Thu | Aug 24, 2017

Mark Ricketts | Office development on the waterfront

Published:Sunday | August 28, 2016 | 8:00 AM

"Talent hits a target no one else can hit. Genius hits a target no one else can see".

- Arthur Schopenhauer

In my first column in this series, I pointed out that most countries with significant appeal and alluring brand image have clean, safe, thriving, livable cities. Weaknesses with Jamaica's capital city, Kingston, with its prime downtown location, are issues of safety and security, livability and innovation, viability and momentum.

To offset this, we need a highly integrated, mammoth development plan for the waterfront, which would embrace downtown Kingston, being a major financial and knowledge centre. In earlier columns, I had looked at the construction of upscale hotels and now I will zero in on offices.

GraceKennedy has broken ground for its 10-storey head office building. I wish instead it was a 30-storey building. GraceKennedy is one of our leading corporate conglomerates, with an international presence in the US and as far as Africa. Over the years, it has shown impressive growth and, under its current CEO, Don Wehby, it expects to maintain its stellar performance and continue to be a regional powerhouse and a prolific player on the global stage.

That being the case, GraceKennedy's building should be an imposing one on the waterfront, underscoring the successes of yesterday, the outstanding performance of today, and the bold and unrelenting vision of tomorrow. The building's size and style should be expressive and expansive, encapsulating all that is possible in the area of financial services and brokerage, the spin-offs from logistics and supply-chain optimisation, and the reality and benefits of a knowledge industry downtown.

With that in mind, GraceKennedy's thinking should make provision for an additional 15 to 20 storeys of rental space above its present 10-storey approved plans.

To undertake such risk, it would have to be part of a collective vision of shopping mall owners, condominium and apartment developers, cruise ship owners and prospective hoteliers who see that Kingston can be more than a wasteland pockmarked by captured lands and inner-city neighbourhoods weighed down by poverty and underemployment.

 

PROMISE AND POTENTIAL

 

There is promise and potential on the waterfront. Just imagine five skyline-changing hotels amid high-end condominium towers and apartments, and parks, and greenery, and a state-of-the art luxury international shopping mall, and a multi-disciplinary tourism health hospital, and berths and cruise ships, and a university presence downtown capturing the essence of a knowledge industry, and tall office buildings registering our country's claim to be a financial power centre.

There would also be art and craft, and design districts with elegant boutiques, and history and art museums, nightlife, and fine restaurants, and the Ward Theatre with its historical majesty anchoring an entire theatre district, defined as off, off, Ward Theatre, as in off, off, Broadway.

This would be a winner for us, as we love to act, to dance, to perform, to sing. All we want are continuously large and appreciative audiences. And that we will have in this new dispensation where our airports are busy and our harbour frenetic with ferries and cruise and container ships.

The densification of the waterfront, with tall office buildings all parading their names, their power, and their local, regional and global outreach in bright lights and neon, would be a boon to the visionaries who understand the importance of marketing with the visible physical presence and positioning of their offices on the waterfront.

US and international financial powerhouses seeking to capture such advantage, as well as using Kingston as a regional power centre for the Caribbean and Central and South America, could include Capital One, HSBC, Google, and Citi, which is already here in Jamaica.

I checked with Dr Wayne Reid, the brilliant consultant engineer at Jentech, to find out whether the massive development being proposed on waterfront land was feasible. He assured me it was, from an engineering standpoint.

The emergence of several local heavyweight companies, ratifying their achievements in imposing and elegant concrete and glass, as part of a cluster of skyscrapers on the waterfront, would signal to the rest of the world the newly acquired power and dominance of Jamaica in the region.

Besides GraceKennedy, others who could be in the mix with tall skyscrapers parading their company's financial strength and logo include FLOW, Sagicor, JMMB, NCB, LASCO, Mayberry, and Jamaica National. Bank of Nova Scotia, Bank of Jamaica, and Digicel are already downtown.

To these, we could add Pan Jamaican, orchestrating a massive multipurpose development arising out of the Oceana hotel; office, retail and condominium complex, supermarket and upscale restaurants. This would reaffirm the legend of Maurice Facey, Pan Jamaican's founder, who had a vision of imposing buildings downtown, as evidenced by the North American Life Building, which became the Life of Jamaica building and later Air Jamaica.

The advertising and marketing benefit for these companies in their vertically elongated skyscrapers on the waterfront will be immense. Airline passengers, cruise ship visitors, locals enjoying the waterfront, and those viewing from higher elevation will be reminded of the economic strength of the leading companies, be they home-grown or registered in Jamaica.

The possibility of Jamaica taking off, a la Singapore, and becoming a truly regional hub for commerce, finance, shipping, travel, logistics, supply-chain optimisation, is possible and might not be as far-fetched as many assume.

 

MAN WITH A VISION

 

Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's first prime minister, was all about vision, daring, boldness, priorities, discipline and order.

Singapore got independence three years after us, 1965 as against 1962, and was far behind us at that point. That country is now First World, ranked seventh with a per-capita income of $62,400, while our per capita income of $9,000 puts us at 126th in the world. Is that what we want to be and is that where we should be?

It must be remembered that Singapore is slightly larger than the parish of St James, yet has twice our population. It literally has no murders, and little or no unemployment, and has a forest of skyscrapers and phenomenal green space.

Despite our grand possibilities, we made a lot of missteps. A glaring one was when American Airlines wanted to make Montego Bay Airport its regional hub, serving all of the Caribbean and Central and South America, and we said no.

If we had said yes, not only would there have been training and employment gains and massive capital investment in our country, but, Jamaica would have become a major regional player in logistics. Oh, our missed opportunities.

But time come, as our former prime minister, Portia Simpson Miller, said.

We have a lot of problems to contend with, but we have the assets. What we need is boldness, vision, discipline and a belief that if Singapore can do it and be in the top 10 in the world, so can we.

- 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 columns@gleanerjm.com and rckttsmrk@yahoo.com.