TRAM CARS, high-rise apartments and a vast waterfront park can revitalise the capital city and offer residents a new quality of life, but the Prime Minister asked the private sector to fund this project.
Dr Rowley addressed a forum on Monday at the Hyatt Regency, Port of Spain, held by the Ministry of Planning and Development, titled Spotlight on Urban Development.
In his feature address, he lamented that Port of Spain has had decades of “considerable urban decay,” namely reduced private investment, depopulation, abandonment, decrepit infrastructure, unemployment, destitution and crime.
Rowley said urban revitalisation would rehabilitate the capital city, restore its life and vibrancy, improve traffic, enhance property values, discourage crime, unlock private capital and stimulate the economy.
Noting 16 development plans for the city drafted from 1968-2015, he hinted at progress now by way of the rebuilding of the Port of Spain General Hospital central block, following the restoration of the Red House, Stollmeyer's Castle, Whitehall, Mille Fleurs, QRC, and President’s House.
Rowley said, “This Government believes that the capital city of our nation is a major economic engine which, if oiled and maintained will create increased opportunity and benefit for a wide cross section of the national population.”
He said the revitalisation master plan would seek private-public partnerships (PPPs) to promote “residential, tourism, entertainment, recreational, commercial, educational and cultural activities,” in Port of Spain as the City of Festivals.
Rowley said the plan listed six projects – the development of Memorial Plaza (residential, commercial, office, parking and recreational spaces), the Salvatori site, Piccadilly Street, PowerGen site, City Gate and a Foreshore green space.
The PM said the plan recommended tax breaks as incentives for developers, financiers and purchasers/users. The capital’s drainage system must also be addressed, he added.
He said the plan will include reform by the Town and Country Planning Division for only “sensible constraints on height, density and building coverage.”
Rowley said, “All over the world and throughout history cities have arisen, have been nurtured, have grown and sometimes they stagnate and die.
“The city of Port of Spain is the capital of our nation, potentially vibrant and full of economic opportunities in a bright future if we do what needs to be done to give it life and protection from decay and neglect, replacing these negatives with sensible visionary plans, investments and care. Today's exercise is a commitment to stimulate and save our capital city. Let's do it.”
Rowley, in his closing address, again asked the private sector to fund the revitalisation plan, as a great investment and a worthy cause.
He said people both live in an area and live off that area, in the process attracting other people to move in. Saying many people nowadays lack the chance to walk about and relax, he said a regeneration would let people live, walk and work in the city.
Saying a society has failed when its young generation cannot find space to raise the next generation, the PM said under the plan, young couples could afford to rent or buy living space in high-rise housing units. He admitted the Government does not have a cheque to fund the plan in any all-encompassing role but said it can can set policy which he hoped would inspire property owners.
He said rejuvenation will depend on having confidence.
Saying the Government has done much for the capital city, he hoped the private sector would consider investing some of its $14 billion saved in TT’s banks.
He said many say a recession is the best time to invest.
“Now is the time to invest.
“Now covid is all over us and it is those who look to a future post-covid who might be the early bird that gets the worm.”
Rowley said for Port of Spain as a city, a lot of good has not yet materialised, saying it was one of the few cities whose waterfront does not drive the city.
He said measures mooted earlier must be done and can create economic growth.
While the State owns lands in the capital, private money was needed to fund revitalisation projects.
Lamenting that businesses were now leaving the capital, he said the city needs good public order, as he lamented those who use the city streets as a toilet.
Planning Minister Camille Robinson-Regis later told reporters no existing residents would be displaced from their homes by the rejuvenation exercise.
Asked, “Why now?” she said the revitalisation was long needed but now the political will was here.
“There is a need for it to be done because we are clear in our thinking that if we don’t do this now, there will in fact be a total decay of Port of Spain. We cannot allow that to happen.”