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UDC to step up downtown project in 2010

Published:Sunday | January 3, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Dionne Rose, Business Reporter

The three edifices that dominate the downtown Kingston skyline: (from left) the Bank of Jamaica, ScotiaCentre and the Air Jamaica building, as seen October 16, 2009.

The Urban Development Corporation (UDC) has said it will be pushing ahead with plans to redevelop downtown Kingston and is projecting to spend $250 million to rehabilitate the market district in the next financial year, which starts in April.

Residential and commercial upgrading, as well as the sale of corporation land, is on the cards, according to UDC officials.

The government agency will also be spearheading projects to rehabilitate the residential areas in west and central Kingston in tandem with wooing private investors back to the capital city.

"The area in downtown Kingston that we want to focus on is the market district, much of which is owned between us and the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation. It is the largest such market district in the English-speaking Caribbean," said Joy Douglas, general manager of the UDC.

market-district redevelopment

Douglas said the downtown market-district redevelopment is the agency's next project on the heels of the almost-completed $161 million transportation centre being constructed at Water Lane in the vicinity.

New shopping facilities and improvements to some of the 12 markets in the area are to come in for urgent attention on a phased basis, she said.

"We want to raise enough money to reroof the Coronation Market. For the first time since its construction, we are proposing to reroof (it). The fact is that it leaks and it needs more light into it."

The UDC's plans include building shops for itinerant vendors.

"We have already started the process of talking with the stakeholders who would be interested in purchasing the shops," said Douglas.

Douglas said the projects would be financed by various means, among them, the revenues it expects from the sale of non-core assets, such as The Jamaica Pegasus, Forum and Oceana hotels.

"We feel, as we did in the '80s, it is a missed opportunity. It is an area in which we could grow our small and medium-size enterprises and create a very strong backward linkage beyond Kingston into our rural areas," she said, justifying the project.

"We cannot only be talking about the large investors. We have to talk about what our own people have been doing year after year. They have actually had a consistent commitment to downtown Kingston. They have invested their all in downtown Kingston and we at the UDC will not leave them behind in this process."

The UDC plans are said to include the development of land now occupied by the craft market and fishing complex.

"We believe that the transportation centre is going to become a major catalyst for downtown," said the UDC boss.

Large private investors, such as telecommunications provider, Digicel, have lined up with major building plans.

"From what they (Digicel) have told us, they intend to commence their project early in the New Year, and being an international private-sector company that has a track record of doing what they say, we have no reason to doubt what they say they are going to do in the time frame," Douglas said.

enquiries about relocating

She added that about 15 government ministries and agencies had made enquiries about relocating to downtown Kingston following a directive given by Prime Minister Bruce Golding.

Data on the available commercial space owned by the UDC were not immediately available. Douglas pointed out, however, that the agency would be acquiring more spaces, but gave no details.

"We don't have enough space to cater to all those government agencies. The square footage exists in downtown Kingston but (it is) not owned by the UDC. So, this is why it has to be a strong public-private-sector partnership."

She said it was hoped that private players who owned empty buildings and lots downtown would be encouraged to develop them, taking up opportunities created by the renewal thrust.

additional incentives

Douglas said the Government had created additional incentives under the Urban Renewal (Tax Relief Act), which was amended in September.

Among the amendments, the investment-tax credit has been increased from 25 per cent to 33.3 per cent for entities which build in the area.

Meanwhile, in the UDC's plans for residential development, areas in west and central Kingston are slated to get attention.

"We realise that the conditions in which people live have to be attended to at the lower end, and at the same time, we want more people to realise that living downtown is something that is going to be desirable."

Explaining details of the residential plan, Patrick Stanigar, acting chief architect, said the areas being considered are Hannah Town, Matthews Lane, Fletcher's Land, Southside, Tel-Aviv and surrounding areas.

He said persons living in these communities would be assisted to buy the lands which they occupied and would have their houses upgraded.

"It is more of a self-help approach," he said.

"The strategy we are pursuing is going into the existing tenement yards and replacing the structures on a phased basis."

Stanigar said the idea is to cause as little dislocation as possible.

Pressed on the budget for the project, Stanigar said he did not have the figures.

"It is not going to cost us very much money," he said, indicating that the beneficiaries would assist in the rehabilitation work.

working with MPs

The UDC is said to be working with the members of parliament (MPs) of the areas involved. Prime Minister Bruce Golding is the MP for West Kingston and Opposition member Ronnie Thwaites, the representative for Central Kingston.

Stanigar is projecting that work will start within the next couple of months at Matthews Lane, with Southside accelerating in the second quarter of next year.

And while the UDC general manager has spoken of plans to build upper-middle-income houses on the waterfront near the craft market, the corporation's head architect said this would not be an immediate project.