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Seaga urges hasty development, capital push for downtown Kgn

Published:Wednesday | July 24, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Former Prime Minister Edward Seaga (left) greets Patrick King, distribution director for Digicel, while Olivia Grange looks on during Monday's Leaders-to-Leaders Speakers Series at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston. - Rudolph Brown/Photographer

Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer

Former Prime Minister Edward Seaga has highlighted the need for an urgent injection of foreign capital to fast-track the development of downtown Kingston even as echoes of impatience with the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) rippled through Monday's inaugural Leaders-to-Leaders Speakers' Seminar.

"The real need for downtown Kingston to be invigorated is because it holds the key to the type of investment which provides trading activity, the occupation most attractive to the residents," said Seaga, who created the UDC in the 1960s.

Seaga was one of a three-member panel at the speakers' forum held at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston.

The other panellists were Digicel Distribution Director Patrick King and UDC General Manager Desmond Malcolm.

Business leaders, however, complained that the development was limping. They expressed irritation with what they characterised as the failure or tardiness of the UDC to create the environment to facilitate economic growth.

Members of the business community cited a struggling bus terminal system, lack of parking facilities, substandard sanitation and unhygienic conditions, and bureaucratic hazards that stalled the timely implementation of projects.

Noting that fear of the area - brought about by political and social upheavals - was dissipating, Seaga said the real obstacle now was the lack of economic activity in the commercial district.

"It would require heavy investment to retool downtown Kingston to meet the needs of diverse interests," he said.

Seaga added: "I have given a lot of thought to this problem, but I come back to the same answer every time: downtown Kingston needs an overall injection of financial investment to make it viable."

domestic sources weak

Seaga argued that the prospects of heavy funding coming from domestic sources were weak.

"Downtown needs an external investment partner with a strong demand for labour," he asserted.

As he did as opposition leader, Seaga once again mooted development at Fort Augusta.

He said the area could be developed as a free zone if it was turned into a special project with tailor-made incentives.

"Land located on the border of the port provides a location of up to 250 acres of prime property, with the possibility of reclaiming another 100 acres from the sea," he said.

Seaga said if the intention exists to incorporate Fort Augusta into the expansion of the port to accommodate the needs of the mega vessels which will pass through the expansion of the Panama Canal, a free-zone operation could be created to purchase goods from far eastern countries. These goods would then be sold to Jamaicans and to foreign business interests in Jamaica who would visit to buy goods wholesale and retail.

He said this was the principle on which the Panama Free Zone operated.

"Fort Augusta could be a replica. Downtown Kingston could benefit from linking into that distribution chain," Seaga stressed. "A successful Fort Augusta Free Zone would be the answer to the unemployment of thousands of residents across the waterfront area. It deserves every consideration."