Avia Collinder, Business Reporter
Swiss House Jamaica Limited, the real estate affiliate of Swiss Stores, has purchased four lots needed for the expansion of the business downtown at a cost of US$1 million, according to managing director, Ulrich Bangerter.
His uncle, Peter Bangerter, partner in the luxury jewellery retailer and affiliates, including restaurant company F&B 109 Limited, says investors in downtown Kingston are being frustrated by the bureaucracy involved in securing tax breaks and building permits, notwithstanding the revitalisation programme.
The new lots are 107 Harbour Street, purchased from Swiss Stores by Swiss House Jamaica Limited in 2011; two properties at Water Lane acquired last year to be developed as parking space; and 109 Harbour Street on which the sale was just closed.
"Business downtown is difficult without parking," said Ulrich.
Lot 109 was acquired to expand the kitchen for the restaurant, which operates as F&B Downtown, and the addition of a take-out service centre for the growing food operation.
Tax breaks and incentives
The Swiss Store operators have applied for tax breaks under the incentive programme managed by Urban Development Corporation (UDC) to entice businesses to invest downtown.
But Peter Bangerter says that applications to UDC in June 2012, and to the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation (KSAC) since March 2012 for a permit to construct a parking garage, are yet to be approved.
The tax incentives, although not calculated, are expected to aid in the viability of the enterprises in which the Bangerters said overseas partners have also invested.
Company Office records indicate that the shareholders in Swiss House, which was incorporated in August 2012, are Visiwa Limited, registered in St Lucia; Ulrich Bangerter; Daniel Eugster; and Ulrich Reid of Switzerland.
F&B 109 Limited was incorporated in September 2009 with one-third of its shares held by Visiwa, one-third by Eugster and the other third by Ulrich Bangerter, who has one share extra in shareholdings of 100,000 units.
"We attracted some Swiss investors to buy two lots - one at 109 Harbour Street and the other at 107 - paid in good Swiss dollars," said Peter Bangerter.
"One is two old buildings with no roof. One lot we want for parking, the other might become an apartment building. We are thinking 10, 15 years down the line," he said.
In January, the Bangerters closed the uptown branch of Swiss stores in Mall Plaza and consolidated its operations downtown.
Ulrich Bangerter said the company has seen no loss in its jewellery operation from the downtown move.
"It's (been) five months and it has paid off. There is no movement in sales, but we have made big savings by closing the uptown store," he said.
"People are having confidence to come downtown. They come, look at a piece of jewellery and then have coffee or lunch. The buying experience is improved."
F&B Downtown is said to be doing good business, especially from lunch crowds from large companies, which is why the extra parking is now urgent, the Bangerters say.
KSAC Town Clerk Errol Greene said the turnaround time for building permits was usually ninety days, but the agency is bound by law to seek the input of other agencies.
"And if they do not respond expeditiously, there is nothing we can do," Greene said. The UDC is yet to respond.
On its website, the UDC notes that investors who either own or lease property in any of the declared special development areas of downtown Kingston can apply for a range of incentives under the Urban Renewal (Tax Relief) Act, which offers incentives to individuals or companies undertaking capital investments in either land or buildings, whether residential or commercial.
The incentives include an Urban Renewal Bond (URB), investment tax credit, and tax-free rental income.
The URBs are loan instruments which may be issued, or underwritten by approved private and public-sector organisations to mobilise funds for specific projects.