Government and the management of Watoto Church (formerly Kampala Pentecostal church) are locked in a standstill over plans to demolish the historic Norman Cinema building.
Watoto wants to replace it with a 12-storeyed building, three-star hotel, 3,000-seater auditorium, a shopping centre and youth centre. Known to many as KPC located along Kampala road in the heart of Kampala city, Norman Cinema was established by an Indian businessman Norman Godinho in the 1940s’.
It was famous as a movie place and performance hall known as Laquinta and the ideal dream destination for many revellers, as referenced in a song titled “Ebinyumu ebyaffe” by the legendary kadongo kamu artist Elly Wamala.
Earlier, Watoto Church through a multinational architectural firm, Symbion Uganda Limited, released a plan that would see the building demolished to pave way for the construction of a 2,000 seater conference centre, retail space and a 3-star hotel, among other business and recreation functions.
This sent shockwaves down the spine of preservationists who later launched a campaign dubbed “Don’t Demolish Our Heritage” and #SaveWatotoChurch”.
Through the campaign, they asked Watoto to review its development plan to preserve the architectural uniqueness of the site and leave parts of it intact. The directorate of physical planning at Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) also declined to approve the designs demanding that the developers submit a plan that caters for the preservation of some aspects of the historical building.
It was not named what should be preserved but Watoto was asked to consider an inclusive design. However, Watoto insisted that theirs was a private property which is not protected by the Historical Monuments Act of 1968, which gives the line minister powers to publish lists of the preserved or protected objects. After this, Watoto petitioned against the decision by KCCA to the National Physical Planning Board but received the same guidance.
Watoto petitioned the attorney general’s office challenging the refusal by the government to approve its plans yet the contested building it’s a protected one. The matter is also said to have reached the State House.
Anita Kusiima, the acting deputy director of physical planning at KCCA was hesitant to share updates on the negotiations with Watoto management. She, however, reaffirmed that Watoto had submitted its redevelopment plans and that the matter of the preservation of the building was being handled by the authority’s legal directorate.
“I don’t want to comment on Watoto Church but yes they submitted plans and it’s being handled by our legal department,” said Kusiima.
Jackline Nyiracyiza Besigye, the acting commissioner for museums and monuments at the ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities says that the government position remains that Watoto management should consider preserving part of the structure. She also hopes that the current bill on Historical Sites and Monuments, although returned to parliament by the president, shall help in their bid to preserve such sites.
“With Watoto, of course, it’s their desire to have the gallery demolished for a better building, but with our new law and the previous law, by the way, we can work together to preserve what is there and they construct another one so that we don’t lose out. Of course, they might not be happy we think that with your support, we can educate them and they move to a better way of preservation,” said Nyiracyiza.