Where is the development? - Port Royal residents cautiously optimistic about benefits from cruise ship pier
Hundreds of tourists are expected to disembark cruise ships at a port being constructed in Port Royal, Kingston, to explore the historic city, starting next year January. But to date, there is not much evidence in the area of the customary development expected when preparing to welcome overseas visitors.
Port Royal is now being heavily marketed as Jamaica’s newest cruise ship destination, but when The Sunday Gleaner visited the community on Thursday, residents were cautiously optimistic. Over the years, they have received numerous promises from private and public interests about transforming the city, but they are just waiting to see this promise fulfilled.
“The reason why they chose Port Royal is because they know that here is a very peaceful environment for the tourist them and they know that they are safe and all of that, but what are they doing for us? They not doing anything for us,” lamented resident Garen Ricketts.
“The environment just sloppy.”
Most of the houses in the centre of the city are dilapidated and in need of repairs, puddles of raw sewage assaulted the nostrils, and save for children taking advantage of their time away from school, and a few patrons at restaurants in the area, the town seemed devoid of life.
The Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ) is investing US$40 million ($5.5 billion) into the construction of the Port Royal cruise project and the first vessel, The Discovery 2, is already booked to visit on January 20, 2020. It is anticipated that at least two ships will be making a stop at the port twice weekly in the initial stages to give an estimated 2,000 visitors a taste of what Port Royal and Kingston has to offer.
Work on the port was being carried out in earnest last week, as a crew from Orion Marine Construction was installing a floating pier at the Old Cold Wharf.
“These workers, they don’t play. Lunch time is like half an hour,” said one worker, as members of the crew worked from two large cranes out in the sea. Two workers from the PAJ hastily donned security gear and made a beeline for a small boat anchored nearby.
Opposite to this site, a group of four men from Chinese firm Zambia Development Agency (ZDA) were preparing for lunch. As a fire got going and they readied seasoning for their meal, one of the men disclosed that they were building an office and confirmed that a gate will soon be constructed to prevent unauthorised access to the location where the floating pier is being built.
Molech Brown, who manages the Grand Port Royal Hotel, is happy for the development, as this could possibly mean more business for his hotel situated next door to the Old Cold Wharf. But he is also concerned about the lack of attention being given to Port Royal in general.
“There is no activity seen in the town to say that there is going to be development. The only activity taking place right now is on the wharf,” he said.
At a meeting last Friday hosted by the PAJ and attended by several stakeholders, residents were told of several impending projects aimed at making the town more attractive. This includes reviving an old museum as well as Fort Charles, the centrepiece of the historic district. There are also plans to have shops at the pier, but Brown wonders if rental costs will be affordable for residents.
“I don’t think that some of persons that are going to be interested in trying to get them will have the accessibility due to funding,” he said.
…MP, JET concerned about lack of attention for the historic town
Member of Parliament for East Kingston and Port Royal, Phillip Paulwell, said that while the Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ) has presented a credible plan for the establishment of a cruise ship pier in Port Royal, he is concerned about the lack of attention being given to the rest of the historic town by other state agencies.
“You can’t be preparing the place to receive visitors if the people believe that they are short changed because of the many shortcomings which have been in existence for a long time. For example, there is a severe water deficit in the area and that needs to be addressed urgently. There is a severe problem with sewage and that needs to be addressed, and there is a housing plan for which we are seeking the approval from NEPA (National Environment and Planning Agency) and others to pursue, that has been put on indefinite hold,” said a frustrated Paulwell.
“Those things are not going to be enabling persons to be welcoming of visitors. It is going to make them feel very frustrated when they see visitors actually arriving and people being escorted out of the area, which I believe is going to actually be the plan.”
Given the infrastructural deficit, he wonders whether the plan presented will actually succeed.
“It is going to be an alarming shame for tourists to be brought into Port Royal and for them to not really experience what ought to be an amazing heritage tourism project,” he said.
Chief executive officer of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), Suzanne Stanley, has been very vocal with her concerns surrounding the development of Port Royal as the next tourism Mecca. She said that her discussion with members of the community signals that they also share some of her worries.
“They are very concerned about the fact that they are taking care of the pier and they are going to be opening the pier before they make any improvement to the infrastructure in Port Royal,” she said.
“There was another fear about the traffic, because you know that when a cruise ship comes in, there is lots of busing taking place, as they come out to meet the ship in order to transport visitors.”
According to the Environmental Impact Assessment, the Port Royal project is in line with Vision 2030 Jamaica.
“Development of a cruise port facility at Port Royal would likely result in one of the most attractive cruise ports in the Caribbean. The potential of Port Royal as an appealing cruise destination is undeniable, given its setting at the entrance to Kingston Harbour with scenic views of Kingston’s waterfront and the Blue Mountains in the background. The history of Port Royal has international and domestic appeal, which up to now, represents a largely untapped resource in the development of the Jamaican tourism product,” it reads.