Torrington Bridge booms - Businesses and churches breath new life into lower section of Slipe Road
A rebirth appears to be taking place in the lower section of Slipe Road in Kingston which was scarred by the political violence of the 1980s, and became a no-go area for all but residents of the neighbouring communities.
Some businesses shut their doors and relocated to areas closer to Cross Roads, motorists avoided stopping once it got dark, and operators of public passenger vehicles recounted numerous tales of how they or their commuters were robbed.
The area around Torrington Bridge became particularly notorious as a space where the lawless were on the loose and regular clashes between police and criminals were reported.
But the area is slowly coming back to life as other investors have joined the business operators who refused to move; even churches have decided to call the area home.
While still not as buzzing as the section closer to Cross Road where big businesses, bars, restaurants and shops are plenty, the area adjacent to Torrington Bridge is starting to lose its ghost town-like appearance after dark.
Last week, business owners, shopkeepers and church leaders told The Sunday Gleaner that economic activity is on the upswing in the area once crippled by criminal violence.
They said community outreach initiatives are impacting residents who might have turned to a life of crime.
"I have seen a total transformation of Slipe Road from what it was when we came here four years ago," declared Roger Lyn, marketing manager of Rainforest Seafoods.
The company spent millions of dollars to transforming its distribution centre at 57 Slipe Road into a full-fledged processing plant.
The premises also houses National Bakery Company and Copperwood Pork Store outlets.
"Security was one of our main concerns when we were looking to move here. We wanted to ensure that our team members were safe and that our customers had a safe environment in which to shop," said Lyn.
"When we came, some parts of the area was like a ghost town. But within the first year or two, we saw where businesses started to grow on Slipe Road.
"We saw more people coming out, more traffic moving through the area, and economic activity is generally on the increase," added Lyn.
He said the company initially relocated about 40 employees to the new location and that the number has now risen to more than 300 full- and part-time workers, many of whom are residents of some of downtown Kingston's most volatile communities.
According to Lyn, the employment strategy, along with annual children's treats, the adoption of the nearby Iris Gelly Primary School, and initiatives such as allowing persons to access water from a well on the premises during extended water lock-offs, made residents feel they are a part of the company.
"First time, like about four or five years ago, you use to have a lot of criminals, pickpockets and man a try hold you up with guns," added Tanisha Maxwell, a supervisor at the Petcom gas station, also on Slipe Road.
MUCH BUSIER PLACE
"Since lately though, the place is much busier so you find them don't really target the area so much again.
"Now and again, you have one and two incidents in which some little fool will try a thing, but it is certainly not like before. There is a different system, a different code between them and the police, and they know that any little thing happen, people in the area are quick to jump up and lick out against it," added Maxwell.
Businessman Malcolm Johnson of Malcolm's Hardware is one of those who has stayed through the years, despite the troubles.
His business is one of three hardware stores still operating in the area that once house at least eight, but Johnson is not attributing the exodus to criminal activity.
"This area has never been a ghost town. I would never call it that, and we have been here for more than 80 years," said Johnson.
"I wouldn't say crime - yes, there is crime - but I wouldn't say that is the reason why people left. A lot of the owners died and some persons just decided to go into other businesses.
"We use to have a problem right down at the corner near to the Torrington Bridge side, but that has always been a problem with robberies and so on," added Johnson as he agreed that reports of such incidents have decreased in recent times.
Mark Reid, administration elder at the Slipe Road-based Emmanuel Apostolic Church, agreed that crime is down in the area and attributed this to the many community outreach activities put on by the church.
Efforts to get the latest crime figures for the area were unsuccessful last week but Gleaner archives record one killing in the vicinity of Torrington Bridge last year.
District Constable Ashley Howards, assigned to the Transport and Maintenance Management Division of the force, was fatally shot in the area last October.