Sat | Nov 16, 2019

St Thomas pins great hopes on Morant Bay urban centre

Published:Thursday | June 27, 2019 | 12:38 AMAndre Williams/Staff Reporter
Prime Minister Andrew Holness (centre) breaks ground for the Morant Bay urban centre yesterday along with (from left) James Robertson, member of parliament (MP) for Western Thomas; Chinese Ambassador Tian Qi; Morant Bay Mayor Michael Hue; FCJ Chairman Lyttleton ‘Tanny’ Shirley; Dr Zhimin Hu, president of CHEC, Americas Division; and Fenton Ferguson, MP for Eastern St Thomas.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness greets residents of St Thomas, who turned out to witness the ground-breaking for the Morant Bay urban centre yesterday.
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After years of hearing plan after plan being proposed for the idle lands that once housed the Goodyear factory on the outskirts of Morant Bay in St Thomas, residents from across the parish journeyed to the location yesterday as they banked hopes on a plan by the Government to transform it into a new town centre.

In an address at the groundbreaking ceremony yesterday, Prime Minister Andrew Holness said that it was an economic decision to finally get the ball rolling and break ground and establish the country’s first urban centre in 40 years.

“Today, the FCJ (Factories Corporation of Jamaica) is paying $3.6 million in a mortgage on this property, and overall, we are spending $5.7 million per year to maintain it, so even though the property is here lying idle, it does mean that it is not a cost to us. ... So it’s better to do something with this property because if we don’t do [anything] with the property, we paying for it same way,” he said.

Among those out to welcome the $2-billion Morant Bay urban centre project was 78-year-old Alfred Johnson, who told The Gleaner that he was excited about the news, adding that when the Goodyear factory was in operation, an injury caused him to miss out on work opportunities.

“Everybody a criticise say we nah get nothing a St Thomas ya and dem something deh. I feel much better because one time when Goodyear factory was operating, I was to get a job here, but because of an injury, I couldn’t get any work,” he said. “They are going to build on it again, and this time, I hope for better. This new place should bring liveliness and it should bring more jobs and opportunities for people.”

Janet Flemmings, who is from Church Corner in the parish, took time before attending work to witness the groundbreaking ceremony for the 365,000-square foot development being spearheaded by the FCJ.

downward trend

“Economically, the parish is on a downward trend right now [with] the close of factories, among other things. The banana company used to keep the parish up and running, and it is down, and more recently, Serge Island being removed. This (urban centre) is a good way to uplift the parish,” she said.

“I expect mainly the youths to be employed. In my area, a lot of youth are unemployed. This will be something good for them, and I am excited and expect to see them be a part of this project,” Flemmings added.

FCJ Chairman Lyttleton ‘Tanny’ Shirley, who used musical selections such as Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come and Jimmy Cliff’s Many Rivers To Cross to drive home his message during his address, said that it took a valiant effort to get to this stage.

The Morant Bay urban centre is expected to be a one-stop shop, with the amalgamation of the essential services provided by the Government, supported by additional services offered by the private sector.

andre.williams@gleanerjm.com