MONTEGO BAY, St James - More than $120 million will be spent on making much-needed improvements to the Charles Gordon Market in Montego Bay, according to Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Desmond McKenzie. Work will be done in three phases and is expected to be completed by the end of 2023.
"The Charles Gordon Market is the largest in this part of western Jamaica. There is an estimate for over $120 million to carry out extensive repairs," the minister said during a recent visit to Montego Bay as part of activities to mark Local Government Week.
"We going to be doing the work in three phases, can't do all of the work at the same time. The funds for the first phase have already been sent to the [St James Municipal Corporation] and that is a little over $8 million that will deal with the infrastructure, the structural competence of the Charles Gordon Market," he added.
The tri-phased project will cover a complete overall of the heavily used facility where vendors ply their wares, often in less than desirable conditions.
"The second phase will deal with the drains and the repairs of the facility in terms of what needs to be done because...the flooding of the market is something that the vendors have complained about," McKenzie added.
A new roof is included in the work planned for the final phase.
"The third phase will see us putting on the roof, putting in new stalls, fixing up the bathroom facilities in the market so that by the end of next year, we will see a new look Charles Gordon Market to serve the people of St James and the adjoining parishes who come to Charles Gordon to ply their trade," the minister promised.
McKenzie once again stressed that once the facility is refurbished, vendors will not be allowed to sell on the streets. Earlier this year, the local authority and other agents of the State partnered with the business community to work on restoring order to the streets of Montego Bay. Getting the vendors to engage in trade in only designated areas is part of that push.
"A programme was started jointly with the police and the municipal corporation. Once we have completed that then our tolerance level with illegal and unlawful vending on our streets will be dealt with," the minister warned, adding that being "poor" is no excuse for flouting the law.
He also called out consumers who contribute to illegal vending by patronising vendors who sell on the street.
"It is not going to be business as usual when we spend the kind of money that is going to be spent to improve the conditions of the market and when you fix it up and put in all the pretty stalls, the only thing that happen in there is people sleep and them store goods, while all of the vendors is outside on the road," McKenzie warned.
For at least two years there has been talk of the market getting a facelift.
In July 2021, McKenzie said during a tour of the facility that Government would be providing $60 million to begin rehabilitation work there. He said, then, that this would be the start of a phased renovation and would include fixing the roof and changing the stalls, then work would begin on phase two. The funds, he promised then, would be "left for State Minister Davis to work with mayor of Montego Bay, Councillor Leeroy Williams, and the technical people to put in place the necessary processes for the work to commence".
Then during a visit this August, he again promised that his ministry and the local municipal corporation would be working to address the issues plaguing the market. At the time, he shied away from putting a price tag on the project.
He did say, however, that vendors would have a say in the work being done.
On Tuesday market vendor Polly Harvey, who described the condition of the market as "deplorable", welcomed news that the long-awaited work will soon begin. She complained about the facility's inadequate lighting, leaky roof and the general need for repairs.
"I welcome it as vendor, because the market is leaking. See over your head, you can see couple hole well. Mi have to be using plastic to cover my things to avoid from wetting and spoiling," she said.
Pointing to support frames she added, "You see them have to put up these because it look like there so a drop downâ€¦ If you walk around and look, it don't look good; so yes indeed we want it to fix," she added.
Another woman, who asked not to be identified by name, was just as critical of the conditions of the place where she said she has sold her produce for more than 40 years. The Charles Gordon Market's decrepit state, she said, makes it unattractive for vendors who instead opt to sell on the streets.
"Everybody a road them deh, nobody no want come in. You notice all those stalls they are empty, the people dem no wan come in," she said.
Heavy rainfall, she added, transforms the floor of the market to a muddy mess.
"Mi glad still say them going to do something," she added.