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‘Port-of-Spain a dying city’
It has not yet gotten to the stage of business operators abandoning buildings, rubble, debris and ruin strewn among once bustling streets, but there was common consensus between Minister of Planning and Sustainable Development Dr Bhoe Tewarie and Downtown Owners and Merchants Association (Doma) president Gregory Aboud that Port-of-Spain (PoS) is a dying city. Crime and safety, vagrancy, poor infrastructure and poverty were identified as major problems hindering the city’s development.
Both Dr Deborah Thomas, CEO of the East PoS Development Company, and Karishma Nanoo, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) co-ordinator, Emerging and Sustainable Cities Initiative (ESPCI), in Port-of-Spain said that impediments to the city’s development also included an unskilled labour force, inadequate/late funding, poor infrastructure, lack of support and facilities.
For some, the answer to the city’s revival lies in the development of East PoS. For others, like Aboud, the answer to the city’s development lies in the revitalisation of the central business district. These issues were disclosed at a stakeholder meeting on the city’s development held at the International Waterfront Centre, Port-of-Spain, on Wednesday. The meeting was held to explore business opportunities to develop Port-of-Spain.
Tewarie and Aboud, along with Richard Young, chairman of the Economic Development Board, Port-of-Spain mayor Raymond Tim Kee and Catherine Kumar, CEO of the T&T Chamber of Commerce, were among those present.
Aboud: East PoS in trouble as central business district dying
Aboud called for the development of the central business district within the capital city. He said, “I suspect that the interest is really to find a way to lift up the eastern side of the city…The east downtown part of the city is in huge trouble and it is simple. The reason they are in trouble is because we (central business district) are dying, and it is not the other way around.” He said the proposed model saw a development of the eastern side of the city creating life in the central business district, which was the opposite.
Aboud said they needed certain conditions to be laid down to keep the city safe and clean, and to protect the merchants from unfair trading practices. He said in front of one of the supermarkets in PoS which no longer exists, there were street vendors selling the same products being sold by the supermarket.
“When you talk about the fact that there are no banks east of Henry Street, the fact is the banks were there. When you talk about encouraging businesses to come back, you need to talk about what caused them to leave. They were there… “Does business follow development or does development follow business? The model that has been enunciated here today seems to be that when you build a linear park businesses will flock there and open, but the sustainable city is based upon commerce.
“The model is that the special delivery agency is the PoS City Corporation and the model that we inherited when we became independent was that the city council collected taxes from the street, from the businesses and spent it on the city.” He said the corporation now had to ask for funds to run the city and those who raised the taxes no longer had a stake in the game.
Nothing preventing private sector from investing—Tewarie
Asked about Aboud’s suggestion, he said there was always a question of what should be done first or second and that it was Aboud’s opinion. Tewarie said there was nothing preventing the private sector from investing in PoS and also, there was no hindrance to investment in the city.
“If Mr Aboud and other people who live in PoS feel that crime and the social conditions of East PoS are one of the reasons why they cannot prosper, or why they would not want to invest their money, then that strengthens my argument...that you have to deal with East PoS first, in order to bring some peace and security to the area so that you can have a city developed that can really thrive,” he said.
Linear parks, cable cars and women’s city centres
Among plans done collaboratively by the ministry with the assistance of the IDB and the East Port-of-Spain Development Coompany are:
• A US$120 million flood alleviation and drainage programme which will include the “civil and landscaping work for the implementation of the 1.8 km linear park”
• A women’s city centre
• Urban development and transportation: transformation of City Gate and central market into an urban hub which includes “cable cars to improve mobility within the east Port-of-Spain community and PoS”
• The creation of the Anthony Pantin Technical and Vocational Community Centre
Asked if the projects were largely conceptual or were set to happen, Tewarie said that the transportation hub, currently in the pipeline of projects for 2014, was going to happen although he was unable to say how fast. How soon it happens, he said, depends on a lot of things since under the IDB studies and other precise things were required.
The loan for the linear park, he said, was approved but it also depended on whether T&T had the capacity to execute. This, he said, depended on how fast the East PoS Development Company and other people involved in it do their work and get things ready to happen.
Difficult doing business in the city
For business operators and visitors to the city alike, the reasons why they won’t shop or why businesses might no longer remain in PoS were also the same. For Lawrence Moses, whose cloth store has stood smack-dab on Frederick Street for more than 22 years and who has vended in PoS since 1987, doing business in the city is difficult because of the lack of parking and lack of security.
“The city is under some pressure, doing business in the city is difficult because of the lack of parking, it is in a dilapidated state. We have two massive empty lots of land, two prime locations that are dust bowls practically. “There is a lack of security as well with robberies and people who snatch people’s items and so on. It is just an overall lack of pleasantness. You have the wrecker that is unrelenting, you have no mercy there. People are afraid to come to do any sort of business in PoS unless they have to,” he said.
Moses said, however, all of the problems had solutions. He said the two empty lots, Queen and Frederick streets, and former Salvatori building should be developed. He said there was some improvement in security but more could be done. Asked if development in East PoS would assist in revitalising the city, Moses said yes as well. “Yes, I believe those as well can assist a lot.
“East Port-of-Spain is not so far from the centre of the city. It will bring people into the city, it will bring shoppers, employees into the city, and that will aid in business and the whole look of the city,” he said.
The response from Noreen Furlonge, of Couva, as to why she won’t shop in Port-of-Spain was, “Because I’m afraid.” Furlonge said she preferred to shop online since it was safer. Furlonge said she only shops in PoS if she really had to. Parking, too, she said, was a major issue for her. “A ticket to New York for me is $4,000 and I could go for a month and walk until all two in the morning and feel quite comfortable.”
The city, she said, was not only unattractive but also stunk. For Furlonge, the major issue to revitalise Port-of-Spain before the construction of buildings or any other was recreating a sense of safety within the capital city.