Arthur Hall, Senior News Editor
Private sector operator still big on downtown Kingston despite tardy pace of redevelopment
BUSINESSMAN GASSAN Azan remains gung-ho on downtown Kingston even though he is not convinced that the state agencies are moving fast enough with the redevelopment plans.
According to Azan, the business potential of downtown Kingston is immense, but the Government needs to take its foot off the brakes and allow the rebirth to flow at the pace necessary to create the proposed commercial gem of the Caribbean.
"A whole lot more could have been done. I think we have spent a lot of time and effort talking about one thing (the new Digicel headquarters), that is good, but that is meagre compared to the rest of the region, and the waterfronts of the capital cities," said Azan.
"I have not seen anybody come back downtown. What I have seen is some people remodel their businesses and done a facelift, but not a lot has happened," added Azan.
He noted that there have been improvements to existing businesses, while some persons have set up first-class facilities in the heart of downtown and several street-side vendors have done their part in improving the look of the city.
Azan pointed to the Images clothes boutique and shoe store as examples of business operators who have set up top-quality shops in the city, and argued that this is proof that downtown Kingston can become a place where all Jamaicans would be proud of.
But Azan is worried that the political leadership and the technocrats are not doing enough to implement the big picture.
"There is no country in the world where the capital city can be allowed to stay in a state of disrepair, so I am convinced that downtown Kingston must come back," Azan told The Gleaner during a recent walk through the commercial centre.
"There is not one building that I have down here that I would sell, because even if it does not come back in my time, it will come back in my children's time," added Azan.
The businessman operates several businesses in downtown Kingston, including the popular Bashco stores, Sweetings pastries and the recently opened Sizzling Slots at 92 Princess Street.
"I have other plans for businesses in downtown Kingston, but the private sector is not getting the support that it needs," said Azan.
Drug users safe haven
He told The Gleaner that he has made a proposal to purchase or lease the abandoned Pirates' Cove building on the waterfront, which now provides a safe haven for drug users.
"One of the things we had approached the previous UDC (Urban Development Corporation) Board is for the restaurant on the waterfront right across from the Oceana Hotel.
"The problem we had with that is the value they have on the property. They claim it is $150 million, I would not pay $1 for it," declared Azan.
"As a businessman with a proven track record, what I would suggest is give me the asset or give me a long lease on the asset and say, 'you are proven, you have 12 months to develop it and show us what you can do'," added Azan.
He argued that one of the biggest problems facing the country is that the Government holds non-performing assets and appears unwilling to divest them to private-sector operators who are willing to transform them into going concerns.