Business

Fighting for customers - New Kingston comeback

Shopping centre gets facelift

BY SHAMILLE SCOTT Business reporter

Sunday, September 23, 2012    

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AT first glance, the dozen or so empty commercial spaces in the New Kingston Business Centre suggest that business is slow.

But the plaza is being redeveloped, and the new managers say it will soon be catering to the needs of customers in the area around Dominica Drive again.

"Earlier this year, people could say it was dead," said Edwin Wint, chairman and chief executive officer of La Maison Property Services, the new manager of the complex. That isn't the case now, he said.

Digicel is moving its 1,200 workers from nearby Grenada Way to its new skyscraper downtown, while Citibank relocated to Hillcrest Avenue a year ago.

Digicel Jamaica's departure does not bother Wint, who is confident the void will eventually be filled.

In the meantime, the plaza is in talks with overseas interest about a large retail outlet.

After taking over the management of the complex in April, the company began subdividing some of the units, installing new plumbing and wiring, Wint said.

The property, formerly the New Kingston Shopping Centre, is expected to be 75 per cent occupied in a fortnight and by year-end should have reached 90 per cent tenancy.

The business centre's largest available space will host the Commonwealth Association of Surveying and Land Economy (CASLE) conference next month.

The four-day conference will see over 100 delegates discussing climate change, disaster and land management.

Afterwards, the space will be turned into offices.

Hosting events such as conferences is only part of the new plan.

The plaza's amphitheatre, currently unused, will become the centre's focal point with entertainment, such as concerts, for the 'suits' who work in New Kingston's corporate district.

Another dentist's office and a Chinese restaurant as well as more retail stores will open before the year-end.

The centre will be repainted next year and the car park, which can accommodate over 100 vehicles, will be landscaped.

The property managers are also looking at using solar energy and at ways to lower water consumption.

Built in the 1980s, the centre originally had only shops. Now it is looking to provide a broader variety of businesses.

Its first floor will feature retailers while the second floor will have the food court and corporate offices.

Already, the centre has Jamaica National Building Society's Mortgage Centre, Cuddyz Sports Bar and Restaurant, Hot Off the Press, Captain's Bakery, Salon Innovation, Woolworth, a securities dealership, a key cutting and shoe repair shop, a dry cleaner, a law firm, and two restaurants serving Jamaican cuisine and a cafe.

La Maison conducted research last year to discover customers' attitude towards the centre, and the types of stores they wanted.

Among the survey responses, one popular suggestion was a place for people to exercise: Express Fitness, a 24-hour gym, opened last month.

The owner of El Depot, the gym's neighbour, said the presence of Express Fitness would have spill-over benefits for his shop, which stocks shoes, handbags, appliances and jewellery among other things, even if he can't take advantage of them all the time.

"I will have customers even when my store is closed late at night," he said.

New Kingston Business Centre's location and popular spots such as Cuddyz made the plaza attractive, but customers also wanted a better mix in the food court.

Some interested renters have been turned down because they did not fit the criteria. "You must have a feasible business that will be financially viable," Wint said.

The annual rent, including maintenance, for small shops doesn't exceed $1,888 per square foot, Wint said. Prices for larger spaces are negotiable.

Gene Vendryes, a broker at tenant Millenium Properties Sales and Services, which has been in the plaza since it opened, said the mall is going through an inevitable cycle.

"People will move in and out of centres," said Vendryes, who support's La Maison's plans.

"Find the needs of the people who work and live in the New Kingston area, and adapt," he said.

As part of its marketing strategy, the centre will turn to social media sites such as Facebook and will develop a website that will feature the links to the stores there, Wint said.

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