$1000 sweet spot
Fort Clarence development underway, facility to reopen July
A section of the Fort Clarence beach photographed in 2019 during a tour of the facility ahead of its lease by Guardsman Hospitality Limited.

The Fort Clarence Beach in Portmore, St Catherine, when it reopens next month, will not only have a refreshed look but also an adjusted admission fee.

In an interview with the Jamaica Observer on Monday, Laura Heron, general manager for Guardsman Hospitality Limited, a subsidiary of the Guardsman Group, said that while the adjusted fee may spark discussions, she is maintaining her long-standing view that there is no free beach, as it takes cash to care for these facilities especially in the current economic environment.

“When we reopened in 2019 (after acquiring the lease), we were charging $300 but that could not even pay the lifeguard on the beach and that’s just the reality. We’re not trying to make a lot of money, we just want to be able to pay our staff and when we did an overall costing, for these beaches to be properly maintained, where we have adequate staffing and kept grounds, we can’t charge under $1000.

“So a $1000 is the sweet spot, as this will more or less help us to pay the staff and to maintain the beach. We won’t necessarily make money from it, but this is the figure we’ll have to charge in order to properly care for the beach,” she told the Business Observer, noting that already substantial amounts were being spent in search of a solution to treat with rapid sargassum growth which has been plaguing the beach.

She continued, “One of the reasons the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) gave up that property for divestment of management was because they were losing about $30 million per year there and even with a head charge, they still weren’t able to maintain it. We are a private sector company, we didn’t take it on to lose money, so we must be able to at least get a return on investment,” she stated, urging the public to carefully consider the benefits of enjoying a clean and safe space when compared to one that is not.

“I say $1000, because that is what we’ve worked out to say that we can cover the overheads. As it is now, utility cost is crazy in terms of what we are being charged for light and water. When we closed before COVID, we were paying close to $400,000 per month for electricity and we didn’t even have anything going on there,” Heron said. Closed since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the 10-acre property, leased under a 25-year agreement by Guardsman Hospitality, is now being retrofitted with some of the planned amenities as it looks to welcome patrons for what it hopes to be a busy summer season. Already spending millions on the build-out of the beach facility, Heron provided update on some of the work being done ahead of the reopening.

“We’re doing work now to put in a new kitchen and food service facilities, these will be a little more rustic and not as costly, so we are looking at about $15 million in hopes of getting it ready for July,” she said, highlighting also the addition of upgraded bathroom areas and over 100 rent-free lounge chairs.

The project stalled by the pandemic will begin with a roll-out of its second phase component which includes the construction of a state-of-the-art water park. Initially the plan was for a massive restaurant facility to be built out during the first phase, but the company, in weighing the returns on investment, thought it best to prioritise the build-out of the water park which it deems a more lucrative offering and one better suited for the fast-growing community of Portmore.

With capital expenditure estimated at over $250 million, based on the current cost of construction inputs, the park’s development is slated to commence immediately after matters concerning some sewage treatment system with the adjoining Hellshire property is sorted out.

“The water park will be a separate entity outside of the beach, so both will carry separate entry cost,” Heron said.

Sharing an outlook she said that things were looking pretty good for the group and its hospitality businesses as a whole. “Since things have settled and we’ve resumed full operations, I’m very hopeful that our numbers will look better than pre-COVID. Our local business has settled down and we’re doing better with clientele both at our Konoko Falls and Puerto Seco facilities, so hopefully we won’t see any decline when we reopen Fort Clarence.”

HERON...$1000 is the sweet spot, as this will more or less help us to pay the staff and to maintain the beach. We won’t necessarily make money from it but this is the figure we’ll have to charge in order to properly care for the beach
Kellaray Miles

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