Sun | Dec 16, 2018

B&D to develop The Spires in tribute to founder

Published:Sunday | September 16, 2018 | 12:00 AMAvia Collinder
Artistic rendition of The Spires.
In this file photo in May 2006, Roderick 'Ricky' Francis (left) stands next to his father Roderick 'Bunny' Francis at a reception in Kingston. Ricky is moving ahead with a development project on the Kingston waterfront that was first conceptualised by his late father.
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Roderick 'Ricky' Francis, son of the late Roderick 'Bunny' Francis, says he intends to execute the dream project conceived by his father, a multibillion-dollar complex called The Spires to be developed on the Kingston waterfront.

Bunny Francis was the founder of seafood company B&D Trawling, which launched in 1980, a business his son now operates.

The Spires will comprise residences, a marina, retail stores and restaurants.

"The first stage will be the 10-storey residential project on the waterside on the site we occupy. It's always been a dream of my father to develop the area and bring back downtown," said Francis. "We want to see Kingston as a premier city in the Caribbean, with downtown in particular being a driver for bringing people and commerce back."

The land on which B&D sits is owned by the Urban Development Corporation (UDC). Francis said Thursday that negotiations are under way with the agency to acquire the five-acre property, adding that B&D holds a lease with an option to buy, which it is now attempting to execute.

"We are in the final stages of negotiation in terms of just identifying the land usage," he said, but declined to disclose the price offered for the land.

The B&D Trawling Seafood Market, Processing Centre and a Major Water-Front Entertainment Park is listed by the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation as included in the Downtown Kingston Redevelopment Plan - the DKRP.

Other proposed developments under the DKRP a proposed Musson's West Kingston Business Park; Kingston Lifestyles Plaza; Railway Station Museum projects; a Microbrewery, Restaurant and Beer Garden and the Pan-Jam Boutique Hotel and Business Centre. They were cited as public private partnerships.

Francis, who is now CEO of B&D Trawling, says he will be pursuing The Spires project through a subsidiary company that is to be created.

He says both his bankers and individual investors have expressed interest in the project, the initial phase of which is estimated at $2 billion.

The project is inclusive of two residential towers, comprising two-bedroom and studio units. There is the possibility of expanding to five towers later, and the project could end up costing US$150 million, overall, he added. That would translate at current conversion rates to more than $20 billion.

"The $2 billion investment will be the first phase of a multibillion-dollar project to redevelop the downtown Kingston waterfront, particularly the property we now occupy. We have over the past several years been working closely with the Urban Development Corporation to plan the development," Francis told the Financial Gleaner.

B&D is targeting early 2019 to begin construction of the residences. The other amenities, eateries and stores, will be accessible to the public, which he described as a key element of the design concept.

"Very importantly, the waterfront will remain accessible to the public and will remain a space where people can continue to come to enjoy the waterfront the restaurants and so on," he said.

B&D Trawling has done its own demand study, which came back with "very positive results", the seafood operator said, noting that the appeal of the location involved the mix of amenities planned. The development would also include parking of several floors, he said.

"We have done our own market research and the results were very favourable. Its housing and everything that comes along with it, including places to eat, places to have entertainment we want to make downtown a spectacular place to live," said the B&D CEO.

"It's part of a big plan that will also encompass stores and restaurants - a complete development. We were hoping to have steel in the ground already. The project was approved by the development committee around two years ago; it's just red tape that's holding it back," he said.

The Spires is yet to be submitted to the National Environment and Planning Authority for approval. As for funding, it will mainly be sourced from private equity and bank debt, Francis said. But he also raised the possibility of an initial public offering of shares in the subsidiary being formed to tap equity capital.

"We have done exhaustive business plans, we have put things in place, and we want to give Jamaicans the first option to invest, even though we have a long list of investors. We may be looking at the Jamaica Stock Exchange to do that," he said.

The UDC did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the agency's talks with Francis.

avia.collinder@gleanerjm.com