In the face of criticism that it had destroyed an important part of this country’s built heritage, Coreas Distribution Limited (CDL) is assuring that it will work to preserve the memory of St Vincent and the Grenadines’ (SVG) first airport.
On Wednesday, Jimmie Forde, CDL’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) said his company is aware of the importance of preserving national heritage sites and has incorporated an historic reference to the first airport in their construction plans.
CDL is part of Caribbean Distribution Partners Ltd., a joint venture company formed by Goddard Enterprises Ltd. based in Barbados and Agostini’s Ltd, based in Trinidad.
On November 3, 2020, CDL broke ground for the construction of a $27.7 million state of the art warehouse and administrative centre at Diamond at the site of this country’s first airport, which was commissioned for passenger service in 1934.
The Diamond airport was closed in the early 1950s when developments in commercial aviation required runways specifically constructed to accommodate the speed and weight of modern aircraft.
Today, the Arygle International Airport (and before that, the ET Joshua airport) still carries the designation code SVD, which is an abbreviation of St Vincent, Diamond.
But up to a few weeks ago, all that remained on site as a reminder of the area’s aviation past were the derelict moss covered walls of the building that once stood as the terminal.
When construction for the CDL project began, the area was cleared and the remnants of the first terminal building were razed to the ground, wiping away all evidence of the facility that gave us SVD.
Last Sunday, during the “Issue at Hand” programme on We FM, the programme hosts lamented the loss of this important part of the country’s built heritage and called on CDL and its parent company to provide an explanation.
Forde explained to SEARCHLIGHT that the old terminal building was structurally unsafe as several trees had grown inside the structure, creating huge cracks and other obstructions that made it very difficult and costly to restore.
He said CDL has come up with two ideas to allow for the memory of SVD: one is to create a wall or some sort of monument on the site or an interpretation centre inside the lobby of the new building.
The CEO said if the monument is chosen, it will show where the terminal building was located, among other things and if they go with the interpretation centre, once someone enters the lobby, they will see photos of the old airport and other things that help with remembering how the area was during airport operations.
“We are trying to get photos of the old airport in operation so we can display and show the new generation what it
“When we broke down the structure that was there, it was just four walls in the air with the trees and there was not so much I could recognize.
“I did now know about it before. I learnt about it when we started the project,” Forde explained.
He said his company is now in a situation where they will be trying to keep the memory of SVD alive while preserving part of our history.
The first person to land at the Diamond airstrip was Trinidadian pilot Michael Cipriani who flew into St Vincent on July 29, 1932; the airport was not fully commissioned for passenger service until 1934.
In 1943, the Diamond airport was designated by law as protected space that permitted entry only to passenger, flight crews, and airport workers.
After the airport was closed in the early 1950s, airport operations moved temporarily to Villa, which was simply a landing and take-off zone for amphibian aircraft. The Arnos Vale airport, later renamed the E T Joshua, was opened in 1960.
Despite the significance of the Diamond site, the area is not on the St Vincent and the Grenadines National Trust’s list of protected national heritage sites.
The National Trust can use the powers given to them by the SVG National Trust (Amendment) Act No. 37 of 2007 to declare protected national heritage sites.
Chairperson of the National Trust Anthony Theobalds told SEARCHLIGHT on Wednesday that the Trust was not
aware of the significance of the site.
He noted that areas like SVD should be preserved for historical reasons and used as tourist attractions. Theobalds also said he supports what CDL is proposing.
Town Planner Dornet Hull could not be reached for a comment, so SEARCHLIGHT was unable to ascertain whether or not the Physical Planning Department knew the importance of the site before granting permission for construction.
Meanwhile, it was noted that the new facility will employ at least 120 persons.
CDL is SVG’s largest distributor of food products and second largest importer of poultry and meat.