D'town power play
Kingston firms plan creation of super-company to fast-track commercial district's redevelopment
Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
Clearly impatient with the perceived snail's pace of the planned redevelopment of the downtown Kingston commercial district, a group of huge private conglomerates in the area is moving to establish a super-company designed to finance the transformation of the business Mecca.
GraceKennedy Group will tomorrow play host to the top brass of the local private-sector movement during a critical luncheon meeting in a determined bid to flesh out and advance the elaborate plans to expand and fast-track the redevelopment of the commercial district.
"What is being proposed on Friday is that key private-sector entities in downtown will float a private/public sector company on the Jamaica Stock Exchange," president of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC), Francis Kennedy, told The Gleaner.
Kennedy disclosed that the company's first mandate would be the development of two master plans, the first of which will focus its attention on attracting new economic drivers. He said the second constitutes a social-intervention dimension of the urban development plan that would incorporate infrastructure, housing and a master transportation plan, among other things.
"This is intended to incorporate a cultural district, increased commercial activities, an entertainment Mecca and middle-income housing," Kennedy said. "We are looking at the setting up of two hotels, including resurrecting the Oceana Hotel and installing condominiums in a section ... ."
Kennedy estimated that the first phase of the project would take between six and nine months. He pointed to other projects that he said were in the pipeline.
"We will also start on those," he said. "These include a night-time centre on Pechon Street which is being promoted by members of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica and the Planning Institute of Jamaica. "We are not asking for government guarantees, all we are asking for is government sanctions."
Kennedy said the chief executive officer of GraceKennedy, Don Wehby, and the chairman of Pan Jamaican Investment Trust, Maurice Facey, are the catalysts behind fresh plans to re-energise the development exercise.
He disclosed that new moves to radically transform downtown Kingston at a more rapid pace than the ongoing restoration exercise were the brainchild of Wehby and Facey.
One of the Caribbean's largest corporate entities, GraceKennedy has always been located in the downtown commercial district.
The JCC president said Grace-Kennedy would be hosting tomorrow's luncheon meeting, aimed at devising strategies to breathe new life into the commercial district.
"This is intended to get all the key private-sector stakeholders to sit down together to agree on a proposed plan for the redevelopment of downtown Kingston," he said.
Kennedy noted it was GraceKennedy and Pan Jam that came up with a programme to commence the far-reaching plans for downtown Kingston.
He argued that the responsibility for downtown's redevelopment was thrust in the palm of the private sector as the Portia Simpson Miller administration was handicapped at this time.
2003 development plan
He said that in 2002, then Prime Minister P.J. Patterson established a joint public-private sector initiative called the Kingston Redevelopment Programme, headed by Vin Lawrence, who was the chairman of the Urban Development Corporation (UDC).
According to Kennedy, the team created an outline of a development plan in January 2003.
"That was 10 years ago and coming out of that was the formation of the Kingston City Centre Improvement Company," Kennedy said. "The City Centre Improvement Company, along with Pan Jam and other private-sector stakeholders and the UDC, identified 49 different projects for the redevelopment of downtown."
However, he said only seven of the 49 projects that were identified 10 years ago have been implemented to date.