Converting Polo Park To Shopping Mall… How Not To Preserve Coal City’s Heritage

Enugu MallNO doubt, the coming of The Palms Polo Park has changed the landscape of Enugu, as well as redefined shopping experience and leisure in the Coal City. With its landmark giant ferris wheel and a quality-led retail offering, the shopping mall has quickly established itself as one of the premier shopping and leisure destinations for families in south east Nigeria.

Sitting in an area of 80,000m2 on Abakaliki Road, The Palms Polo Park opened in November 2011, with more than 27,000 m2 of retail space, a family entertainment centre and 1,400 car parking spaces. The imposing structure is the product of a joint venture between the Enugu State government and Persianas Group, a construction and real estate firm based in Lagos.

Aside from serving as an outlet for buying and selling, the shopping mall affords traders opportunity to adopt modern retail techniques, as well as provide jobs to residents of the state. Currently, the mall houses international and local brands and comprises a multi-screen cinema hall operated by the Genesis Deluxe, several retail shops, including Game and Shoprite; food court with multiple restaurants and fast-foods outlets; media store; commercial banks; telecom outlets, electronic stores and a variety of fashion, clothing and cosmetics retailers. So, unlike the days when Ogbete Main Market, New Market, Eastern Shop, Roban Stores and their likes held sway in the city, The Palms Polo Park Mall is the thing now.

And to ensure it stands out, a mini amusement park was opened in the premises a few days before Oct. 1, 2012, thus, partially transforming the mall into a near perfect refuge and retreat for the young and old residents of the city.

For the kids, the amusement park was always a centre of attraction as it also provided them photo opportunity. In fact, a particular boy got on the Merry Go Round on this day and refused to step out. Of course, it reflected in his mother’s purse.

“This place is always busy, especially during weekends. Like today, this car park will be jam-packed in the evening; a lot of people will come here for shopping and leisure. Usually, it will continue like that till Sunday,” one of the policemen on guard hinted.

Unfortunately, the ground on which this imposing shopping mall stands once hosted the good old Polo Amusement Park, Enugu.

In the past, Polo Park was the centre of attraction in the Coal City; it used to bubble all weekends. Aside from the main field, where people watched polo games and partook in horse ride, the ground also served as an alternative pitch to the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium, Enugu; a lot of football games were played here. Then, there was the Games Centre, where children played, both indoor and outdoor games. From billiards to table tennis, scrabbles to chess, ferris wheel, merry go round… the place was loaded.

For lovers of cycling, the Polo Park provided mini cycling lawn for learners to try their hands, while a particular section of the park was strictly for lovers; it was called Love Garden. The suya spot was always busy with visitors, while the bars numbering over 50 served assorted drinks, with music blasting from different corners.

For the record, what is known today as the entertainment sector in Enugu actually started from Polo Park. In those days, the likes of Guinness Nigeria Plc, MTN Nigeria and other concert promoters staged their gigs at the venue.

DJ Good Noize, one of the foremost DJs in the Coal City, used to operate a bar in the park, where most Enugu-based musicians cut their teeth. Sometimes, movie auditions were held at this joint. Particularly on Sunday, Good Noize staged mini shows, where these talents showcased their works. From Nigger Raw to Flavour, J Martins, Klint Da Drunk, Chinedu Ikedieze (Aki), Aneke Twins… Polo Park was like home.
With the Institute of Management & Technology (IMT) Campus 2, which housed the female hostels just across the road, you can imagine the setting at the Polo Park during evening hours. Most of the girls were students of the IMT and Enugu State University of Science and Technology Enugu (ESUT), who came to unwind at the park. Enugu big boys usually spent their weekends at the park with the babes.

By the time Rev. Mbaka opened his Adoration Ministry at the Government Technical College (GTC) compound, directly opposite the park, Polo took a different dimension. Unlike days when the park closed at about 10pm, the adoration, which involved an all night vigil, forced the park to go full circle.

Even the popular ‘Across’ section, which comprises regular shops outside the park and petty traders, also joined in the all night transactions. So, while those seeking the face of God stay all night praying at the Adoration Ground, the guys had fun at the park. As for taxi drivers and okada riders, they made a lot of money conveying people to and fro the park.

Today, the coming of the mall has practically erased those memories; they have become a part of history. Even as many celebrate the coming of the mall, those who knew what Polo Park used to offer, still question the decision by the state government to pull down the park for a mall, robbing Coal City of one of its most cherished heritages.

“Well, I’m not against development because the coming of the mall in Enugu State created job opportunities for the people. But I remember what Polo Park used to be in those days; my uncle, who was working at the NNPC Depot in Enugu took me there for the first time,” Chika Onwukwe, a civil servant recalled.

To him, Polo Park was more than just an amusement park. “There was a live band at some point; there were shops where people bought edibles. They had snooker section, table tennis, cycling, horse ride… it was a place filled with fun. Every weekend, parents brought their children to play at the park.”

He continued: “During Chimaroke’s tenure as governor, Polo Park was contracted to a private company that brought in gadgets for children to play; they even expanded the park to accommodate new shops and bars. Today, the mall has taken over and we don’t know where our new Polo Park will be cited,” he said.

According to Onwukwe, a graduate of the IMT Enugu, the decision to convert Polo Park to shopping a mall is not a good idea, arguing that the mall should have been used to open up new areas in the city.

“We have empty lands everywhere across the city; they should have moved the mall there and use it to open up the area. While we do business, we should not relegate recreation to the background; it is part of life. Siting the mall in another location would have been better; not in a central area that’s already developed.”

While urging the government to cultivate the habit of preserving history, Onwukwe, who is also a filmmaker, observed, “African man, especially our leaders, like to recreate history; they like to carve their names on the marble, but in a funny way. With the coming of the mall, former governor Sullivan would still have written his name on the marble by siting the project in a different location, while still maintaining Polo Park. Concentrating everything at the city centre is not a good idea. Enugu is a very big place and we have so many areas that need development,” he submitted.

Instead of distorting the history of Coal City, Onwukwe is of the opinion that the in-coming administration should pay more attention to developing the tourist sector of state.

“Enugu is a place all of us cherish to live; right from the East Central State era, it has been the capital. Of course, the topography also presents the city as a tourist destination. So, I’m expecting to see a government that will look in that direction and develop tourism sector of the state.”

For Chukwuma Nwosu, who once lived on Parklane, a street behind Polo Park, real estate remains a major threat to any available open space anywhere in the country.

“The moment you realise that real estate has become a booming business in Nigeria, the easier it will be for you to appreciate why every available space, whether government or individually owned, becomes threatened. It’s a pity that the type of government we have today don’t have interest of the masses at heart. It doesn’t bother them if there are recreational parks for people to unwind; even if such were in existence, they would sell it off to the highest bidder and allow the person to build whatever he/she likes,” he lamented.

To Nwosu, converting Polo Park to mall is a classic example of how not to preserve a city’s heritage.

“The businessmen came around, they dropped the money and the government had no other option, but to collect it and give them the land. Trust me, it is not a good decision. If this trend continues, it will get to a stage whereby people, who have not had the opportunity to visit parks, will only live to seen them on TV screens. Except for the children of the big men in the society, who will travel abroad to go and experience such,” he noted.

Recalling the good old days of Polo Park Enugu, Nwosu said, “it was like the normal recreational park where you went to unwind. In those days, Polo used to be where people of different classes, different ages and different social background come to unwind. The first time I discovered that Polo Park had been turned to shopping mall, I felt, ‘where are we heading to in this country.’ The truth of it is that no one will account for the money collected from the investors; it will eventually end up in a private pocket.”

This visit also revealed that the popular Enugu Zoo, which used to play host to schoolchildren on excursion, has been turned into a housing state.

“They called is the Zoo Estate; I’ve been there myself, I spent like a week there. I think the cheapest property you can get there is about 50 million; I’m not telling you based on what I heard, I’m telling you what I saw,” Nwosu said.

Made up of luxury apartments, the Zoo Estate had streets and lanes named after animals; for instance, you have Lion Street, Tiger Avenue, Giraffe Close and so on.

“Now, I don’t know whether the politicians living there are now the animals because that’s what it looks like. If you go there, they tell you, ‘that house belongs to the Speaker; the one after it is for the Governor’s aide, the other one is for the Deputy Governor…’ they just distributed that place among themselves,” he alleged.

Nwosu continued: “If the zoo is gone, Polo Park is gone, where else do you have for children to play in Enugu? Some of the things that are happening in the country make one to bleed. The polo park is one of the things I miss about Enugu. Today, it has become history. It’s now for us to tell the coming generation that there used to be a park there. Now, people build miniature garden for their kids because they know government of today are not interested in making such provision. It’s really an unfortunate situation,” he said.

Gradually, Enugu, which used to be civil servants’ state, is becoming highly commercialised, with businesses springing up on a daily basis.

“Enugu used to be where you could go and escape the normal hustle and bustles of the day. You see politicians having houses in the place back in the days where they go to relax; it used to be very peaceful. With the way it’s going now, Enugu is gradually becoming commercialised. Everything in the city now is about buying and selling. Today, there are more businessmen in Enugu than civil servants and that’s what brings about this commercialization we are seeing,” he said.

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