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Popular food brands headed for new Victoria Pier

Published:Wednesday | September 27, 2017 | 12:00 AMNeville Graham
This Gleaner photo, taken September 9, 2017 shows the progress made on the redevelopment of the Victoria Pier on the Kingston waterfront.

By mid-November, the revitalised and refreshed Victoria Pier should be up and running after a 17-year hiatus. And at least two well-known restaurant brands are expected to open there, as they quietly expand.

Businessman Andrew Azar, one of the partners behind the facility's renovation into a hotspot for food and entertainment, says the venture gives recognition to the beauty of waterfront developments.

"Most countries have an asset in their waterfront and green areas, where citizens can come and relax and enjoy that space. We don't do that in Jamaica," said Azar. "We treat our waterfront like a dump, and with this venture we're trying to rectify that," he said.

The redevelopment of the waterfront began with Digicel Group's decision to site its headquarters there. It continued with the acquisition and ongoing renovation of the old Oceana hotel into a condominium complex and hotel by PanJam Investment, referred to as Caribbean Place.

Then two years ago, property owner Urban Development Corporation signed over the idle Victoria Pier to Yosamini Holdings Limited, under a lease agreement, for an initial period of 25 years. The company, in which Azar and Barry Gardener are partners, set about redeveloping the complex, which spans 1,962.93 square metres on three levels and is located on the seaward side of Ocean Boulevard.

The first floor will host a sports bar that Azar says might end up being Ribbiz, but notes that the talks are still being finalised.

The second floor will have a branch of Gloria's, which is renting the space to replicate the Port Royal experience on the Kingston waterfront.

"We figured that the average patron of Gloria's can go on a weekend to have good food, drinks and enjoy themselves, but they can't do that for, say, lunch on a weekday; so we pitched the idea that this would be a nice offering for those that might want seafood on the waterfront," Azar said.

The roof will be for events and weddings. In addition, Azar says he will be trying to bring live entertainment to the area, with a focus on vintage singers and entertainers who don't get as much exposure as deejays.

An annex has been put in on the western side of the complex to create the feel of a boardwalk, and is being outfitted for three food service operators.

"We're putting in a Devon House I'Scream, an Island Coffee shop and a pizza parlour," Azar said, adding that he wants the location to become another go-to place for families, intimates and friends.

"We've lost that concept of taking the family out and having quality time, laughing and chatting. We are setting up something where you can buy a coffee, sit on the waterfront and actually enjoy it," Azar said.

So far, Yosamini has invested $60 million in the renovations, he told the Financial Gleaner, saying the money was spent on structural works to rehabilitate the pier, landscaping, lighting, and more.

He is promising "very tight security" for the venue, even while noting that the Ocean Boulevard area itself is not crime-ridden, unlike other areas of downtown.

"We're giving a chance to those persons in the area that want a development like this. I say give these people a chance and watch crime go down exponentially," Azar declared, while noting that wealthy Jamaicans had a duty to invest for the sake of prosperity.

"The only way we're going to build our country is to invest. You can't just put your money in a bank, collect the interest, then lock yourself behind a grill with security and alarm system. That can't work," he said.