THE idea of developing the San Fernando Waterfront dates back to pre-Independence, around the same time the Point Lisas Industrial Estate was first put forward.
Over the years and under successive governments, the idea generated some discussion and shape for an exciting night life, tourism, and port facilities, ultimately never managing to come to fruition. With the extension of the Sir Solomon Hochoy Highway to Point Fortin bypassing San Fernando and the emergence of malls on the outskirts beckoning shoppers and those looking for entertainment, the second city needs to find ways to maintain its relevance.
In an attempt to regenerate the urban landscape, politicians are moving with haste to jump start that expansion which promises new life to San Fernando and in particular, the marginal constituency of San Fernando West. The Urban Development Corporation of TT's (Udecott) intention is bring back people, by providing modern, high-rise apartments, the night life, restaurants, bars, dredge the ocean to make space for medium-sized cruise ships to dock alongside a place for party boats, restore the old heritage buildings with their unique characteristics for commercial activity, link the King's Wharf area with air-conditioned, digital walkways to the San Fernando General Hospital (SFGH) and a proposed SFGH car park to a 14-storey car park/administrative/residential space along Chancery Lane, opposite the Teaching Hospital. The latter project on Chancery Lane is to be done via a public/private partnership arrangement. The very ambitious and costly projects, for which Udecott is the main executing agency for government, will take between three to five years.
In May, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley removed the project from the Ministry of Planning and Development, where it had been languishing for over two years and handed it over to Udecott, with the mandate “to get it started,” according to senior project manager Terrence Beepath. Udecott also has to also source funding.
“It is a mammoth task, but we want to get it going. We have been talking about this for over 40 years and we are afraid if it does not get started it would end up a talk shop. We don’t have all the money, so what we want to do is get some aspects of it started.”
With the available funds, the intention is to lay down the infrastructure and hope that the investment companies would come.
“Private investors want to see boots on the ground before they bring their investment.”
It is an argument San Fernando West MP, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi shares, noting that while a master plan is in the works, one does not have to wait for a perfected plan to start the ball rolling. He made the point that 14 acres of prime seafront property in the city has been condemned to house a dump and squatting community rather than being advanced to bring about potential economic fortune.
Beepath said there has been a lot of interest from private investors, both local and foreign, including the Hyatt Regency. However, it is understood that the Hyatt is reconsidering its option to take its business to Couva where the hospital and aquatic centre and other proposed development for that area seeming to be more feasible.
Beepath said that decision is not yet off the table and they are hoping to woo Hyatt and other chains to establish hotels on the waterfront, considering plans for Skinner Park and the Brian Lara Cricket Academy at Tarouba to host international games in the near future. A contract has already been awarded to Yorke Structures Ltd for the upgrade of Skinner Park into a world-class facility, and soon Udecott will sign off on the International Cricket Council (ICC) approvals so ICC test matches can be played here.
The first phase of the waterfront, which has started, includes the removal of the Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC) garage from King's Wharf, to make way for housing the development of Plaza San Carlos, which has to do with the restoration of heritage sites, the reclamation of 3.8 hectares of land north of the waterfront, just behind the Yacht Club and the removal of squatters.
The latter, to be undertaken by the Land Settlement Agency, is on hold. The PTSC terminal will remain intact for the moment.
However, the PTSC garage, which sits on four acres of prime property is to be relocated to Golconda, at the site once occupied by bankrupt Brazilian company Construtora OAS, which was hired as the main contractor for work on the $7.2 billion San Fernando to Point Fortin Highway.
The company, hired by the Kamla Persad-Bissessar administration, was fired in 2016 by the current administration and the government was successful in recovering approximately $1 billion through local and international courts for breach of the contract.
The relocation will make way for some 231 high-rise apartments. In May, the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) signed a formal agreement with China Gezhouba Group International Engineering Co Ltd (CGGC) to construct 5,000 apartment units at South Quay, Port of Spain and at Lady Hailes Avenue, San Fernando. The first phase of this project is estimated to cost US$71.7 million and will span two years. CGGC will undertake the financing, design, procurement and construction of the housing blocks.
Beepath said the concept for this area is mixed use, meaning commercial and residential use.
“It is similar to One Woodbrook Place, a commercial and residential property where there will be residential towers, penthouses, restaurants, banks, basement parking, an atrium, entertainment area, where people live upstairs. It is a model being used around the world.”
Two and three-bedroom apartments in these towers will cost upwards of $1 million.
Beepath said Udecott met with PTSC last week, as the Chinese are ready to move in and get the work started, and was given a commitment they would clear out by September 30.
“They have already completed about 70 per cent of the work at the OAS compound which already had a pit and a garage. The derelict buses will be removed to Carlsen Field so we could start doing the necessary work for that portion of the waterfront.”
Also, in the first phase is the widening of the road, which is being handled by Programme for Upgrading Road Efficiency (PURE) of the Ministry of Works, and the building of a coastal wall from Hatters pan yard to the reclaimed site. A proposal to go about 12 feet into the ocean to open up six feet of space on either side is estimated to cost roughly $146 million. Beepath said they have received “20-something per cent” of this figure to date.
A $23 million contract has been awarded for a fishing facility near the Hatters pan yard, in an area where a lookout was created under the previous administration. The proposal includes a jetty, equipped with an ice maker, coolers, chiller, an incinerator, plus a 5,000-gallon fuel tank.
Already 1.8 hectares of land have been reclaimed and a contract for the design and construction for the reclamation of another 3.8 hectares at King's Wharf has been awarded to a contractor from Holland, DRAVOSA Ltd, (Van Ood).
The design works for the reclamation is estimated to be completed within the last quarter of 2019. On this reclaimed site is a proposed a new water taxi terminal and new customs administration building, which have already been approved for construction.
The National Trust and the Cuban contractors, who were charged with the restoration of President’s House, the Red House and White Hall are on the ground at King's Wharf doing their assessment of the structures for the restoration of at least seven historic buildings to be grouped under the Plaza San Carlos Heritage District.
“Right now, San Fernando is dying, with the highway bypassing San Fernando. We have C3 and South Park that take away people from the city, so I am surprised businesses on High Street are surviving because there is no activity. Our mandate is to bring back some life, some activity back to the San Fernando. A lot of work will be starting after September,” he said.