Chairman of Richmond Development Company, Lee Issa, officially launched The Palms housing estate located in Richmond, St Ann, last Saturday and it marks a new approach to housing development in Jamaica which sees the implementation of "a green community concept".
Located between Priory and Runaway Bay it is close enough to both Ocho Rios and the developing second city of Montego Bay. Set on 512 acres, this housing project will be developed in phases with the first one coming in at J$1.3 billion and consisting of 245 housing units. The homes are designed by Arthur Lowe and are attractive, spacious and competitively priced. Issa's vision was one that saw families existing in a green community where eco-friendly sewage disposal, solar power for both homes and water heating are employed. He placed great emphasis on landscaping and ensuring that the houses were not too close together (like terrace houses) thereby allowing for individuality and privacy. This development is a far cry from those private housing development projects of the 80s where little thought was given to human dwelling conditions and how to make them better. The Palms has the look and feel of a resort with its big infinity pool, canopied recreational area, verdant plant life and pleasing open spaces. The Palms is conducive to raising families and makes an ideal setting for either a retirement or second home conveniently located at the halfway point of the island.
Speaking with Caribbean Business Report from the official opening of the Palms in Richmond, Issa said: " I acquired this land from Mark Brooks and to me it was one of the best pieces of real estate on Jamaica's scenic north coast. I thought that rural Jamaica was ready to have a community and a township where one would raise the bar with quality housing, adequate parking, open spaces, shopping, medical centre, day care centre, pool and clubhouse. The concept is a holistic vision that enhances the dwelling experience and that how it all started."
The project began four years ago and will have 350 three-bedroom houses and 6 four-bedroom houses when completed. It has 24-hour security and all lots come fully landscaped. Last month 10 units were sold and this month six have already been sold. Issa says interest is coming from Jamaicans in the Diaspora and professionals residing here, but it is ideal for people looking for a first or second home.
Issa added: "All the houses come with a solar water heater and all our public lighting is powered by solar technology. We have a package that allows residents to run their house independent of JPS if they should choose to do so. This is the first phase of what eventually will be five gated communities. It is in fact a J$5-billion project, a sizable investment, and hopefully one day in my lifetime I will start to see the rewards of this investment!"
A 3-bedroom (two bathrooms) unit sells for J$15.6 million and sits on a 5,000-square foot lot and the house is 1468 square feet. Issa says retirees and young families have been making inquires and this fits in with his vision of a community that covers the entire demographic spectrum. Some people are relocating here from Montego Bay and Runaway Bay. Next year construction begins on a fully functioning medical facility located on The Palms. Issa has sold 250 units with another 100 yet to go. He anticipates that in another year he would have sold out this first phase.
Issa is one of Jamaica's leading business personalities and in his lifetime has spearheaded successful ventures in retailing (Lee's Fifth Avenue) and in hospitality (Couples Resorts). He is all set to replicate success with housing development. These diverse business interests speak to the man's dynamism and indomitable entrepreneurism.
"Well, at my age I don't think I should take on any more. I am in my final trimester," he quipped .
So how does he see the economic and business landscape in Jamaica? "It's getting better. I think with interest rates coming down it will help to get entrepreneurs borrowing and going into projects. We now need to create jobs and if it is not coming from overseas, let's do it at home. There are many venture capital funds with billions of dollars looking for places to invest in order to get a decent return. On average they are looking for between 15 and 18 per cent tax-free. If we can create a climate here that can attract those venture capitalists, I think a lot of money would pour into Jamaica. We have to get rid of the red tape and bureaucracy to enable people to come in and invest in this country. We have to fast-track projects because nothing turns off investors more than strangling red tape."
So what words of advice does he have for the next generation of Jamaican entrepreneurs?
"Dream big. I see a lot of young bright kids coming up and that augurs well for the business community. We have to believe in Jamaica and believe that this country has a future and they must make their contribution. Sometimes you have to have big cojones because Jamaica is not the easiest place, but if you can make it here you can make it anywhere."