Six years after the Public Services Association (PSA) started its luxury housing development project at La Forteresse, Long Circular, the project is three-quarter completed says its president Watson Duke. The controversial project, which was the brainchild of former PSA president Jennifer Baptiste-Primus, has been the subject of much dispute over the last few years. Attempts to reach Baptiste-Primus were unsuccessful. In 2011, Duke and members of the PSA executive, accompanied by six police officers, entered the development and took possession of it. At that time, DTL general manager Francis Delpesh told the Guardian that the development company had a 2003 contract with the PSA under Baptiste-Primus that vested the land to La Forteresse. Delpesh said the housing project started in 2006 and according to the contract, the company was supposed to give the PSA $40 million on completion. The PSA would have further benefited by setting up a company to do maintenance work on the development, Delpesh said. When contacted by the Guardian for an update on the project last week, DTL declined to give a comment at this time. Duke told the Guardian at PSA’s office, two Wednesdays ago, that since that incident last year, the trade union, which represents thousands of public servants, had got over all hurdles and the project is nearing completion.
“There are the duplexes, which are closest to the road, they are almost completed. Based on the last report, all they need to do is install the kitchen and things like that. The entire project is about 75 per cent complete. All together there are 99 units—duplexes, triplexes, single units and condominiums. When it is eventually completed, it all depends on the developer. All developers throughout the world have their challenges and this developer has its own challenges. The last time we communicated they were working feverishly and they were saying they want to complete by December 2012. They paved all the roads inside the compound. They have dug out the area for the swimming pool, so they are moving ahead,” he said. Duke said the project was supposed to have originally been completed in 18 to 24 months from its start date in 2006. “The PSA housing project was brought to the membership as a grand idea that was to inject millions of dollars into the PSA accounts and was supposed be the flagship of what the PSA can do business-wise. Talks began around 2003 and the building project started in 2006. Today, it is near completion. It has taken about six years so far,” he said. He said it would be improper for him to say how much the cost overruns had amounted to, but the development was doing better than many of the other stalled projects that exist around the country now.
“When we look at other projects going on for much longer, with regards to cost overruns, I would say the PSA project is doing quite well. I came and met a relationship in place in which DTL was the strategic business partner and the development provider for PSA. In 2011 we intervened and since then, the project has continued at a rapid rate. DTL was contracted to develop the housing and the land and the contract is still in place. They are doing the construction, all the infrastructure works. At the end of the day, they will give the clients the keys to the houses,” he said. According to Duke, the apartments have been sold in the price range of between $1.8 million and $3.5 million for the units. “They have all been sold for a quite a while now. None is available. Once the project is completed the homeowners will be moving in. The target now is December 2012. If we do not meet that, we will set a new target for completion in 2013.” He said the entire project when completed will cost about $100 million. “The financing for this is in the hands of DTL, the developer. We gave them the land and they were supposed to produce the finance,” he said. Once completed, Duke is hoping that it would generate “millions of dollars.”
“This is a high-rise expensive compound and it is not designed for members. It is designed to generate a certain amount of money and revenue to offset our own building projects we have for the future. We have not started any of these projects as yet but once we acquire the land in certain strategic locations, revenue from this would be used to keep cost on these projects at a minimum.”
He also spoke of their relationship with the Housing Development Corporation (HDC). “We are partnering with the HDC in terms of government housing. Right now we are looking at government housing for members to distribute to them. HDC has committed to assisting us to develop and do building projects with us. These will be low-cost homes,” he said. Duke spoke about possible building projects in the future. “Our strategy is simple. As an executive, we have not done any new initiatives yet but we have simply tried to manage what existed when I became president. I have tried to make the PSA valuable and accessible to all. We have our own programmes on radio and TV. We are putting together a newsletter. We want to get into the infrastructure business and do more for members. We intend to renovate all our properties. We want to make use of this property we are on here in Port-of-Spain. Make full use of the property in Tobago. We want to own and build a structure in Arima, central and south,” he said.