Hip Strip struggles for survival
Karrie Williams, Gleaner Writer
WESTERN BUREAU:Once considered a bastion for business and entertainment in the Second City, Montego Bay's 'Hip Strip' is today a mere remnant of its former glory days, according to some stakeholders who say they are concerned about its future viability.
The closure of hotels, including the former Breezes Montego Bay, Fantasy Resort, and Casa Montego, is one of the primary reasons given by the stakeholders for the decline of the Hip Strip, (officially Gloucester Avenue). Breezes and Casa Montego have been closed for nearly five years, while Fantasy has been closed for approximately a decade.
"The main reason for the decline is the number of hotels that have been closed on the strip," said businessman and former president of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce, Godfrey Dyer. "We have about 300 rooms closed on the strip and that is the main contributor for the decline that is there. Until we are able to get these hotels reopened, we don't see the possibility of better business there."
Mobay Nite Out
Agreeing with Dyer is Michael Troupe, councillor for the Granville Division in St James and Montego Bay's deputy mayor. According to Troupe, Montego Bay's Mayor Glendon Harris has sought to arrest this decline with the staging of the parish council's monthly MoBay Nite Out.
"The mayor has been putting on MoBay Nite Out, and one of the reasons why he did that was because some of the hotels on the Hip Strip, such as Breezes, have been closed, and that has caused a lull in the activities on the strip. Because most of the activities were centred around the visitors, we have reintroduced Nite Out to bring back the activities in the area," Troupe said.
But despite the St James Parish Council's best efforts, MoBay Night Out has not attracted the level of support which it originally intended. On many occasions, when Western Focus was in attendance, there were but a handful of persons in attendance.
Acknowledging this perpetual low turnout of patrons, Troupe said it was due to the harsh economic times which have effectively cut many individuals' spending power.
"You have to realise that the spending power of most individuals has been curtailed somewhat, and one of the problems too, is that the type of entertainment that persons would normally go to have been out of operation. For instance, the casino has been closed and that is one of the reasons also," he said.
Troupe further revealed that coming up in early 2015, at least two hotels are set to reopen on the Hip Strip. He expressed optimism that this would result in a revitalisation of the area.
"Once you have tourists on the Hip Strip it will attract locals ... so once you get back the business on the strip, we'll start to see a better, active Hip Strip," he said.
However, Dyer feels that unless the Government steps in with some form of incentive for investors, the likelihood of these hotels reopening is slim. The businessman is also calling for hotels to be reopened under the European Plan (EP), as this would bring a lot more benefit to the local community.
"To get them reopened, it is my opinion and I think the opinion of a number of other people, that Government has to step in and offer some special incentives to the hotels along the strip to reopen, and not just to reopen, but to do so as EP hotels which are non all-inclusive because if they are reopened as all-inclusive, they are not going to help the strip either ... the community benefits a lot more from EP hotels than it does from all-inclusive," he said.
Meanwhile, Dyer said that a total refurbishment of the Hip Strip was also needed to boost its revitalisation.
"The Hip Strip needs to live up to its name. It needs to be cleaned up and refurbished, and the sidewalks need to be upgraded ... I know there were plans sometime ago for the upgrading of it, but it has not happened yet ... they should put in very good sidewalks and the buildings that are not looking attractive should also get spruced up," he said.