Sun | Mar 29, 2020

All systems go - Construction for Morant Bay Urban Centre to begin in June

Published:Monday | January 27, 2020 | 12:14 AM
Lyttleton Shirley
Lyttleton Shirley

Constructions for the multibillion-dollar development scheme, the Morant Bay Urban Centre in St Thomas, will officially begin in June of this year on the grounds of the Old Goodyear Oval in Springfield.

The announcement was made by Lyttleton ‘Tanny’ Shirley, chairman of the Factories Corporation of Jamaica (FCJ) during a special meeting held by the Kiwanis Club of St Thomas on Thursday to discuss the highly anticipated project.

During his address as guest speaker, Shirley admitted that the centre, which was launched in June 2019 and scheduled to begin some six months later, has been experiencing some delays.

Among the setbacks, he listed FJC’s reliance on the completion of a feasibility study by contractors of the project, the China Harbour Engineering Company.

“It was their timeline that we were subjected to. We could not dictate, although we asked for it to be done in short order and there were timelines in the joint venture agreement.

“They had to speak to all the clients that we marketed to, to ensure that the feasibility study was substantive, comprehensively done, and ensure that when they invest their money to do the engineering works, that no institution will come and say, ‘We not going to lend you the money because it is not a viable project.’ That took time.

“It required, in detail, talking to all interested parties, doing a comprehensive survey of the area, research studies and benchmarking it against all the other developments. It also involved looking on construction costs in order to do a proper estimated construction cost.

“Now, when the engineering drawing is completed, we will be able to do a comprehensive and detailed assessment of all the works required and get what you call an accurate construction cost which, usually based off our preliminary assumptions, would be in a margin of error possibly between three to five per cent. So we are at the point now where we can sit with the financial institution and dictate loan-term conditions. That triggered off some of the delays.”

Shirley also explained that several demands from the prospective tenants also contributed to the delay in the start of the project’s construction.

According to him, “When we spoke to government agencies, each one had their peculiar expectations. For instance, we were told that they want their own private parking. When we spoke to the Family Court, they said they have to have a private entrance for the children to be protected and for proper security … and those are not unreasonable demands … in fact, we were in full support of the demands because they make sense. When we spoke to people like Burger King and KFC, they want their own anchor with a drive-through, so we had to do the necessary adjustments to our designs to facilitate those demands. We also had to make the necessary adjustments in the budget for the construction.”

In response to environmental concerns raised by Member of Parliament for Eastern St Thomas Dr Fenton Ferguson about the acquifers which lie below the old factory where the urban centre is to be erected, Shirley assured that the hydraulics studies which were recently completed by China Harbour show that the land is suitable for the type of development they will be embarking on.

The 365,000-square-foot property is to house the St Thomas Municipal Corporation; a townhall; conference centre; justice square, which will include a Family Court and Parish Court; tax office; Registrar General’s Department; and the Passport, Citizenship & Immigration Agency.