A CITY ON THE MOVE

Jamaica 2019 | MONTEGO BAY | INTERVIEW

Montego Bay's infrastructure is undergoing upgrades, making Jamaica's fourth-most populous city the fastest-growing city in the Caribbean.

In November 2018, Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett and the mayor of Montego Bay, Homer Davis, announced the beginning of construction work on a “Welcome to Montego Bay" sign just outside the Donald Sangster International Airport. Some USD17 million will be spent on the construction of the sign alone, though not without good reason. Montego Bay is the epicenter of Jamaica's tourism industry, and the city's airport, one of the busiest ones in the Caribbean, handles well over 60% of all visitors arriving in the country.

Since 2010, several initiatives funded by both local and international investors have strengthened Montego Bay's infrastructure, boosting its main industry, tourism. However, the city, which is home to almost all renowned international hotel chains, was not always a world-famous holiday destination. Visited by Columbus himself in 1494, Montego Bay was for many years a sugarcane port and the site of a number of slave revolts. Indeed, many of Montego Bay's finer coastal resorts are built on former sugarcane plantations, which shows that Jamaica, and especially Montego Bay, has come a long way.

The project dubbed “One Bay for all," funded by the Inter-American Development Bank's (IDB) Emerging and Sustainable Cities Initiative (ESCI), is addressing the city's infrastructure issues. The initiative covers areas as diverse as disaster preparedness, public safety, education, employment, transportation, and urban development. It aims to transform Montego Bay into a “Caribbean model city of sustainability," according to IDB. Consisting of both short-term and long-term investments, work on the initiative will continue for over a decade, ranging from the restoration of small local markets to major housing and transportation undertakings.

Reliable maritime gateways are of crucial importance for the development of all Caribbean cities, and Montego Bay is no exception. In 2016, the port authority of Jamaica announced its master plan for the transformation of Montego Bay's cruise port into a modern point of entry. The expansion program will enable the port to keep up with the growing number of cruise arrivals, while building new facilities for the storage of LNG. As for aviation, Montego Bay's Sangster airport just finalized a USD40-million plan for the expansion of its taxiways and aprons, as well as the renovation of its runway, terminals, and passenger lounges.

Another milestone in the expansion of Montego Bay's transportation infrastructure was reached in 2016 when a critical phase of Highway 2000 was completed, halving the travelling time between Kingston and Montego Bay. Built by a Chinese company with an investment of over USD1 billion, the new 225-km highway was described as a “game-changer" by minister Bartlett. By connecting Montego Bay to Kingston in a more efficient manner, it transformed the previously arduous journey into a more enjoyable experience, as evinced by the number of hotels that have been built along the Highway 2000 since 2016.

Judging by the number of visitors flocking to the city through various modes of transportation, the city itself and St. James Parish have long required a robust tourism infrastructure to meet rising demands. The Urban Development Corporation (UDC) has risen to the occasion, scheduling the construction of a cutting-edge beach park and recreational infrastructure project at the Closed Harbor Beach in St. James for 2019. With an investment of USD700 million, the area will turn into a public zone with running tracks, an open space amphitheater, children's playing areas, and food stations in the space of two years.
Nearly 40 years after receiving recognition as a city, Montego Bay is well on its way to become a modern city—one that is also a viable model for other aspiring cities in the region.