Squander! Government spends more than $32 million to keep old, empty Jamintel building safe for pigeons

Published: Sunday | November 25, 2012 Comments 0

Tyrone Reid, Senior Staff Reporter

Since 2005, two major state agencies have spent millions of taxpayers' dollars on round-the-clock security services for an idle derelict building in Jamaica's capital city.

Information obtained from the National Housing Trust (NHT) revealed that both it and the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) have paid no less than $32.6 million to secure the run-down building at the corner of Duke and North streets in downtown Kingston.

This figure represents nearly half the actual value of the property.

The unoccupied building is the former headquarters of the defunct Jamaica International Telecommunications Limited (Jamintel).

"The cost of security is approximately $388,000 per month ... two guards are stationed at the property, 24 hours a day, seven days per week," read a section of a written response from the NHT.

A visit to the property last week showed that the building is in bad shape and is not being properly maintained.

At least one source told The Sunday Gleaner that pigeons have made the rooftop and other sections of the building their home.

This, the source pointed out, is evidenced by the bird droppings that stain sections of the building.

Our news team was denied access to the property last Thursday by the two security guards on duty

because the powers that be at the UDC told them that they did not authorise our visit.

The derelict building was purchased from Cable and Wireless Jamaica, now LIME, back in 2005 for $76.1 million.

However, in October 2010, it was reported that the property was the subject of a cash and property-swap deal involving the UDC and the NHT.

The UDC had planned to acquire the property for $149.5 million, of which $111.1 million would be in cash. It was planned that the UDC would renovate the building and offer office space to rent.

However, more than two years after the revelation of the deal, the NHT is still the owner of the old Jamintel building. At least on paper.

"The Trust is still the registered proprietor of the building, pending finalisation of its sale to the Urban Development Corporation, on the basis of a purchase and sale agreement between the two parties," the NHT said in its response to Sunday Gleaner queries.

"The UDC made a deposit on the sale price, and the settlement of remaining amounts due will be by way of exchange of UDC lands that are suitable for housing," added the NHT.

The state housing developer also stated that although it remains the registered owner of the property, responsibility for security has been passed to the UDC.

Questions were sent to both state entities last Monday, but the UDC is yet to respond.

Before the UDC deal was on the table, the NHT had plans to swap the building for a sprawling property on Hope Road in St Andrew which now houses the Office of the Commissioner of Police.

The Hope Road land is considered prime real estate, suitable for upscale residential development.

According to reports, the NHT had planned to transform the Hope Road property, part of the so-called Golden Triangle that includes Vale Royal, the official residence of the prime minister, into townhouses for young professionals.

Arrangement rejected

The police, however, rejected the arrangement that would have seen the nerve centre of the Jamaica Constabulary Force being relocated to the high-rise building downtown.

Following that failed arrangement with the police, the NHT listed the 65,000-square-foot downtown property on the market in 2006, at a price of $86.34 million.

The property was, however, withdrawn from the market in 2008, following a change of Government, with NHT saying its new board was reconsidering the building's use.

The old Jamintel building was again on the market in 2009, after the NHT failed to close a sales deal with another government entity, which was never publicly named.

tyrone.reid@gleanerjm.com

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