Ready for downtown - Private sector leader pledges to invest if Government meets conditions
Jamaica could see a massive construction and investment boom in the much-talked-about bloc of downtown Kingston if the Government takes up a proposal that has been placed on the table by Glenford Christian, the chairman and chief executive officer of Cari-Med Limited.
Addressing The Gleaner's annual long-service awards and pensioners' luncheon, held on Tuesday at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston, Christian lamented the manner in which stakeholders have been treating the country's major shopping and commercial district over the years.
"We have been treating it like a warehouse. We lock it down at nights and reopen it in the morning," he stated.
Like many others, he has observed that the busy downtown area is "ripe for development".
With that recognition, Christian, who now serves as a director on the board of the Urban Development Corporation (UDC), said a small private-sector group, of which he is the chairman, has done significant work towards implementing a greenfield commercial centre that will help bring life to downtown.
"It is termed the Lifestyle Centre. This would comprise over 200,000 square feet of building space, which we are proposing to set up right behind Coronation Market," he disclosed.
Added Christian: "We envisage a corridor extending from Darling Street and Mitchell Street from the market to the Lifestyle Centre, continuing to the craft market."
He said the centre would house a mixture of commercial and cultural activities.
He told the gathering that his group was seeking a public-private partnership with key government agencies such as the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation, the Development Bank of Jamaica, the National Water Commission, the National Works Agency, the Planning Institute of Jamaica, and the UDC to execute the project.
Christian said his proposal has the potential to boost GDP growth exponentially by one per cent annually. He also said the total investment was estimated at about US$50 million.
UDC plans and projects awaiting capital to get off the ground are being eyed as another potential by Christian and his group. He said that among the plans and designs that he has seen are those of "office complexes, high-rise car parks, and apartments".
"We are saying ... we are ready to take these projects. We will find the money through the bond issue," Christian declared.
That declaration would, however, come with conditions.
"We will take it on only if the Government will come to the table (and) offer us some of their tenants - government agencies - and give us a guaranteed rental."
He said there are two complexes of high-rise car parks and 100,000 square feet of building that could be built out, even with the potential for further expansion of the building to 200,000 square feet.
"We could build that in two years if we get the support and the attention of the Government," he boldly stated.
He further declared that the group he leads is committed to taking to market projects designed by the UDC for the development of downtown Kingston.
Engine of growth
Christian called for the private sector to embrace its role as the engine of growth and lead the charge in investing in projects with major foreign exchange potential.
He told the packed gathering that the vision of the head of the Government's Economic Growth Council, Michael Lee-Chin, of achieving five per cent growth in four years was a worthwhile goal. He called for private sector and public buy-in to the vision.
"We can't afford to sit back and wonder how Mr Lee Chin will pull this off. All of us - Government, the private sector, and ordinary citizens - need to buy into this goal and leverage our respective strengths."
While commending The Gleaner for continuing to make downtown its home, Christian lauded companies such as GraceKennedy, Pan Jamaica Limited, and Digicel for recognising and tapping into the potential of downtown.
The Cari-Med boss said Jamaica must prepare itself to take advantage of opportunities that exist and those that will come. He noted that the tagline of Jamaica's Vision 2030 "sounds good", but he questioned whether there was a strategy to achieve the goals, with only 14 years to go.
Christian also argued that bureaucracy was a major drag on development.
"I understand the need to guard against corruption, but the level of bureaucracy is extremely frustrating, especially when it comes on to obtaining licences and permits."
Christian said he was hopeful that the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation would facilitate better collaboration among the relevant regulatory agencies so as to ease bureaucracy in government.