New Devon House to be totally independent
Dionne Rose, Business Reporter
Historical landmark, Devon House, the Govern-ment-owned mansion, built by Jamaica's first black millionaire, George Stiebel, in 1881, is to be weaned from the State Treasury and become fully self-financing as of the 2011-12 fiscal year.
"We are now saying to them that, as of next year, you will have to find your way," Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett told Wednesday Business.
Government's annual subvention to the property located on Hope Road, St Andrew, is $25 million, just over a third of the property's $66 million operating budget.
"They should be able to do so, given the plans they have in place," Bartlett said, pointing out that Devon House has consistently been meeting its $41 million-revenue target.
The historical site, which is operated by Devon House Development Company Limited, recently got a $112-million upgrade paid for by the Tourism Enhancement Fund. The grounds of the great house were landscaped, the mansion refurbished, parking lots built, and gazebos and park benches repaired.
The upgrade is not quite complete, as interior refurbishment and reroofing of the shops are still being done.
Devon House's marketing and events manager, Andre Reid, said a range of strategies are being implemented to make the property profitable.
One income-generating activity to be pursued by Devon House Development Limited, the entity which has been managing the property since 2002, is full-scale entry into the wedding market.
"Putting in a chapel is part of our long-term goal because we recognise that it is a very preferred destination for wedding photos, so, if we are able to provide more than just a photographic background, but can also provide a location of consistent, standard for weddings, I think that will augur well for the property, its development and our ability to generate more money," Reid said.
Revenue from shop rentals
Shop rentals provide 80 per cent of Devon House's revenue, he said. The property has 21 shops, of which 19 are occupied.
The businesses located there include Things Jamaican, Reve Jewellery, Norma's on the Terrace restaurant, Bin 26 wine bar, Chocolate Dreams, Devon House I-Scream (operated by Scoops Unlimited), Brick Oven and a Cooyah clothing store.
Reid said the development plans include generating more revenue from tours of the historic mansion.
The strategy calls for packages that might include tours of the mansion and the grounds, dinner, wine, ice cream and chocolates.
"We are creating these experiences in a way that we are able to not only look at the long-term sustainability of the property and its income-generating possibilities, but we are tying that with how the place develops and moves forward as a venue and a historical site," Reid said.
Using its heritage site status, the property is to be immersed into the events market, from which it already has some contracts.
Devon House's 937.95 square feet Stiebel Room can hold up to 110 persons seated theatre-style, or between 65 and 75 in a dinner setting.
The Melhado Room accommodates 50 to 60 persons theatre-style and about 35 or 45 seated for dinner.
The smallest meeting room, the 459.63 square-feet Lindo Room, has a 25- to 30-person capacity theatre-style and accommodates between 15 and 20 for dinner.
The attraction's 18,000 to 20,000 visitors per month is said to span a broad demographic range, with traffic being heaviest on weekends.
The marketing plans include adding 3,000 more visitors monthly over the next five years.