Thu | Sep 21, 2017

Downtown Kingston needs a saviour

Published:Tuesday | September 6, 2016 | 9:00 AMJovan Johnson
Metry Seaga
Stephen Facey
Dr. Carol Archer
Morin Seymour
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"In times like these we need a saviour," goes a line in the popular Christian hymn by American Ruth Caye Jones.

That's the tune now being sung by powerful business interests, academics and lobbyists who have declared that downtown Kingston, the trade and commerce mecca of Jamaica since 1703, needs intervention.

"We need an architect, a designer and a dreamer to sell it (downtown)," Metry Seaga argued on the approach he felt should be taken to restore and maximise on the positives of downtown.

"I want us to show John Public what downtown can look like. We need to go out there and sell that to people. I don't see that being sold right now. I don't see that vision being sold."

Seaga was speaking at a Gleaner Editors' Forum on growth and jobs held last week on development prospects for the area in Jamaica that acts as a melting pot of Jamaican cultural offerings through the markets, shopping and business districts that mark the town area.

The head of the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association was backed up by university lecturer and city planner Dr Carol Archer.

"Places like New York, Detroit and New Orleans they were in a very similar position to Kingston. But what they had, they had a visionary usually it's the mayor or some leading public or private-sector (person) who drove the vision ... and they sold it."

Reports upon reports over many decades have pointed to unachieved targets to bring downtown into a 21st-century city centre by addressing urban sprawl, blight and crime.

A vision for change, Archer said "has not gone beyond the Urban Development Corporation (UDC)".

 

Things not being done

 

Morin Seymour is the executive director of the Kingston Restoration Company - established to 'restore' the town that replaced Port Royal as the new centre of commerce, after the 1692 earthquake.

He has lamented how things are not being done by both private-sector and government authorities.

"Restoring downtown Kingston to health is not unlike the man entering the financial market. You cannot leave it without intervening, because it will break away from you," he said, pointing to the crime problems that have made the city area unattractive.

Meanwhile, Stephen Facey, chairman and chief executive officer of Pan-Jamaican Investment Trust Limited, argued that re-energising downtown involves more than just relocating businesses from sections of the island to the area.

He said plans must be coordinated so that movement involves the influx of revenue to keep the area thriving.

"What is lacking is the shared vision of what our city could and should be like. It's a dynamic plan, one that changes with every generation. It has to be visible so that citizens and all can see it," stated the son of the late Maurice Facey, who is credited with developing New Kingston and other sections of the Corporate Area.

Making his pitch for downtown's 'saviour', he argued that "all civilisations are defined by their cities which embody their culture and their art and their lifestyle. Our towns and cities are no different. I would like to think that the city that I choose to live in and work in will in some way reflect me, my culture and my aspirations.

Facey's Pan-Jam and partner Downing Street acquired Oceana Hotel, downtown Kingston, from the UDC for $385 million in 2014 and are redeveloping the property through Kingchurch Property Holdings Limited.

As to who the 'saviour' should be, the consensus, perhaps unsurprisingly, points to the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation, and by extension, the Government.

"Get the ball rolling," Seaga has urged.