MoBay shop owners try to force acquisition of People's Arcade
Barrington Flemming, Gleaner Writer
WESTERN BUREAU: THE 450 small-business operators at the People's Arcade in Montego Bay, St James, are now seeking to acquire the three-acre property, which is owned by the Jamaica Railway Corporation (JRC) through forced acquisition, much to the disgust of the company.
Well-known social activist O'Dave Allen, who operates a business at the arcade, said they have been in "open and hostile possession" of the property since the arcade was built in 1996 and vendors voluntarily relocated there, from the Shoe Market, by the St James Parish Council.
In seeking to explain the rationale behind the move to use forced acquisition to acquire the property, Allen said because the JRC has been tardy in leasing the property to the St James Parish Council, which has been trying to get them to do so for the last 18 years, operators like himself, who have built their own shops with their own resources, are not able to pursue expansion.
"We the shop operators met as a group recently and it was determined that we would be seeking to acquire this property ... we have been seeking legal advice. The St James Parish Council has been negotiating with the JRC for them to transfer or lease to the council that section of the property occupied by the local micro entrepreneurs. The JRC has held up this request for 18 years, stifling economic growth by these medium and small business enterprises.
Allen said the shop owners formed themselves into a limited liability company, the People's Arcade Vendors Association Limited, in 2008 and tried to negotiate with the JRC However, he said the company refused to entertain any discussions about sale or lease of the property.
In rejecting the vendors' forced acquisition plans, JRC's chairman, Joseph A. Matalon, who noted that just over a month ago a preferred bidder was about to be selected to deal with the acquisition of the properties, said those persons, tenants or squatters, on JRC lands would have to be relocated.
"The number that I know that is correct is that there are 850 people who are on railway property, some of them are on short-term leases, some of them are squatters. Whether they pay rent or not, when the time comes to divest the railway, there is going to be an issue of relocation," Matalon said.
Additionally, Fitzroy Williams, chief executive officer of the JRC, told The Gleaner that the company has not received any formal or verbal communication from shop
operators at the People's Arcade over the last three weeks about them being disgruntled about any issue relating to divestment or relocation matters.
"Given its genesis, the problems surrounding the People's Arcade have remained intractable for many years. However, the new JRC management has taken steps in the last 15 months with a view to regularise and resolve the unacceptable situation," said Williams. "Steps, including identifying all the occupants of these shops, having meetings with them to ascertain their willingness to be regularised and presenting a management plan to the board for a decision, among others, have been taken.
"Any attempt to present a different picture, leading to instability, misinformation and confusion, is merely an attempt at subterfuge," Williams added.