By TBY | Jamaica | May 18, 2018
Although the subject of much talk, downtown Kingston has been relatively neglected for many years while surrounding areas of the city attracted more real estate developments. A series of public and private investments indicate that the trend is finally reversing.
Kingston, Jamaica’s capital, is located on the waterfront of the world’s seventh-largest natural harbor and holds great prospect for being a bustling, thriving economic and social city once again. As suburban areas developed, downtown Kingston entered a vicious cycle with most businesses migrating and criminal activities increasing in the area. With limited impact, attempts at increasing the attractiveness of downtown Kingston began as far back as 1968, with the commissioning of the Waterfront Redevelopment Program.
Endowed with good public infrastructure and advantageous rental rates, and infused with incentive packages, downtown Kingston has the potential to become an active growth center. The zone already hosts a number of cultural and economic institutions including the Parliament, Bank of Jamaica, Jamaica Stock Exchange, and National Gallery of Art. Downtown Kingston is also located next to the international Norman Manley Airport, currently under privatization, and the historic town of Port Royal, a former center of trade and historically the home of notorious pirates and buccaneers.
Two important projects, one initiated by the public and one by the private sector, are symbolizing the revitalization of the area. A new building for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade is currently under construction on Port Royal Street. The 11-story building is mainly financed through a grant of JMD3.27 billion (USD25.1 million) from the People’s Republic of China and should be completed in 2018.
Another major investment is the construction of a new corporate head office for Grace Kennedy, one of Jamaica’s largest groups. According to Don Wehby, CEO of GraceKennedy, “The building will add a contemporary look to the area while increasing the use of downtown for commercial activity.” The total cost of the project is expected to be USD25 million, and the completion of the construction is scheduled for November 2018.
These projects will certainly help inject new life to the area and have stirred interest from real estate firms, such as Coldwell Banker Realty Jamaica, one of the leaders in the market. The company has recently set up Admiralty Sword Limited, a sister company, with the sole purpose of buying, renovating, and selling properties in downtown Kingston, expecting a significant increase in demand in the coming years. Investments in the area are facilitated by the urban incentive program, managed by the Urban Development Corporation, a government entity engaged in the renovation of the neighborhood.
Creating an aesthetic space to attract visitors to the Kingston waterfront is also a priority of the government, which is marketing Kingston as a tourism destination and trying to attract more cruises to the city. Pan-Jam, a key Jamaican holding and long-term advocate of the development of downtown Kingston is renovating the former Oceana Hotel for an overall cost evaluated to be around JMD6.5 billion (USD49.9 million). Also, a number of projects supported by the Urban Development Corporation are currently in the pipeline, including the development of a Festival Marketplace, improvements to the Jamaica Conference Centre, and the construction of a railway museum. Trench Town, a district located near the waterfront, could also significantly increase its tourism offerings. Internationally renowned for being the birthplace of Reggae, the neighborhood is also famously mentioned in legendary hit song “No Woman, no Cry” by Bob Marley.
Minister Without Portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation Daryl Vaz recently reaffirmed that the government is pushing to develop downtown Kinston: “By relocating specific government offices to downtown Kingston, such as the Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Ministry, we are signaling to investors our confidence in its potential as a major commercial and cultural hub. We see the vast historical and cultural potential of downtown Kingston as a tourist destination.”