Sun | Apr 23, 2017

‘Outameni’ dreams, now embroiled in controversy

Published:Saturday | November 15, 2014 | 11:00 AMAdrian Frater
FILE Tainos flank the Outameni Experience sign at the cultural and tourism venue in Coopers Pen, Trelawny. The $180-million purchase of Outameni by the Government has sparked outrage among business leaders, analysts, and the Opposition.

Western Bureau:

When Outameni Experience opened its doors in September 2007, it was predicted to be one of Jamaica's premier tourist attractions.

However, while the rich accolades were flowing, businessman Lenny Little-White, who conceptualised the attraction, was much more cautious, stating that success would be dependent on governmental assistance.

"It is important that the state officials help entrepreneurs who are seeking to invest in the country's development," Little-White said at the grand opening of the facility. "We want to create more jobs and more investments but we can't do it alone."

Little-White kept his promise, creating employment for over 40 persons, and more importantly, giving Jamaica a unique attraction, which showcased the nation's rich history while exposing the talent of the actors, who majestically recaptured the era of the Tianos, slavery and independence.

must-do attraction

"This is a must-do attraction for those who are interested in learning about Jamaica's history," a visitor from Atlanta, Georgia, recently wrote on TripAdvisor.com. "The tour takes about 11/2 hours and takes visitors on a tour through various stages in Jamaica's history."

Fast forward to 2014, the great promise of Outameni has taken a backseat to raging controversy, which was spawned by a decision by the National Housing Trust (NHT) to buy the attraction, which was said to be struggling financially, for J$180 million with a promise to spend an additional J$111 million on upgrading.

Despite attracting a fair share of visitors to the island, especially cruise ship passengers, who have been docking at the Falmouth Pier since 2011, the lack of the governmental assistance Little-White had spoken about caused success to be elusive.

With the Government being taken to task by the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, Jamaica Manufacturers' Association and the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, and with the Opposition - Jamaica Labour Party mulling legal action, Outameni seems to be facing an uncertain future.

"As legislators, we have a duty to guard against any abuse of funds held in trust on behalf of the hard-working people of Jamaica," said Dr Horace Chang, the Opposition's spokesman on housing, "Further, we have an obligation to ensure that actions taken by the Government and its agencies are legal and above board."

closed for refurbishing

Outameni is now closed for refurbishing and is likely to reopen its doors in December, but there is some amount of anxiety in the Cooper's Pen area of Trelawny, where the attraction is located.

"We need an attraction like Outameni in this area because job opportunities are very few," said Lincoln Smith, a resident of the area. "This is one of the few attractions in the parish that attract a large number of visitors."

"I think the NHT did the right thing in buying Outameni .... the general area is being developed with new housing development, new tertiary institution and the promise to construct new hotels, so the attraction will add value to the area," said Smith.

However, at present, the lone security guard at the gate is not entirely sure what the future holds, albeit his pay cheque seems secure at this time.

"Outameni is now closed for refurbishing so we the regular employees are off the job," the security guard, who asked not to be identified told The Western Focus. "We are just hoping and praying that when all the fussing is over, the workers' jobs will be spared and Outameni will remain open."

Interestingly, the Outameni attractions was one of three attractions shortlisted for the 'Jamaica's Beat Attraction' award at The Gleaner Hospitality Jamaica Awards Gala, a indication that it is having an impact on the hospitality sector.