The next great Jamaican tourism attraction


Wednesday, December 05, 2018

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I often use the anecdote of the goose that laid the golden egg to describe the attitude of Jamaican governments, specifically, and the Jamaican people, generally, towards development of national assets. Jamaica is like a poor man who was given the goose as a present. Not appreciating its value, he promptly killed, cooked, and ate it for Christmas dinner. How else could one explain having an asset like Trench Town — the acknowledged birthplace of reggae and home to the legendary Bob Marley — being spoken of as if it were a no-go zone and with the major investment being a state of emergency?

By comparison, visit (or Google) Graceland, the former home of Elvis Presley, located in Memphis, Tennessee. Declared a national landmark in 1991, the 13-acre property has developed into a top tour destination. VIP tours of the mansion and exhibits showcasing Elvis's career go for close to US$200 per adult. The property is home to a 450-room four-diamond resort hotel and a US$45-million, 200,000-square foot entertainment complex. Graceland welcomes over 500,000 visitors each year and its economic impact on Memphis, which had minimal tourism trade before, runs into hundreds of millions of US dollars per year.

Jamaica is blessed with the proverbial goose that laid the golden egg. The daily struggle to survive in a politically, socially and economically marginalised community, teeming with talent and steeped in spiritualism, has had an unexpected result. Out of the cauldron emerged reggae and the associated culture. Today, Trench Town is said to be a more recognisable name globally than the name of the capital city, Kingston. No other community of similar size, anywhere on planet Earth, can boast having given birth to a form of music, sung in the lingua franca of the people, which in less than a generation generated worldwide appeal as one of the top genres up to the level of the Grammy awards.

In 2015 Kingston was given the coveted “City of Music” designation by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Now, reggae music has been included in UNESCO's collection of “intangible cultural heritage”, which recognises it as a global cultural artifact deserving to be preserved and protected. If reggae could talk, it would be saying to all Jamaica, “I have done this for you. What will you do for me? I have many more golden eggs inside of me waiting to be released to repair the torn social fabric and heal the broken economy.”

In response, visit with me the Trench Town of my dreams: Collie Smith Drive, which traverses the community, is converted into a promenade showcasing the different periods and genres of Jamaican music. The old Ambassador theatre, now in ruins, is transformed into the Apollo Theatre of Jamaica, the epicentre of Jamaican cultural heritage, alive with talent shows reminiscent of the Vere Johns Opportunity Hour in its heyday, and housing a music museum and the musical archives of the greats. The 70-acre-plus tract of land called No Man's Land is home to European-style reggae festivals; the Bob Marley Institute of Culture and the Performing Arts; and Marcus Garvey's first church, which is said to have been located there, is rebuilt. At the venerable Boys' Town there is a museum memorialising sporting greats like Collie Smith and Bunny Grant. Culture Yard, where Bob Marley lived, is developed to global museum standards.

Between First and Fifth streets is developed into a walking tour for viewing the homes in which many of the icons lived and for merchandising memorabilia. The JaMIN Recording Studio is a state-of-the-art facility producing recordings by local talent and attracting artistes from around the world who want to record music with the Trench Town vibe. Hostels and small hotels dot the landscape to complement the surging airbnb accommodations offered by residents. All of this developed under the theme, 'Trench Town – The maker and Mecca of reggae'.

Professor Gladstone Hutchinson produced a development concept for the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation. Entitled Downtown Kingston Redevelopment Project (DKRP), the document positions Trench Town within the DKRP as a cultural hub and gateway to Kingston tourism. There are two mega public-private investments costing billions of dollars that have overshadowed discussion of the DKRP generally, and development of community assets such as Trench Town specifically. These are the so-called Circle project, which will entail the construction of new accommodation for the Houses of Parliament and ministries of government, as well as the US$2.5-billion Vernamfield Aerotrpolis.

A case could be made for not only including but prioritising the DKRP among the major projects being pursued by Government, starting with development of Trench Town. As a first step, drafting a master plan along the lines being pursued by the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation and the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) for the future development of the resort town of Negril should be commissioned.

It will take visionaries the likes of Adam Stewart, chairman of the Tourism Linkage Committee, whose Beaches hotels have an area designated Trench Town, and Gary “Butch” Hendrickson, president of the Council for Voluntary Social Services, who has a heart for seeing big business contribute to development of our inner-city communities, to champion this idea for it to become a reality.

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