DRAX HALL, St Ann — There is a strong level of support for the explosion in commercial development happening at Drax Hall along a section of the highway between the bustling St Ann towns of Ocho Rios and St Ann's Bay.
“We welcome the development; it is long overdue,” said Dalas Dickenson, councillor for St Ann's Bay Division (JLP), where a section of Drax Hall is located.
“Drax Hall keeps growing. Within five years, that is where the business hub will be between St Ann's Bay and Ocho Rios... I believe Drax Hall and the whole north coast corridor will be the next development area of St Ann,” added Dickenson.
International fast food giant KFC opened there this month and Starbucks is scheduled to start operating there within weeks.
An established auto parts dealership, as well as one of the island's leading hardware stores, will also open soon at Drax Hall, which has seen a massive rise in its housing stock in recent years.
“What we have learnt from the St Ann Municipal Corporation level is that a lot more people are putting in plans for future development in the Drax Hall area,” said Dickenson, who is also deputy chairman of the municipality.
He told the Jamaica Observer that the local authorities are doing their best to keep up with the pace of development.
The development of Drax Hall, Dickenson added, creates employment opportunities especially for young residents of the area and surrounding communities such as Steer Town, Mammee Bay, Priory, St Ann's Bay, and Seville Heights.
It is also expected to ease the congestion being experienced in Ocho Rios and St Ann's Bay.
“You don't have to go into those towns any longer to get certain amenities,” Dickenson reasoned. “That's one of the main reasons for the development of Drax Hall; people want to get out of the traffic that is usually in the towns.”
The shift in traffic flow has received mixed reactions. While some residents are complaining about traffic snarls, the slower moving traffic has been bringing more attention to some small businesses that had been overlooked although they have been along the highway in Drax Hall for years.
Odale James, who started operating a car wash there in 2018, said the days of motorists speeding past the signs advertising his business seem to be a thing of the past.
He told the Observer that he was inspired to set up shop in the area not only because of its location between Ocho Rios and St Ann's Bay, but also because of the relatively large volume of people traversing the corridor especially since the construction of Highway 2000.
That highway's north-south leg is often used by people commuting between the island's two cities — Kingston and Montego Bay.
James expressed surprise that the major corporations had not flocked to Drax Hall earlier, considering its location along the highway.
“It should have happened long ago; it is long, long overdue,” he said emphatically, adding that he is not scared of the increased competition this may bring.
“Competition drives growth and it is more exposure for me as well,” said the businessman who employs four to eight people, depending on how business is doing.
His business has grown from a mere car wash to also becoming a supplier of auto parts and motor vehicle accessories. With his customer base growing, James is mulling further expansion to include a full-fledged garage and an alignment centre.
“Since KFC come [to Drax Hall], mi start get more customers,” declared James.
The fast food outlet has attracted many to the area, with a steady inflow of customers and relatively long drive-through lines.
Several residents, who spoke with the Observer during a recent visit to Drax Hall, disclosed that they stopped at KFC mainly to avoid traffic in other sections of the parish.
“It's nice; it takes some of the crowd out of Ocho Rios and St Ann's Bay,” said Romario Bailey, who was waiting his turn in the drive-through line.