GENERAL Manager of the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) Desmond Malcolm says that the entity might finally be able to rid itself of the loss-making Forum Hotel in Portmore, St Catherine.
"We are in general discussing the sale of that property, there are some other non-performing assets that we have, we are in the process of selling them, Forum is one of those," Malcolm told a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament (PAC) on Tuesday while responding to queries about the hotel from Government member Colin Fagan, who is the member of Parliament for South East St Catherine.
"You are in negotiations with?" prompted the Opposition's Audley Shaw, chair of the committee.
"Interested parties. I don't want to disclose now. We are discussing it with one individual but I know other persons who indicated an interest. We are optimistic that we will be able to do what the country has never been able to do," Malcolm responded.
Tuesday, Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, Onika Miller said four expressions of interest were made when the divestment of the idle 11-storey, 200-room property was advertised.
"And it is those expressions of interest that were received that are being explored," she explained.
However, she side-stepped Shaw's queries as to "the dollar figure for the proposed purchase".
"There were four responses, and of the four, one was the closest to the reserve price the UDC has on the property. The UDC is not in a position to disclose the reserve price given the competitive bidding process," Miller said.
Meanwhile, committee member Everald Warmington from the Opposition was sceptic of the announcement.
"Is the stage they have reached in the process beyond where we have been before? This place has been advertised constantly from the '70s. We have been down this road a lot of time, you have only had one tenant since it was built," Warmington pointed out.
The UDC general manager was, however, confident that this time the hotel would go.
"We are optimistic because we have done some things in seven months that should have been done 10 years ago. It is an asset that the UDC intends to divest because it is not in our interest to continue to keep it," he said.
Another Opposition member, Pearnel Charles — musing on the possible cost to the UDC for security for that building per year which he said must have tripled the original price — made a unique suggestion.
"Give it away. If you give it away you save money, this is an embarrassment to private capital, this is an embarrassment, the UDC is an embarrassment," Charles said.
The Forum Hotel, located across from Rodney's Arms Restaurant at one end of the infamous 'Back Road' in Portmore, opened in the early 1970s as the Adventure Inn. In 1978 it ceased operation as a hotel and in 1987 the building was handed over to the health ministry, but was returned to the UDC in 1995. For years, the massive building and its 57 self-contained two-bedroom cottages has remained idle, attracting squatters.