said Thwaites as he noted that over the years there have been different proposals for the regeneration of the National Heroes Park, from the Office of the Prime Minister and the Urban Development Corporation.

"This could be on an opportunity for recreation for the people. Can you imagine Downtown turning into a place for people to run to instead of a place to run from."

He said that transforming National Heroes Park would add a new tone to the value of Kingston's economic, social and cultural development.

The outspoken MP, argued that green areas are essential to improve people?s sense of self, dignity.

Thwaites noted that it will be expensive to transform the park but said work on the project could begin this summer.

"I understand that Dr Omar Davis (Minister of Transport, Works and Housing) was able to raise some funds and the plan is put under his authority. There has been interested private sector businesses but I hope it will attract other interested persons."

The area on which the National Heroes Park now stands was once the home of horse racing in Jamaica. It was also the site for other sporting activities including cricket, football and cycle racing. It was also the venue for travelling circuses and home for several major stage shows and other entertainment events.

It was once known as the Kingston Race Course because of the more than 100 years of horse racing at the facility. In 1953, horse racing was shifted to Knutsford Park a section of which is now the coveted Emancipation Park.

According to the Jamaica National Heritage Trust, the site was officially renamed the National Heroes Park in 1973 and is now a permanent place for honouring our heroes whose monuments are erected in an area known as the Shrine.

Another section, reserved for prime ministers and outstanding patriots, adjoins the shrine area, to the north. The park also has a small children?s play area. But large sections of the almost 50 acre facility are not maintained with residents playing football, cricket and other sports in dry dusty areas.

A section of the park is also used as a parking lot for businesses in the area including persons doing business at the Ministry of Finance.