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'Give us diamonds'

Published:Monday | May 13, 2013 | 12:00 AM

Tony Hart wants western white elephants transformed

Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer

Western Bureau:The man credited with transforming the Montego Freeport into a gold mine, Tony Hart, has launched a campaign to have western Jamaica's two white elephants - the Trelawny Multi-purpose Stadium and the Montego Bay Convention Centre - transformed into 'diamonds'.

Hart, in a full-page, full-colour advertisement in The Sunday Gleaner yesterday, demanded "it's time to KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid)".

In the ad, he declared the current haemorrhaging of millions of dollars in cost to the nation at both properties could be easily cauterised.

"It's not complicated. Instead of losing $50 million a month, the Trelawny stadium should be turned into the Usain Bolt university of sports and technology and the convention centre, a free-standing casino, giving amazing entertainment at night," Hart told The Gleaner in an interview yesterday afternoon.

The Montego Bay businessman, who said he was now retired, estimated that with the depreciation of both properties, interest on the money borrowed to construct both, operating cost and electricity, it was costing the country much more than the $50 million per month he had estimated in the ad. The convention centre alone is costing $33 million.

Hart's advertisement has caused a firestorm, reopening a conversation that has been in Parliament for the last four years.

He said his phone remained extremely busy yesterday, with support coming from all spheres of the society.

He has also received the backing of the presidents of the Trelawny Chamber of Commerce and the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Richard Bourke and Davon Crump, respectively.

Both men said they were in agreement that the stadium was a white elephant and changes needed to be made to the convention centre.

"The stadium is totally underutilised, and should become a training centre for western Jamaica and a source of sports tourism," said Bourke

He noted that while the stadium was originally intended as a multi-purpose facility, it is only set up to accommodate cricket.

"It needs to meet the same standards at the National Stadium," he stated. Since the stadium was built, it has hosted only one major sporting event - the 2007 Cricket World Cup.

Crump said he, too, endorsed the proposal fully, accusing many in the country of being hypocritical.

He said the setting up of a casino was one way in which "we can bring in a lot of money, but there are those who are against such an idea".

The MoBay chamber president said he was of the opinion that the convention centre could not continue to bleed while sections not in use could be utilised.

In the meantime, Hart argued that the people of western Jamaica, who represent 30 per cent of the island's population, must have a say in how these two facilities are dealt with going forward.

"We in the west should all get on-board and fight for it," he said.

Hart recommended that either the University of Technology (UTech) or the University of the West Indies (UWI) take over the running of the stadium, allowing thousands of children from near and far to access education there.

"I hate to see assets that can be used for the benefit of the people lying idle and can be put to use," he added, noting that it could be done within three months.

He claimed the majority of the present Cabinet were in agreement with making the stadium into a university, but were unable to get the project off the ground since the suggestion was made four years ago.

On the other hand, blocks A & B at the convention centre, he added, could be used to accommodate the casino, while block C could be used for dining and bars and block D, as the big hall for shows.

"I am not saying we are to do away with the convention centre," he qualified, arguing that a standing casino would encourage the hotels to send out their people.

Hart's development of the Montego Freeport in 1967 has been credited for developing Montego Bay into the Second City it is today.

Efforts to get a comment from Natalie Neita-Headley, minister without portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister with responsibility for sports, proved unsuccessful as her telephone rang several times without answer.