Portland poised for take-off - Vaz
Member of Parliament for West Portland Daryl Vaz is expressing excitement at the prospects for the parish as several projects to improve the infrastructure get under way.
Since late last year, there has been much talk that Portland is poised to take off, and according to Vaz, he has bought into the vision based on the developments that have taken place so far and those set to start shortly.
"I think Portland is going to have a very good 2017 and beyond, based on the strategic plans being put in place as public-private partnerships and other developments," Vaz told The Sunday Gleaner.
He said the poor infrastructure in and around Portland has negatively impacted its development over the years, but that is being addressed with urgency.
According to Vaz, the three routes by road to enter the parish - Harbour View to St Thomas, Junction, St Mary, and the Buff Bay Valley - are being upgraded and this should provide a massive boost to the people of the parish.
"The access to Portland has been a stumbling block for the development of the parish for many, many years, but now the work on the road to Portland through St Thomas via Harbour View is on track to start this year. The total value of that so far is about US$188 million, with the road from Yallahs, St Thomas, to Port Antonio, Portland, set to take approximately $73 million of this amount for widening and improvement.
"Then there is the money allocated for the roadwork from Tom's River in Junction to Agualta Vale, and this should make it much easier to access Portland. Then there is the Papine to Buff Bay route, which, without a doubt, is the most scenic route in Jamaica.
"Much of the work has already been done from Buff Bay to Session, and the work from Papine to Holywell in the East Rural St Andrew side is to start in the early part of this year," said Vaz.
He noted that at present the maximum sized bus that can go through the Buff Bay Valley is a 15-seater because of the terrain, but by the end of this month Coaster buses should be able to access the valley.
"This will allow tour companies to restart day tours through Portland and overnight tours. This should have a very big impact on increasing visitors to Portland."
He noted that despite the improvements to the Ian Fleming International Airport in St Mary some six years ago, its runway cannot accommodate regional jets. Vaz said work should begin shortly to address this.
"That will allow for bigger sized private jets to land there, but also regional jets, and this will bring significant tourist lifts to the eastern end of the island, and while Ocho Rios will obviously benefit, based on the location of the airport, Portland and St Mary will also benefit."
Vaz noted that visitors who landed in Kingston and Montego Bay, St James, are usually reluctant to take the long drive to Portland, and the increased capacity of the airport in eastern Jamaica should change that.
"The Government of Jamaica has invested multibillions of dollars into infrastructure, road and air, to open up the eastern end of the island, and that has proved an incentive for investors.
"The biggest catalyst for the parish will be the opening of the Sandals property in Dragon Bay. That will be a US$100 million investment and should really provide a boost for Portland."
The member of parliament, who is in his third term, argued that the Sandals investment will bring jobs, boost agriculture and significantly attract other investors, including other major players in the tourism industry, to Portland.
Vaz said among the investors who could be headed to Portland is a Belgian firm which has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Port Authority of Jamaica to lease and develop the Navy Island property into a high-end resort, but that is not yet finalised.
Another investor, Andrew Chapman, is scheduled to develop a $400-million luxury villa resort in San San in what he says will be the cultural and culinary capital of Jamaica.
"There has already been significant interest in Portland, and once you have these types of developments others will follow, but you need persons in the parish to invest into entities such as bars, nightclubs, high-end shops to tap into the needs of the persons who are headed to Portland."
Vaz, who is a minister without portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister, accepted that residents of Portland and the municipal body in the parish will have to step up and deliver to ensure that the parish is ready for the growth and the expected increase in visitors.
The new visitors started rolling into the parish last week when the Star Flyer cruise ship docked at the Ken Wright Pier in Port Antonio.
But Vaz warned that the town must show a good face to its visitors.
"The state of Port Antonio is nothing short of a disgrace. As you know, the Jamaica Labour Party won seven out of the nine divisions in Portland in the local government elections, and I have instructed the new mayor and the councillors that they make every effort to clean up the town and the surrounding areas," said Vaz.