Port Royal development: Cementing the legacy of Mr Andrew Michael Holness

Thursday, February 28, 2019

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Of the several major projects being undertaken by his Administration, Mr Andrew Holness, if he completes them, is most likely to be remembered for Mandela Highway, Constant Spring Road, Portia Simpson Miller Square, and the new parliament building construction.

But, for the generations to come, the project that will speak most of the measure and vision of the man, will likely be the Port Royal Development that he could not have assigned to a better person than Mr Daryl Vaz, affectionately called 'Mr Fix-It'.

For decades, Jamaicans who understand the country's history and how to monetise its assets have torn their hair out asking why is Port Royal not being developed to take into account the untold value of a past time when European powers contended on the Caribbean Sea for the largely unclaimed West Indian lands.

The world knows of Port Royal, especially through movies, reputedly “the wickedest city on earth”, a lair for pirates and buccaneers, and as home for the British Navy for 200 years. Most of the town was swallowed up by an earthquake in 1692, creating a sunken city about 30 metres underwater.

Administration after administration came and went, but always the talk was that we did not have the resources to undertake what every one seemed to agree was the tremendous potential to make money, provide jobs and deepen Brand Jamaica through the development of Port Royal.

True, an attempt was made in the 1970s to recreate the pirate theme and ramp up tours to Port Royal, with guides dressed as would have been the case in that era. But that quickly fizzled and in the ensuing years the town became little more than a place for a Friday night lyme with the eatin of fish.

But 30 years ago, hope flickered that at last Jamaicans would wake up and claim their heritage. A private-public sector partnership emerged, calling itself the Port Royal Development Company, with the State owning 70 per cent of the shares through the Urban Development Corporation.

Though one of the minority shareholders, Mr Robert Stephens, the director of tourism from 1990 to 1992, became the face of the project, articulating its vision and advocating tirelessly while refusing to be daunted by the lack of governmental response.

Now, as Mr Michael Manley would say, for the first time at last, an administration has taken the project seriously and has moved well beyond excuses why it cannot go forward. It took the wisdom and determination of the Holness Government.

Jamaica has now purchased a floating pier which will make it possible for cruise ships to stop at Port Royal and carrying all the benefits of hundreds of people visiting a town.

Of great significance is that with the SeaWalk pier built in Europe, there is no need to dredge or drive piles and so minimise its impact on the area's fragile environment, which the Jamaica National Heritage Trust had always feared.

Regrettably, Mr Stephens and some of the other minority shareholders feel they have not been fully integrated in the project, despite their long history with it. That would be unworthy and, we trust, is an oversight that can be quickly rectified.

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