Marion Jones Stadium on its way Print E-mail
( 0 Votes )
Written by Shane d. Williams   
Thursday, 27 September 2012 00:00

Artist's concept of the new Marion Jones StadiumThe last time The Guardian visited the Marion Jones Sporting Complex was on Wednesday, May 9th, during a shoot for “The Real Deal”. At that time, Hon. Herman Longsworth, Minister of State in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, explained that the project was at “stage 4 (A)” in which they were working on the actual entrance to the grand stand. On Monday, September 25th, over four months since last visiting, The Guardian and other media houses were invited by the Ministry for a tour of the facility.

The turnout by the media confirmed that people are curious about the current state of what was once accepted as a phantom project. Like many projects of the past PUP era, it has been the subject of great controversy – even in the name itself. On September 3rd, 2004, Said Musa and Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian executed picture perfect strikes at a keeperless goal during a ground breaking ceremony for the Marion Jones Sporting Complex. This was four years after the Musa Administration had promised to build a quality national sports center for Belize. At the time, Minister of Sports, Francis Fonseca promised the media that this time was real and gave his word that Belize would finally receive the type of facility it deserved and need to compete at world class level. In an interview with 7 News, he said, “Well, now we believe that this center will provide us with that opportunity, which will allow us to take our athletes to another level by competing on a regular basis with regional and international athletes.” The PUP administration did nothing to improve national sports facilities during their decade in office. In fact, because of the 1998 - 2008 era, Belize is a few generations further away from being serious competitors in world class competitions.

Minister Longsworth refers to the Marion Jones Sporting Complex as the “first step to an Olympic gold medal”. As a proud Belizean, he has taken on the project as his own. His company was responsible for the construction of the fence and though his contract is complete, he still checks on the day-to-day activities at the site. The tour started near the on-site administration building. There, he explained to the media that the fence was built first for security purposes. He said, “Anywhere that you are spending this kind of money must be secured”. From the administration building, Longsworth led the team to the track section. The track is impressive. The synthetic material is the same that was used on the track at the 2012 London Games. It was laid down by a company out of the United States named Traction and the supervision was done by a UK firm, AECOM. The project has already received an initial approval by the International Amateur Athletics Federation, pending extremely minor corrective works. Next to the track is the beach volleyball pitch that has already been used for the Central American Championships. The pitch will be leveled and improved as the project unfolds. From the volleyball pitch, we could see the grandstand. It faces the football field, which has already been resurfaced and upgraded in hopes of being granted FIFA certification. The field will be used for international matches and the field surrounded by the track will be used for national team practice and local matches. The grandstand will be able to comfortably seat 6,000 people and can handle a crowd of 6,500. From the track, Minister Longsworth led the way to the entrance of the grandstand.

The last time The Guardian visited, only the foundation had been established. Now, the entire skeletal structure of the first levels is standing strong. It is constructed with an elevator shaft and basement space.  The plan is for the basement space to include dressing rooms and bathroom facilities for athletes and other performers. A ticket booth will be situated at the entrance door. After a ticket is purchased, the individual will enter the stadium and use either the elevator or one of two circular stairways to reach their seat level. According to Longsworth, the structure will be five stories high, with its apex being higher than the RF&G building on Coney Drive. It will include VIP and Press Boxes. There will also be office spaces that will house the National Sports Council and the Ministry of Sports.
Cyclists will also be pleased to know that they will once again be subject to the adrenaline boost that comes from thousands of screaming supporters at the end of the Cross Country, since the road way used by cyclists will be upgraded using hot mix. Though not in the current plan, a building will be constructed to host basketball and volleyball matches. When a permanent home for basketball is constructed, the building will be used specifically for volleyball. Longsworth has made it his personal responsibility to secure funding for the structure. Since the synthetic track will be reserved for competitive athletes only, a jogging track will be constructed for the use of the public.

The project being executed will cost around $15 million. The Venezuelan government has contributed $2 million to the project and the Government of Belize has used its own resources to cover the rest. Longsworth believes that the Government of the Republic of China (Taiwan) will soon make good on its promise to partially fund the project with as much as $10 million. The Government of Belize has chosen not to wait for the funds to reach because the project has been delayed for too long. The final project, including Longsworth’s additions, could cost anywhere from $20 million to $30 million.