Fri | Nov 22, 2019

B&D Kingston waterfront plan delayed but alive, says developer

Published:Wednesday | October 16, 2019 | 1:43 AMHuntley Medley/ - Senior Business Writer
Roderick Francis, CEO of B&D Trawling.
Roderick Francis, CEO of B&D Trawling.

A plan to convert some six acres of prime Kingston waterfront land into a multibillion-dollar residential and commercial development, to be called the Spires, has been delayed but is still on the cards, according to Roderick Francis, CEO of B&D Trawling, its developer.

“It is on full stream and in the final process of government approval,” Francis told the Financial Gleaner in an interview.

The proposed development is slated for the property at 3B Port Royal Street now occupied by the fishing and seafood processing and marketing company. The location houses the offices of B&D Trawling, a processing plant, sales outlet and the increasingly popular seafood restaurant, Bunny’s Seaside Kitchen.

The land, with its own mooring dock, is owned by the Urban Development Corporation, UDC, but B&D holds a lease with an option to purchase, the fishing company’s CEO said. Francis declined to disclose details of the status of the negotiations with the UDC, whether the land acquisition was completed or the proposed purchase price, nor did queries to the UDC this week yield the information.

Tax Administration Jamaica utilises an unimproved valuation of $70 million for property tax assessment.

The businessman, who has been heading B&D since the death of his father, Roderick Francis Sr, in 2011, says given the sensitivity of the process at this point, he is constrained from providing details, but the company remained resolute in its bid to implement the dream of the elder Francis.

The Spires is intended to comprise residences, a marina, retail stores and restaurants and entertainment facilities.

“It’s going to be huge. The entire development will be a landmark in Kingston. Some spectacular things are going to be happening in the area,” Francis said in an echo of his earlier optimism.

The first phase is costed at about $2 billion. Last year the businessman had disclosed that the overall cost could, be in the region of US$150 million or more than $20 billion.

Speaking with the Financial Gleaner at the time, he was more fulsome with information on the financing plans, which he said then included private equity investors and bank loans. Francis had also floated the idea of a possible IPO for a special purpose subsidiary to be created to fund, develop and manage the facility.

In the interview with the Financial Gleaner last week, he steered clear of the financing arrangements, saying he would not give details at this time.

The principals of B&D were looking to have wrapped up negotiations for the land purchase and got building permits in hand in order to have started construction this year. Those projections have been pushed back. There is also now no firm timeline given the outstanding government approvals, as confirmed by Francis. While not giving precise reasons for the delays, the B&D CEO suggests that government processes have taken longer than initially expected.

“The time frame is based on government. Sometimes you think the government is going to take three months and it takes a year. I am really hoping that we can sign off by the end of the year and start next year,” he adds.

Approval for the project was received by the developers from the development committee of the Cabinet about three years ago, but up to September last year, the plan had not yet been submitted to the National Environment & Planning Agency for approval.

Planning for the Spires has been several years in the making and appears to have predated several new developments that have since come on stream, including the Digicel regional headquarters, the redevelopment of the Victoria Pier as an eatery and nightclub, and the construction of the UDC Festival Market Place.

Up to last year, the B&D Trawling Seafood Market, Processing Centre and a Major Waterfront Entertainment Park had been listed by the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation as being elements of the Downtown Kingston Redevelopment Plan. The plan also included a proposed Musson’s West Kingston business park, Kingston Lifestyles Plaza, railway station museum, a microbrewery, restaurant and beer garden and the boutique hotel and business centre being developed by PanJam at the former Oceana building.

huntley.medley@gleanerjm.com