Tue | Mar 21, 2023

Retailers flee pricy locations in MoBay

Published:Sunday | January 24, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Avia Collinder, Business Reporter

The commercial real-estate market is seeing a shift in demand by retailers who are giving up space in high-rent locations and seeking inexpensive display, storage and operating space in Montego Bay, usually in the centre of the town.

The real-estate hopscotch in western Jamaica has resulted in an abundance of empty space in the more expensive suburbs of Montego Bay's eastern and western outskirts, even as more businesses cram into the city centre.

"There is a lot of retail space available, but people want to be downtown," said Deborah Cumming, managing director of Century 21 Heave Ho properties.

"Most of those looking are Kingston business people who want to open a second store in Montego Bay, and they are looking downtown where prices are between US$8 and US$12 per square foot," said Cumming.

Listings in the city centre are priced from US$850 for a fixer-upper requiring tiling, to US$5,000 per month, according to a Coldwell Banker agent.

The US dollar currently trades at just under J$90 in Jamaica.

Plazas offering space closer to J$500,000per month (US$5,500) are said to be actually losing clients to those looking to rent for below J$200,000 (US$2,200), Cumming said.

As a result of the flat demand for rentals in the upper bands, prices are, therefore, trending down, the realtor told Sunday Business.

Cumming, whose company maintains offices in Kingston and Montego Bay, has pointed to the Bogue City Centre, also known as the ATL Plaza, where, despite prices coming down from US$25 per square foot to between US$19 and US$20, the mall remains largely empty.

In 2008, the ATL Group invested approximately $600 million to purchase the 21-shop commercial complex with over 60,000 square feet of space.

The appliance retailer's Montego Bay store is still one of only a handful of businesses at the location, where spaces range from 2,500 square feet to 25,000 square feet, and parking is available for 200 vehicles.

Andrew Baston, agent with Century 21 in Montego Bay, says the ATL Plaza has 20 per cent occupancy, while shops have been closing in nearby Fairview.

The newly built 12-shop plaza constructed in the MegaMart complex, located in the same zone, is yet to be occupied. The MegaMart wholesale supermarket, however, is a highly trafficked business, and could eventually serve as a draw for other stores.

In the meantime, Baston said the demand was high for downtown retail space easily reachable by pedestrians, which is available for between US$10 and US$14 per square foot.

Very low prices

"They even want to buy," he said Friday.

"One individual called me today saying he wanted a building to buy which was already tenanted. He wanted it as an investment."

But while retailers are scrambling to head into town, new commercial real-estate inventory is still being added in the more expensive Bogue and Ironshore suburbs.

The move to discount prices in those locales, has not, so far, stemmed the flow of business closer to the city centre.

Lachu Ramchandani said at his Blue Diamond Plaza, which was built at Ironshore in the early 1990s, that "prices are very low".

Monthly charges for available stores at Blue Diamond range from US$500 to US$800 per month, plus general consumption tax.

The stores range in size from 550 square feet to 800 square feet, with basic rental set at US$10per square foot, but Ramchandani still has several empty shops on the market.

He will soon be competing for business with the more expansive, high-end Whitter Shopping Village that is just going on the market.

Coldwell Banker, which has been trying to find tenants for the ATL Plaza at the northwestern end of the city, insists that good deals abound there.

A Coldwell Banker agent said a tenant could get a store with two floors - 1,000 square feet upstairs and 1,500 square feet downstairs - for US$3,000 monthly, plus maintenance charge of J$20,000.

There is also an available single-level space of 1,650 square feet being rented for $120,000 per month, plus maintenance fees.