BETRAYAL - Falmouth business operators tired of broken promises
Mark Titus, Gleaner Writer
With the promised boon not materialising, business operators in Water Square in Falmouth, Trelawny, are saying that they were betrayed by the authorities, who had sold them the idea that the pedestrianisation of the area, to coincide with the new era of cruise shipping, would bring them positive benefits.
In responding to widespread objections to the restrictive pedestrianisation plans when it was first advanced in 2010, Lenworth Tracey, the then deputy general manager for Economic Development and Corporate Relations at the Urban Development Corporation (UDC), told residents that the walk-only zone in Water Square would benefit, not affect established businesses.
"It is a small section, but a very important section in terms of commerce, culture, and those kinds of activity," Tracey said, in suggesting to residents that a failure to create such an area, where the tourists could comfortably spend their money, would be running the risk of chasing away cruise passengers.
"The intention is to try and create that space where the tourists, probably up to 10,000, can be accommodated in the town," added Tracey.
Now faced with hard reality that pedestrianisation is not bringing the expected financial returns, businessman Dennis Seivright, a former president of the Trelawny Chamber of Commerce, is among those who feel betrayed as the absence of vehicular traffic and the failure of cruise ship passengers to fill the void, continues to take a toll on business.
"It is a good concept, still a good concept, but we were sold the fact that the pier was about Falmouth, but this has not manifested itself in the day-to-day operations of the facility," said Seivwright. "My business is losing money because the tourists are not coming into the arcade, even as an average of 600 goes to outside attractions (outside the parish) from each vessel that calls here. We are lucky if 100 passengers walk through the town."
Sonia Shirley, who operates a 50-year-old family business in Falmouth, is also feeling the economic pinch. In a recent interview with Western Focus, she said there has been a 50 per cent decline in her business returns since vehicular traffic was prohibited from the town square.
While businesses and residents are generally upset about the negative impact of pedestrianisation and cruise shipping on the town, the Port Authority of Jamaica, which operates the Falmouth Pier, which is the exclusive port of entry for Royal Caribbean cruise lines, are seemingly reaping handsome returns.
Busiest cruise ship port
Between March 2011, when the port began operations, and September 2014, when it became fully operational, it single-handedly accounted for 2.25 million cruise passengers who came into the pier via 531 vessels, a feat which made it the busiest cruise ship port of entry in the Western Hemisphere.
While the Trelawny Parish Council was among the entities which supported the transformation of the town to suit cruise shipping, Seivright does not believe the Mayor Garth Wilkinson-led parish council should be blamed for what has unfolded.
"I don't think the mayor and his team should be blamed. He is just managing and can only work with what he is given by central government," said Seivwright. "It is more about policies and a failure to implement these policies. I was president (of the Chamber of Commerce) at the time, and I walked door to door, encouraging businesses to make additional investment. I am now happy that many did not take my advice."
Within recent months, the residents of Falmouth have been calling for a reversal of the pedestrianisation of the town, arguing that the Georgian town is dying because it is not enjoying any of the spin-off benefits from the cruise ship trade.