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UDC's Dunn's River dilemma

BY BALFORD HENRY Observer senior staff reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, February 16, 2014    

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THE Urban Development Corporation (UDC) sees the Dunn's River Falls as its most profitable investment, but the famous attraction's fractious little generic, Little Dunn's River Beach, is becoming its biggest headache.

And just as UDC general manager Desmond Malcolm felt like having the uncommon feeling of Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) approval at Gordon House Wednesday, he found himself victim of a curve ball from Government back-bencher, Jolyan Silvera (Western St Mary), which almost turned his triumph into a nightmare.

Asked by Silvera what was the UDC's "star performer" or "cash cow", Malcolm did not hesitate to name Dunn's River Falls. He said that over the past 12 months, the vintage attraction increased its revenues by more than 30 per cent, and the UDC was now targeting another 20 per cent increase in revenues in 2014/15.

"Without Dunn's River Falls, the UDC would be in a lot more trouble," Malcolm told the committee.

But his tone changed completely when Silvera asked him about its derivative, Little Dunn's River Beach.

Malcolm explained that Little Dunn's River is not a beach but an access to Dunn's River Falls, which was being exploited by unscrupulous persons charging tourists as much as US$10-US$15 to use an unlicensed property with no proper facility or security for users and which is owned by the UDC.

"We learnt that persons were marketing the property as Little Dunn's River, and we tried to stop it, but we have met resistance," Malcolm told the committee.

That resistance included protesters, led by the Ocho Rios Ministers' Fraternal objecting to the closing down of the beach just prior to National Heritage Week last year.

The UDC said at the time that it had no choice but to close the property, given the unscrupulous practices and illegal activities which were going on.

The UDC said then that the public would be allowed to use the beach after control measures are implemented, to ensure safety and order after it has been developed for public use. These development plans include the provision of requisite amenities, including a boardwalk for safer access to the falls and parking to alleviate the congestion created along the roadway leading in and out of the town of Ocho Rios.

But the corporation gave in to public pressure and re-opened the facility weeks later, without the changes, for reasons Malcolm could not explain.

He admitted that since the beach is not licensed as an attraction, the UDC could not allow persons to continue using it, as there is the danger of being sued in the event of an accident.

He said that the UDC tried using courtesy corps officers and security guards to warn persons against using the facility, because it is an unsafe area.

"People have attacked our security guards, they have cut down the (warning) signs for users...and all kinds of illegal things are going on there," he confirmed.

However, he admitted that in the meantime, the UDC has agreed to build the steps to the sea to protect bathers, and also to open the facility to Jamaican users only, between 6:00 am and 6:00 pm. But there was no explanation as to how the restriction would be imposed.

Explaining one of the developments which followed the closure and which could have influenced the UDC to reopen the site, Malcolm said that for the brief time it was closed, the Internet was flooded with notices that "Dunn's River Falls" was closed down, costing the Government millions of dollars to mitigate the damage.

"Tourists think they going to the real Dunn's River Falls (when they go to Little Dunn's River) and they pay only US$10-US$15," he said. This compares with the approximately US$20 admission fee at Dunn's River Falls.

In a report to the PAAC covering the first six months of the current financial year, April to October 2014, the UDC said that the property (real name Belmont Cove) is to be developed into a safe area to be used by local residents and visitors. It will include restrooms, access to the falls and parking facilities, and was expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2014, which ends on March 31.

However, with only six weeks left for the end of the quarter and with only the steps being constructed, it seems unlikely that much more will be built.

In the meantime, the corporation said that it is looking at implementing projects at Dunn's River Falls and Park, geared at improving its revenue base, and inclusive of a central garden.

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