RENOWNED architect and proprietor of one of Kingston's leading restaurants Redbones, Evan Williams, is all set to begin construction on a new corporate hotel to be situated in New Kingston.
The project is expected to come in at around US$7 million.
Speaking with Caribbean Business Report earlier this week from his company Design Collaborative's headquarters on Renfrew Road, Williams said: "The idea was born in 2006 when I thought with all the nearby amenities, New Kingston would be a great location for a corporate hotel. So I applied for a mixed-use development approval (a basement with recreational facilities and two floors of structured parking).
"I wanted a structure with a floor for offices and two floors of accommodation with a roof. It would also have a café and pool."
It took Williams four years to get approval with the local authorities objecting, claiming the building was "too dense" and conceptually not popular for the vicinity.
Williams is of the view that the planning regulations for New Kingston are a little antiquated.
"Because the idea of having on-ground parking takes up valuable real estate. So if you have structured parking you have to have a trade-off. By that I mean, the open space would have to go somewhere. So I put it on the roof. I thought in an urban area that was the ideal solution, but the statutory agents didn't see it that way. To be fair, they were very sympathetic, but I guess rules are rules."
Williams is perhaps the most eclectic and innovative architect of his generation, designing a number of Sandals' earlier hotels.
He lodged an appeal and recalls how helpful then Minister Daryl Vaz was in trying to get the project off the ground and seeing what could be done. Unfortunately, both Vaz and the KSAC deemed that the project would contravene existing regulations.
Nevertheless, Williams did manage to win his appeal and eventually got his approval. He notes that the KSAC, NEPA and other agencies were most helpful in getting the project approved.
All set to go, the local economy was then rocked by the crisis of 2008. Williams decided to convert the approved mixed-use building into a hotel type of facility, thus changing the original idea.
"This hotel provides for a long-stay visitor, whether it be for holiday or business. If you have executives coming to work in Jamaica and need to get settled before finding suitable accommodation, this hotel is ideal. Likewise, if a visitor is coming to the capital for two or more weeks, it is equally suitable. The guest is able to have a five-star room with or without a kitchenette.
"It provides first-class accommodation with breakfast, restaurant and exercise facilities. It is a very flexible arrangement. A guest can have a room with an adjoining sitting room. The rates are very competitive and a guest can book for three to six months, " said Williams.
Three blocks away construction will begin on the Marriott. This five-storey 130-room hotel, scheduled for completion in 2015, is expected to cost around US$22 million and employ 440 people.
Williams' model will be totally different from that of the Marriott, which will be constructed on land owned by one of Jamaica's leading business families, the Faceys.
Williams is looking to sell his hotel rooms, which in turn will be leased, back to a management company that will operate it as a hotel.
He proclaimed that from Year One to Year Four based on between 50 to 60 per cent occupancy, the returns should be between seven and 9.5 per cent. If the occupancy rates go up so, too, do, the returns.
Williams intends to build the hotel in 15 months, breaking ground next month. The building will, to say the least, be unconventional. The plan is to have the sub-floors (basement and two parking structures) built with reinforced concrete but everything above is steel frame. By the time the foundations are finished the entire frame will have been manufactured and ready for installation.
"I am confident that by reducing the amount of wet work, one can expedite this construction process. We have a great team of consultants. We went to tender and the contract was awarded to Prime Construction. They are also the ones building the Marriott.
"This kind of hotel is common in North and South America but new to Jamaica. New Kingston can do with more corporate hotels,'' said Williams.
According to the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB), there are 1,640 guest rooms available in Kingston. In the category 0 to 20 rooms there are 166 rooms. In the category 20 to 40 rooms there are 219 rooms and in the category 45 and above there are 1,256 rooms. Within the last category are included Spanish Court, Terra Nova, The Courtleigh and the Pegasus.
Evan Williams' 46-room hotel will be situated on New Kingston's Renfrew Road and has a working title of "R". Many of the capital's amenities are within walking distance, and the hotel is a 20-minute drive from the airport. Room rates begin at US$110 a night, including taxes and complementary continental breakfast. Guest rooms with balconies go for US$120 a night. The rooms that include a kitchenette will be priced at US$135 a night. The two-bedroom units on the upper floor will go for US$240 a night.
Each room comes with a washer/dryer. The hotel will deliver and pick up dry-cleaned clothing. Digicel, LIME and Flow will provide the hotel's telecommunications backbone. It will also have 27 security monitors that go back to a centralised base, with all the activity in the public areas monitored 24 hours; 24-hour manned patrol personnel will also bolster this.
The restaurant on the lowest level will be accessible to the public. The café will only be available to the guests. Their aim is to have a level of separation, but not segregation.
This project is expected to employ around 300 people during the construction phase and to utilise 60 people when in full operational mode.