Mark Ricketts | Development must be integrated
"Chance has never satisfied the hope of a suffering people."
- Marcus Garvey
Every time I step off the plane, head out along the Palisadoes road and look across the harbour at prime land in the heart of the city which holds such promise, I am taken aback by the harbour's magnificence, but saddened by the absence of what is possible. In most countries, such waterfront property would be choice and very expensive real estate, and would choreograph a country's growth prospects, as well as its brand image.
Here in Jamaica, so much of our prime downtown land sits unappreciated, vacant, idle, underdeveloped, misused, and underutilised. While our underperforming resource provides the base for countless studies and periodic hope for urban redevelopment and renewal, our country is saddled with huge debt, we go cap in hand to the IMF, we have insufficient money to tackle pressing social problems, and we can't maintain and modernise our infrastructure. We can't even pay properly our teachers, police, soldiers, customs officers, health-care professionals, and other civil servants. We need a new understanding that it takes major capital investment to care, and that human lives matter.
If that is so, we need boldness and a vision to lift downtown Kingston's prime real estate from a hodgepodge of scattered, uncoordinated and minimalist development. In fact, downtown Kingston, with its vacant and derelict buildings, is grubby, with limited instinctive appeal.
More than 50 years ago, Edward Seaga, a government minister at the time, not only opened up Hellshire, providing Kingstonians with access to much cherished white sand beach, but he also offered Jamaicans an exciting new vision of skyline development and green space over an expanded area on Kingston's waterfront.
Unfortunately, as time elapsed and governments kept changing, promise surrendered to non-activity as studies and more studies commingled with myopic vision and, in the main, waterfront land remains abandoned and underdeveloped even to this day.
With Jamaica finding no new natural resources like oil and gas, we need a big winner such as massive redevelopment of downtown to spur growth and jobs and to deal with our social and infrastructural deficits. Of equal importance is the fact that there is a synergy to economic and physical development which makes large-scale redevelopment of our downtown imperative.
For Kingston to take off, there must be four phases, with the first phase running from Darling Street-Coronation Market on the west side, Mineral Bath-Harbour View roundabout to the east, Spanish Town Road and East Queen Street-Windward Road to the north, and the waterfront to the south. The second phase will end at Heroes Circle. The third phase will incorporate Water Commission lands across from Mico. The fourth phase will cover Up Park Camp.
The transformation I am proposing has occurred in other countries and can happen in Jamaica. I lived in Vancouver, Canada, late 1970s/early '80s, the start of a building boom that altered the city's skyline and forced an accelerated pace of economic activity. Thirty years ago, the major cities of Panama and Dubai looked far more desolate than downtown Kingston at the moment, and today they are throbbing, bustling centres of activity with a plethora of high-rise buildings.
Just 16 years ago, downtown Miami, except for some choice office buildings and localised activity generated by the American Airlines Arena - the home of the Miami Heat - lacked life and lustre. Fast-forward to today and the consensus would be what a difference boldness, belief, vision, and risk-taking make. In the meantime, we must ask ourselves, where is Kingston in all of this?
The first thing that has to be done in the first phase of downtown Kingston's transformation is that the Tower Street prison and Bellevue Hospital must be relocated immediately to a newly designed town of institutions, which I will explore in subsequent articles.
There must be at least five ritzy, very pricey, upscale, demand-inducing, skyline-changing, landmark hotels, 20 to 30 storeys high at a minimum, which define an aesthetically impressive and robust mixed-use development of offices and apartments together with a trend-setting international shopping mall. Add to that ferries plying between downtown, Port Royal, Mineral Bath and Hellshire and cruise ships taking advantage of Kingston - vibrant, alive and safe - on one of the most beautiful natural harbours.
One of the hotels, a tall skyscraper (in the vein of the Hawaii Hilton, innovative, bold, architecturally imposing, and a game-changer in Hawaii) would be THE BOLT, MARLEY, CLIFF (BMC) Vacation Experience. Can you imagine Cliff pulling in large numbers of visitors from Latin America, where he is heavy, and also from Africa, and Bolt and Marley in command of the global stage. Talking about going viral or taking the world by storm!
Can you visualise Kingston on the waterfront, clean, tidy, orderly, safe, yes? Imagine Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Michael Lee-Chin, along with his Economic Growth Council, talking to a number of local and international hoteliers who are marketing gurus with extremely deep pockets and who are turned on by some of the hotel ownership prospects being outlined to them?
If one of them got excited by the Bolt-Marley-Cliff vacation experience, think of the kind of employment numbers that would be generated, the entrepreneurial energies unleashed by small businesses, and the foreign exchange inflows the country would enjoy. As for reigniting hope and confidence, it would be, "ain't no stopping us now, we are on the move."
Without providing an exhaustive list of potential hoteliers who I think could be excited about investment opportunities on the waterfront, Butch Stewart and his son, Adam, owners of Sandals, come to mind. With their marketing genius and their sense of defining a hospitality concept that has relevance, currency, and immense market appeal, they would know best how to position the Bolt-Marley-Cliff vacation experience, or any of the other hotel ideas I am proposing.
Then there is the Mexican chain of hotels, Palace Resorts, which has done a marvellous job in refurbishing The Moon Palace Jamaica Grande hotel in Ocho Rios, as a possible suitor, and so, too, the Hilton, or the Marriott, the world's largest hotel owner, or the Chinese corporate giant Anbag, which is already a major player in the US hotel industry.
Bolt-Marley-Cliff could be so exciting, appealing and profitable that in a matter of years it could become a global chain with mega hotels in London, Beijing, Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town, Berlin, Las Vegas, New York, Buenos Aires, Sydney, and Los Angeles.
For the moment, major urban redevelopment on Kingston's waterfront, driven by exclusive speciality hotels, is such a natural, given the vacation preference and behavioural choices of millennial, sports and celebrity enthusiasts, affluent high-tech entrepreneurs, and people the world over who are enchanted by the harbour, be it San Francisco; Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong; Port Jackson, Sydney, Australia. With our beautiful harbour, Kingston is ripe for the making.
Yes, we will, and yes, we can.
- Mark Ricketts, economist, author and lecturer living in California, was chief economist of the Vancouver Board of Trade in Canada; deputy chairman of the Jamaica Stock Exchange; assistant editor of the Financial Post, Canada's largest financial weekly newspaper; and publisher of Money Index, a weekly business magazine. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.