Chaguaramas, with more than 14,000 acres of land mass and five offshore islands, is poised to become an engine for economic growth for Trinidad and Tobago over the next decade, serving the needs and priorities of business leaders, sporting enthusiasts and eco-tourists. Daniel Solomon and Joycelin Hargreaves, chairman and managing director of the peninsula’s development authority, talk to The Report Company about the various projects underway.
The Report Company: What current projects are being undertaken in Chaguaramas?
Daniel Solomon: We’ve approached a number of international marketing companies and we’ve also put out locally and regionally what our projects are. We went to Miami, where our ambassador in the US brought together a number of heavyweight investors and we did a presentation for them.
We have a project to do a tower rail and cable car system and there’s already interest in that, and a revolving hotel, which will be a sort of landmark for us. There is a boardwalk project, too. The initial boardwalk comprises a number of elements: sustainable growth and environmentally friendly micro and small business opportunities for the man on the street. As well, it involves health and sport, crime reduction, ICT, technology and security. The entire boardwalk project within three years could pay for itself through the rental of advertising space and the use of the vendor booths that would help the small man to have a chance to start a business.
From the green aspect, it’s made from recyclable material which has never really been used in Trinidad before. There’s solar lighting, which has never really been used in a public project. We’re trying to bring up the entire area by using the boardwalk as a flagship to show what we can do.
The city has its own police force; we’ve made security our number one issue and have doubled our security personnel. We have put in a security camera system that monitors the entire peninsula and the five islands. We also have a number plate recognition system so any vehicles coming in can be red flagged. It’s a seamless security area.
In terms of ICT, there is a free wifi zone. It’s a people-oriented, people-centred project.
Joycelin Hargreaves: It’s linked to the overall strategy; in 2011, the prime minister spoke about diversification, so all of our projects are designed to be in alignment with the overall strategy of diversification of the tourism sector. Our products are basically tourism-based products.
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TRC: What makes Chaguaramas attractive for investment?
DS: It’s a very diverse and beautiful part of the world. There are tropical rainforests, caves, waterfalls and howler monkeys, and in that regard there’s a unique tourist aspect as well as a cultural aspect. We want to develop the products with a Trinidad flavour.
There are also tax incentives, and Chaguaramas has autonomy – it’s almost like a little country in itself. We are property development facilitators. In a country where you have a lot of development agencies that eliminates a lot of the bureaucracy so an investor can come and deal with the CDA alone. We’re a one-stop shop where things can be done quickly and efficiently.
Chaguaramas is virtually a crime-free zone because of the security initiatives, while we also bring people from the impoverished areas and train them in apprenticeship programmes.
TRC: How do you promote development and growth while also preserving the natural resources?
JH: That is definitely a challenge. An updated master plan study is on the way, which is a clear way of defining how best to use the land space, taking into consideration the sensitivity of the environment. Our commercial leases are also very clear; in the terms and conditions they guide the whole development process with regard to the environment in terms of the design and the material. We also have compliance efforts where we do vigilance and monitoring to show that the environment is protected. In our quest for development sometimes an investor will be more focussed on profit but we are committed to having that balance with the environment.
In development we have to be mindful and do things in a way that is in the interests of the people of Trinidad and Tobago.
TRC: What challenges do you face?
DS: Security certainly was one of them. To a large extent, we have overcome that and we’ve led the country in terms of how safe and secure you can become by employing the right techniques and training.
TRC: Would it be realistic to take this as an example for the rest of the country?
DS: Yes, as this is already happening; we are seeing camera and number plate recognition systems nationally. We are small and can govern ourselves so we have a faster way to implement a vision than on a national scale. We know these things are problems that could detract from investor confidence.
“We’re getting a strategic plan and really doing some introspection as to where we are and what we can do to make that impact on the international level.”Tweet This
TRC: Can you tell us more about the boardwalk project?
DS: We’ve just implemented phase two and should be at phase three by 2014. There will be a waterpark and theme park and amusement park. They will have a Trinidad flavour but really first world standards. This is the vision that has been mapped out and we’re looking for investors to work on a PPP basis. Along the boardwalk you’ll have a strip along the waterfront with cafes and restaurants.
TRC: What is the plan for the next five years?
JH: The boardwalk project itself is a three-year project. We have repositioned ourselves; we are going into the investment arena so it is important that you get the right investors and it’s also important to build stakeholder confidence.
We need to ensure this balance between the natural and the built environment; investors have to be sensitive about that and not only focus on profitmaking. Our designs take into account the natural terrain of the land and water. A lot of time and energy went into designing the landscape to maintain that eco-friendly look and feel.
The boardwalk project will be a symbol of what is to come in the roll out of the 15 year master plan. It sets the stage; you have the right investors and the right partners. These are investors who come here for the long term. We are very passionate about these projects; all the projects are not only viable but they are very attractive.
DS: We plan to upgrade the nine-hole golf course we have currently to a PGA golf course with a resort. There is also a plan to connect two bays and create a sort of little Venice.
There is also a refurbishment or build-out of a new four-star hotel and marina and we’ve got investors interested in that already. Chacahacare island is also ripe for investment; there are beautiful bays and there used to be a leper colony there so there’s a lot of history. Discovery Channel just did a paranormal video there and it was the scariest one in the series.
JH: Our public-private partnership approach is different to that being promoted by the ministry. We’re using a commercial lease wherein we create a relationship between ourselves and the investors – the lease doesn’t start until the project is actually completed, for example.
TRC: What are your future goals and where do you see the region in five or ten years from now?
DS: I would like to see it as a sort of centre for international tourism. I’d like it to be on the world stage as a place that you must visit in order to have the ultimate customer experience with a serious Trinidad culture flavour. It’s about providing an environment where the tourist can meet the man on the street from Trinidad in a safe environment. What I would like to see is a safe, clean, first world, international standard piece of our country that we would be proud to sell and show off.
TRC: What would you like to achieve in your time at CDA?
JH: Chaguaramas was asleep, development was not structured and there was no fixed sense of direction but it was there waiting to happen and since the new administration there is a new sense of order. We’re getting a strategic plan and really doing some introspection as to where we are and what we can do to make that impact on the international level. We have repositioned ourselves and the real value of it we will see in years to come. We have a plan and a sense of direction and we are not just caretakers, we are property developers, we are the facilitator. We want to partner with private investors, with the right investors to build our brand. That will be our focus over the coming years. We’ll be looking at building relationships with investors and ensuring that development takes place that will solidify our presence in the investment arena.