JCC pitches new downtown development company
The Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, JCC, is pitching a plan to incorporate a company that is to become the self-financing administrative and project implementation arm of a proposed public-private partnership, or PPP, to drive the redevelopment plans...
The Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, JCC, is pitching a plan to incorporate a company that is to become the self-financing administrative and project implementation arm of a proposed public-private partnership, or PPP, to drive the redevelopment plans for downtown Kingston.
Unlike a previous attempt at private sector-led redevelopment in the business district, the chamber believes that adequate initial fundraising and the creation of sustainable income streams can ensure long-term success.
“Looking at urban renewal in Kingston, there is a long track record. It appears, however, that the institutions we have put to focus on it have not done justice to the objective. Sustained success requires an institutionalisation of decision-making that can span long periods of time, because renewal and urban development don’t happen overnight,” convenor for the JCC’s Downtown Kingston Redevelopment Working Group, Michael McMorris, told the Financial Gleaner in an interview this week.
The JCC wants the overarching body, modelled off the successful Economic Programme Oversight Committee template, to be anchored in the prime minister’s office, which has ministerial responsibility for urban development, inner-city renewal, economic growth projects, water and housing, among other functions that are vital to the city’s redevelopment.
But McMorris was quick to add that other important public-sector, private-sector and non-government stakeholders must have a seat at the decision-making table, including the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation, or KSAMC; local government, finance and tourism ministries; residents of the area; businesses; the police; National Solid Waste Management Authority; National Water Commission; Jamaica Public Service Company; Urban Development Corporation; Jamaica Customs Agency; the Planning Institute of Jamaica; among other entities and groups.
The umbrella business group is projecting an end-of-year timeline for agreeing the oversight structure and incorporating the management firm that would raise financing for its work. McMorris said all the work being done by members of the chamber to get to that point is voluntary. He is of the view that it is too early to say precisely how or what level of financing would need to be raised.
“We try to balance the long- and short-term objectives,” McMorris, a project management professional who led the project team for the retrofitting of the recently opened ROK hotel and residences located downtown Kingston, said of the role of the JCC committee he heads.
“The objective is to try and put a governance structure in place that can withstand changes in personnel, as well as changes in the environment. For example, changes in the JCC, in the government administration, in who is running the municipality. What we have seen in the past is that urban renewal initiatives have been successful sometimes, and those times usually coincide with very active agents in various organisations,” he said.
Insisting that such an approach is not sustainable, McMorris said there is a good rationale for separating the executing company from the oversight body.
“If the executing company has a problem or it gets off-track, then you always have that body that can put it back together and take the decisions about what needs to be done in terms of execution,” he explained.
It is not the first time that a private company is being formed to lead renewal initiatives in downtown Kingston. In 1983, the Kingston Restoration Company, KRC, was incorporated as a joint venture of the UDC and private-sector entities, including PanJam, Victoria Mutual and GraceKennedy. After some initial success spearheading the restoration of a few buildings, primarily along Harbour Street, the firm still markets its development services and is involved in the beautification of Duke Street, but has focused mainly on social programmes, some funded by international agencies. The programmes, aimed at creating social and economic opportunities for youth, involves communities of central Kingston, but also extend to outlying inner-city enclaves, such as Jones Town, Rose Town, Allman Town, Denham Town and Trench Town.
The JCC is working with non-profit Kingston Creative and the KSAMC to beautify sections of the downtown business district, an initiative that has seen several noted Jamaican artists painting extensive murals and constructing story boards in the Water Lane area. There effort encourages businesses to beautify their spaces, and government agencies to improve physical infrastructure.
KRC model still viable
McMorris, who is also the chairman of VM Group, formerly known as Victoria Mutual Group, says JCC still believes the KRC model of taking over derelict buildings, restoring them and splitting the money from their sale with the original owners, can still work in some instances. The chamber is also talking with multilateral funding agencies, including the Inter-American Development Bank, about funding aspects of the development plan.
McMorris was involved in a meeting with a delegation of the World Bank that visited Kingston earlier this month for consultations with the Jamaican government and other stakeholders on a redevelopment programme for downtown Kingston. Reports out of the meeting suggest that the World Bank has recognised the need for a PPP as the vehicle for the redevelopment.
The government’s plans for revitalising the downtown area have focused on physical infrastructure works, including the just-completed seawall, boardwalk, and the widening and resurfacing of sections of Port Royal Street. Plans are also said to be in the pipeline for a housing development and the creation of new business process outsourcing office space.
At the recent opening of the ROK, the chairman of PanJam Investments Limited, Stephen Facey, was critical of the state’s approach to the redevelopment of downtown Kingston. PanJam owns the ROK Kingston hotel.
In a stout defence of his administration’s stewardship on the matter, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, speaking at the opening of the hotel, pointed to major resource constraints, the absence of appropriate leadership of the initiative, and conceded the need for clear government policies that provide certainty and de-risking for potential investors. He added that the government was working with the World Bank on the creation of a master plan for the redevelopment of the area.
In October 2019, the Jamaican government announced Cabinet’s approval of a contract for more than US$520,000 to Spanish company Investigación y Control de Calidad, or INCOSA, to create a development plan for downtown Kingston in a joint venture with another Spanish firm, Servicios Integrales de Contración e Intermediación. No update has been provided on that contract.