'Downtown rebirth not stalled' - UDC
Residents and business owners question slow pace of development plan
Arthur Hall, Senior News Editor
The Urban Development Corporation (UDC) is moving to allay fears that the planned redevelopment of downtown Kingston has stalled.
Responding to concerns raised by business operators and residents last week, general manager of the UDC, Desmond Malcolm, told The Gleaner that several exciting projects are on the table with work to begin on some shortly.
These include the rebirth of the Oceana Hotel and the development and expansion of the Kingston waterfront.
"The old Oceana Hotel is going to be transformed and operated again as a hotel," declared Malcolm.
"We have not yet signed an agreement but that should be done shortly, and the party has indicated that work will start within 12 months of the agreement," added Malcolm.
For the nearby waterfront, Malcolm said the area to the southern side of the craft market, a green space, is going to be transformed into an eating venue with a cabana-style setting and music.
That has been dubbed 'Festival Marketplace' and is expected to contribute greatly to the vibrancy of downtown Kingston through its offering of aesthetic scenery.
"Work on that is to start in the next two months and should be done by mid-June 2015.
The section of the waterfront in front of the UDC building is also to be upgraded and the benches repaired for persons who want to spend time there, added Malcolm.
According to the UDC boss, GraceKennedy is also getting ready to begin work on a multistorey office complex with parking facilities on lands east of the Bank of Jamaica.
Malcolm said the company has already acquired the land and has created a walking track for its employees as it prepares to implement the project.
"Negotiations are also under way for an entity to lease the Victoria Pier. That work is to begin within a year with the proposal being for the creation of an eating area. There is also talk of barges being brought in so that persons can dine on these."
The UDC has argued that these and other developments underscore its commitment to making development happen for the people of Jamaica through its planning and implementation of programmes while preserving the natural environment, traditions, customs and spurring economic growth.
Malcom's response came days after residents and business operators around the Parade area charged that the planned redevelopment had stalled.
According to the persons who spoke to our news team, they are disappointed that the promised redevelopment of the Ward Theatre and the improvements to create a cultural space around the area, including Love Lane, has not taken off despite the recently constructed Simon Bolivar Cultural Centre on the corner of Church Street and North Parade.
"They (the UDC) told us that the centre would signal the start of the fix-up of the whole area, and all I see is that them block off the square and stop the robot taxis from park in front of the Simon Bolivar place, but nothing else no do," declared Maxine, a long-time resident of downtown Kingston.
"Even the police complain that them need to fix the lights out here, and that no do. When you in North Parade at night anything can happen," added Maxine.
Supporting her, one businessman, who asked that his name be withheld, charged that the Government does not seem to understand the potential of downtown Kingston and does not seem committed to the plan to transform the area.
"Anybody who was here during the back-to-school shopping must see that it is the hub of the Corporate Area, but shoppers must feel comfortable and safe. What I hear is grand announcements every now and then, but nothing much seems to happen."
That is a concern that Malcolm understands and one reason why the UDC has not made more pronouncements about the developments that are coming.
"When we start the activities, I will be willing to sit and have a press conference," declared the UDC boss.