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By Terry Joseph
July 21, 2006

Urban Development Corporation (Udecott) chairman Calder Hart really shouldn't be seeking any new conflict at this time but that is precisely what will come his way by pursuing a promise to demolish Carnival's main venue before a suitable alternative is identified.

While everyone agrees the dilapidated Grand Stand at the Queen's Park Savannah and adjoining administration offices of the National Carnival Commission should be replaced by modern facilities, crucial prerequisites must be addressed before the wrecking ball swings, or the 2007 edition of this country's national festival will face unprecedented problems.

Contrary to widespread public perception, large-scale Carnival activities-both public and private -demand many months of planning if they are to deliver expected aesthetics. Major masquerade bands are already well past rudimentary stages of production, as evidenced by the recent launch of Pulse 8 and imminent showcasing of designs from Harts Ltd.

To only now begin the tedious process of relocating the festival, an exercise that-quite apart from inherent physical disruption-will unduly burden administrators with having to resolve a number of other critical issues (including rationalising personnel), presents a combination of untimely challenges that could throw Carnival 2007 into confusion.

Not that Carnival's main venue can only be the Savannah but every alternative proposed to date has been shot down. Re-routing the adult parade along the south side of the Savannah is hindered by overhead power-lines that cross that stretch of roadway at several points, creating hazards for towering king and queen costumes and music trucks. The idea of going around the Savannah can only work if air-travel is available for east/west commuters and residents north of Port of Spain.

Moving the parade west has also been touted as a possible solution but not without social implications, given the long-standing joust over taking the festival away from the heart of the city where it was created, not to mention sidelining vendors who mainly come from the urban centre. Traffic management and accommodation of special guests present a whole new portfolio of headaches.

Even for pre-carnival shows which may seem less prone to disruption, complexities arise regarding the removal of surprise value afforded by stage-wings, to which kings and queens have become accustomed. To put such a show in the Jean Pierre Complex not only limits the Dimanche Gras audience to two-thirds of its regular size but would require radical changes in the management of visuals.

To suggest the Hasely Crawford Stadium only exacerbates those difficulties, then invites the ongoing argument about using a facility deliberately dedicated to sporting activities for a festival that has never promised care and attention to its stomping grounds which, in the stadium example, includes a playfield of international standard and a brand new mondo track.

In short, the much-maligned Savannah venue solved as many problems as it annually creates and while festival stakeholders agree the existing grand stand, given its deterioration, line-of-sight hindrances and the annual requirement to assemble and dismantle ancillary modules has long outlived its usefulness, finding a temporary alternative is proving to be a much more thorny proposition than initially anticipated.

What seems easier to agree upon is the requirement for much more time to discuss matters regarding an alternative to the Grand Stand than is available between now and Carnival 2007.

In any event, having delayed demolition for five months, it almost seems mischievous to start in September, with the steelband Panorama semi-final scheduled just four months hence. What gains will accrue from scuttling the Grand Stand now? Why can't it wait until February 21?

If the urgency is merely to vindicate the promise in Prime Minister Patrick Manning's budget speech that: "The centre-piece of cultural infrastructure will be a new-state-of-the-art National Carnival Centre at the Queen's Park Savannah. Phase I of the project will commence in March 2006, immediately after Carnival,'' Mr Hart should know we find nothing unusual about governments failing to deliver on time or, for that matter, grandstanding.

In fact, this particular failure to honour the time pledge has not ignited discontent in any quadrant, which doesn't imply apathy toward government's efforts at improving the image of the festival but Carnival has a rhythm, Mr Hart, which is already in motion and cannot be cavalierly interrupted. Ash Wednesday therefore remains the ideal time to bulldoze a festival institution.

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