Tue | Sep 25, 2018

Renovations breathe life into Puerto Seco

Published:Monday | March 12, 2018 | 12:00 AMLynford Simpson/ Gleaner Writer
Puerto Seco Beach.
Puerto Seco Beach.
Puerto Seco Beach.
Benjamin
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The popular Puerto Seco Beach on Jamaica's north coast is scheduled to reopen to the public by the end of April, according to the executive chairman of the Guardsman Group of Companies, Kenny Benjamin.

After being closed for more than two years, during which it has undergone extensive renovations, Jamaicans and visitors alike will, as of next month, once more have access to the world-renowned beach, this time with new offerings that will include a dolphin cove, scuba diving and the latest craze in water sports, courtesy of Wibit Sports.

The renovations, which have literally breathed new life into the property, have not come cheap.

Benjamin told The Gleaner during an interview that it's costing some US$5 million (J$630 million) to upgrade the property, which he said had been neglected and allowed to become run-down. He said at the time he made a successful bid for the property in 2015, it was a far cry from its heyday back in the 1970s when, Benjamin noted, Puerto Seco was regarded as one of the top 10 beaches in the world.

With some Jamaicans express-ing concern at the extended closure of what was one of the country's most popular public beaches, Benjamin said the renovations were initially expected to last one year.

"But between the [bad] weather and the additions that we keep coming up with to make it really, really nice ... the intention was to make it into a world-class facility," he explained.

Official opening

set for May

The weather and the additions aside, Kenny Benjamin, executive chairman of the Guardsman Group of Companies, said the Puerto Seco Beach facility was literally a dump when he took it over.

"It had deteriorated due to a lack of care, a lack of foresight. It was in an awful state when we took it over, so literally, we had to bulldoze down everything that was there," Benjamin said.

It was during the bulldozing of the property that the renovators came upon their first setback when some 19 "old-time" pits were uncovered.

Benjamin commented that this was "not acceptable at all on a beach site because it contaminates the water, and the bay (where the beach is located) is a fish sanctuary and it should never have been allowed".

SNEAK OPENING

The discovery of the pits immediately changed the scope of the work, as a proper sewage treatment plant had to be installed at significant cost.

Although still closed to the public, Benjamin admitted that "there's been kind of a sneaky little opening already. When people come to the gate, we let them in to come and enjoy the beach. The restaurant is finished. The bathrooms are finished. We're just waiting to finish the swimming pool and the deck, and I think we will be ready for full-scale operation within a month ... by the latest, the 15th or the end of April."

The official opening is set for some time in May.

More than just a beach, promises Benjamin

Kenny Benjamin admits that the US$5-million price tag for renovation of Puerto Seco Beach "is a tidy sum" but is satisfied that the work "is very well done".

Benjamin said there is now adequate parking and security at the facility, and revealed that the cruise ship operators are clamouring to know when the facility will be opened.

Importantly, he said the new-look Puerto Seco will offer much more than just a beach.

There will be a full-fledged dolphin cove with six animals, initially. There will also be a sports park with challenges and obstacle courses, courtesy of the latest craze in water sports by the Germany-based Wibit Sports. It will be a literal obstacle course, a sports park designed for fun and spread over a quarter of an acre, only it will all be constructed on water up to eight feet deep. It includes trampolines, slides, diving boards, races and obstacle courses of three different levels of difficulty.

The final addition is "full-fledged water" sporting activities, including scuba diving, deep-sea fishing and excursions to the reefs. Benjamin anticipates that visitors will have a whale of a time viewing what he described as the "abundant and great fish life" in the area.

The countdown to opening day has begun, and Benjamin said he is being hounded by the cruise ship operators who want their passengers to visit the facility.

"For some reason, especially the ship people (cruise passengers), they're on water all the time and as soon as they touch land, they want to go back into the water," Benjamin joked.

Despite the significant expenditure on the facility, Benjamin has assured that the Guardsman team has taken steps to ensure that prices are "not unaffordable," for Jamaicans. As a result, there will be what he refers to as a "hefty discount" for those living near the beach. People coming in groups will get a "reasonable discount.

"We want people to come and enjoy the facility, and the more people we have, it's the more money we're going to make," he said.

In the meantime, Puerto Seco may not be the last undertaking for Benjamin and his Guardsman Group.

"It's very likely," he said, when asked if the Guardsman Group would consider replicating the Puerto Seco model at another beach in the future. He reminded The Gleaner that Puerto Seco was the group's third venture into a project that is tourism-related, following its upgrade of the Hope Zoo in St Andrew and Konoko Falls in Ocho Rios, St Ann.