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Villas one option for Milk River property

Published:Sunday | September 6, 2015 | 9:00 AM
Milk River Hotel & Spa in Clarendon, as seen on September 1, 2015.

The construction of villas is under consideration for some 200 acres of land surrounding the Milk River Hotel & Spa targeted for development under public-private partnerships.

Diane Sommerville, general manager of Clarendon-based Milk River, said on Friday that the minister of tourism, having formed an enterprise team in July to seek out partnerships for the development, the emphasis will be not on the existing building, but the undeveloped acreage attached to the property.

Spa chairman Dr Guyan Arscott also said that the bath could become a world-class wellness centre, targeting everyone, but especially the "mature" market.

Owned by the Government of Jamaica since its opening in 1794, the property's mineral waters are said to be more radioactive than some other notable spas worldwide, with many bathers attesting to its healing powers.

"Expansion would be on the lands surrounding, whether it is villas or whatever it might be," Sommerville commented.

The $50-million project announced last week was for current upgrading work, and is not intended to expand the existing plant. No costings have yet been attached to the 200-acre development programme.

The Ministry of Tourism and Entertain-ment awarded the $50-million contract to C&D Construction and Engineering Company Limited on September 2 for the rehabilitation of the west wing of the bath.

The rehabilitation will feature upgrading of the electrical systems along with the associated wall, ceiling, floor finishes, painting, and decorating. There will also be plumbing and mechanical installation and the replacement of leaking and damaged roof sheeting and frame.

More visitors expected

The project is funded by the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF), and is projected to begin on September 7, with a completion date set for December 7, 2015.

Milk River Hotel has 20 rooms, of which only 13 are operable. There are nine mineral baths and a mineral pool.

Sommerville said that she expects between 25 and 50 per cent improvement in visitor traffic - currently averaging 20,000 bathers annually - with the upgrade of the national heritage site.

The property is being upgraded in five phases, this project being the first. The others will address the reception areas, the baths, dining facilities, and relocation of the spa to an area offering such services as massages and facials.

Arscott said the enhancement would continue to improve revenue which has been on the uptick since roads leading to the attraction were improved five years ago. It will also allow the attraction to increase fees for some of the baths and spa services.

In the fiscal year ending March 2015, Milk River earned revenue of $27 million from fees that ranged from $600 per adult for 15 minutes in the mineral bath to $2,400 for one full hour.

The other four phases are also expected to be backed by the TEF, but the budget for the projects are yet to be finalised, Sommerville said.

She says the property is expected to remain at its current 20 rooms.

Annual occupancy for the hotel is now about 2,000 guests. Bathers are 10 times that volume. A few bathers also stay in the hotel.

"Once the word gets out, we will get back clients who have stopped coming," the general manager said of expectations from the upgrading project.

"We could perhaps double the number of visitors," she said.