NHCS expresses concerns on proposed treasury building

The Nevis Historical and Conservation Society has publicly expressed its concerns with the proposed treasury building and the inland revenue building in Charlestown as they may compromise Nevis’ bid to have Charlestown listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

In a letter obtained by the Observer July 24, NHCS states “the island’s seeking World Heritage Site (WHS) status that will lead to increased revenue from visitors, international attention, greater natural pride in historical and cultural assets; and better partnerships between government, NGOs, and public and private sectors when managing the site’s goals.”

“The NHCS supports construction and renovation of the capital, with work undertaken in a sustainable way according to legal guidelines,” says NHCS Executive Director Nicole Liburd.

In January 2014, the Nevis Treasury and Inland Revenue Building was burned to the ground by an apparent act of arson. The premier of Nevis, the Honourable Vance Amory, revealed months after the incident that the government solicited retired fire chief and fire investigator Robert T. Riches to assist by undertaking a thorough investigation into the cause of the fire. After a one week period, the fire investigator revealed that by  Using National Fire Protection Association standards, the reconstruction and analysis of the fire scene revealed that arson was clearly the cause of the fire and that two incendiary devices were used.

According to the 2017 budget, the reconstruction of the building will cost a reported EC$6million and will take 24 months to complete. The new three-story structure will host the offices of the Treasury Department, Inland Revenue Department and the Information Technology Department. The Sugar Industry Diversification Fund has assured some funding.

Pictures of the new building depict a modern-type structure. However, Liburd notes in the letter that the design, scale, size and height of the building is completely inappropriate for Charlestown and “recommends that all government offices – except for services such as tax payments, licensing, etc. – be moved out of the centre and a public square with retail stores be constructed to draw more people to the town.

“Every effort should be made to retain the historic character of the 1770s’ port city by enforcing rules that maintain characteristic West Indian rooflines, windows and building scale,” she said. “A particular concern is that heights should not be taller than surrounding buildings.

“The proposed building would so negatively impact efforts to gain World Heritage Site status for Charlestown that any application would certainly be rejected. It would undermine the historic integrity of the town and indicate a lack of commitment toward preservation on the government’s part.

“The NHCS pushes for a re-evaluation of the planned construction and invites members of the public and private sector to add their voices to the debate, highlighting the need to preserve the authentic integrity of charming and historical Charlestown.”

The Observer contacted Evelyn Henville, the executive chair of the World Heritage Committee, on July 26. She noted the importance of having Charlestown as a UNESCO World heritage site.

“The designation of World Heritage sites by UNESCO will not continue forever,” she said. “Nevis now has the opportunity to get into this elite list of countries before the designation is discontinued. We have one of the most important histories in the Caribbean. Our country, as small as it is, has made one of the biggest impacts on World history. That is one of the main criteria you have to show: universal value to the rest of the world. When we look at the history of Nevis, it is so overwhelmingly strong and connected to the rest of the world, we have no choice but to seek world heritage status,” she said.

She notes that Fort Charles is one of the first, if not the very first, fort established by the British in the Western Hemisphere, and history suggests that it predates Brimstone Hill on St. Kitts and Nelson’s Dockyard in Antigua. “So, as we are unearthing this history, we are realizing how special, influential and powerful our little Nevis was during its day,” she added.

Henville further said that having Charlestown as a UNESCO World Heritage Site will add tremendous benefits to the tourism sector as “we would not have to be pumping all of this money into marketing and public awareness of our country because just being a world heritage site [would allow us to] be constantly talked about and written about in everything UNESCO does.”

She adds that when “Charlestown joins the prestigious list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, it will be protected by the Geneva Convention against destruction or misuse in time of war, as are all of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  The benefits are just enormous,” she said. “UNESCO will not be [granting] World Heritage Sites forever and we have to get on that list because of the importance of our heritage to the rest of the world.”

Henville notes that having such modern buildings in Charlestown will act as a “stumbling block” when it comes to achieving the UNESCO designation of World Heritage Site for Charlestown. “

This is too important to allow one or two builders, property owners or worse yet, government, to hamper this process for our people,” she said. “We look at the concrete block buildings presently being done on the Williams Main street building and we are shocked. We have written to the government because we feel it would hamper our chances on the matter. But [the government is yet to respond to us.

“The historic Charlestown guidelines [have been there] since 1998 for Physical Planning to follow, but yet enforcement is still a big problem. This concrete work does not resemble the buildings in Charlestown and the desired historic look, as well it will be significantly different from the surrounding buildings. For the treasury building, we thought that a more suitable location would have been at Pinney’s Industrial site. We questioned the height, the roof, the style of door and windows, type of material used on the outside, location of septic tanks [and] AC (air conditioners). We were promised a third look at the plans,” she said.

“It is not an easy task to achieve (being placed on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites). It  is a lot of work. It will cost us at least US $400,000 to get there. We have to make sure the government buys into this. It cannot be done without government and government cannot be the culprit of our pains. We have to also make sure that our people support the idea and understand the benefits to be reaped.”

Henville says everyone needs to work together for the same benefit. “We need everyone on board as it will not be an easy task,” she said. “The respect Nevis will garner from the rest of the world is mind boggling. We will be [on] that elite UNESCO list [that includes] the Vatican City, the Great Wall of China and Brimstone Hill Fortress.

“This is a big deal for our future. Our children can raise their heads high with pride when we reach that elite group. We will no longer have to be hunting down investors; they will be knocking down our doors and then we can pick and choose. The value of Nevis and government’s revenue would increase ten-fold.”