Big city dreams as Govt unveils plan to revitalise capital

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley says his administration’s master plan for rejuvenation can save the city of Port-of-Spain from dying as he addressed the launch of the Spotlight Initiative on the Rejuvenation of the City Project at the Hyatt Regency Hotel yesterday.

The first phase of the plan includes removing homeless people from the street, cleaning and washing the city streets, increasing police presence and increasing lighting.

Rowley said the city’s homeless population poses a major threat to the city’s development.

He said Port-of-Spain has deteriorated from its former glory as he recalled coming to Trinidad when he lived in Tobago to shop on Queen Street in Port of Spain. He described Queen Street today, as “the toilet of the capital”.

“Today to see that you have businesses leaving Queen Street because there are human rights and there are human bodily functions – they go together. So when the court rules in a particular way, we also have to balance it in another way because there is no human right that says you ought not to be escorted up to the public toilet in the square when it is functioning and it must function when you prefer to use the pavement on Queen Street.”

He said while this plan will face opposition, it will not work if the country does not view it as one for the benefit of all citizens.

Rowley said the rejuvenation will not only bring business back to the city but will provide housing opportunities for those who want to live in the city.

He said the Government cannot afford this project on its own as he appealed for private sector investors to come forward. He said the banking system has $14 billion in available capital that belongs to the private sector.

“Now is the time for the capital, that $14 billion of available capital in our banking system, now is the time for the owners of that money to think about what do we do for the development of Trinidad and Tobago, especially our capital city.”

Dr Rowley admitted that this was not the first time a plan like this has been conceptualized.

He promised, however, it would be the last.

“It is our intention not to make this 17th initiative not (just) another one but to make it the last one of attempting to rectify a problem by which its 16 antecedents by way of report would have demonstrated that we as a nation, as the burgesses of the city for quite a long time come to the conclusion that something has to be done,” he said.

The project will be overseen by the Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago Limited (UDeCOTT).

Consultation on the plan began on September 18, 2019. Rowley said UDeCOTT hired NLBA Architects Limited as a consultant on the project and after stakeholder meetings, a final plan was presented to the Corporation on February 20, 2020.

Rowley said the ills of the city include reduced private sector investment, depopulation, abandoned and decrepit infrastructure, unemployment, homelessness and high crime levels.

Meanwhile, Planning and Development Minister Camille Robinson-Regis sought to give assurances that while the Picadilly Street Redevelopment Project was already before the Cabinet, no residents from the area would be forced to leave their home.

“There is no intention of moving out the residents unless they want to move out of the city because the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) in conjunction with UDeCOTT has been working on a plan for the Piccadilly area, there are some parts that are not now occupied by residential housing,” she said.

“But there is an intention to ensure that we have a mixture of residential and commercial and where there are people already living in that area, they will be accommodated.”

She said the recent development of Clifton Courts by UDeCOTT and HDC accommodated existing residents of Piccadilly Street.

Asked by Guardian Media to comment on criticisms on the timing of this project with the recent announcements of major cuts to the Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses Programme (GATE), Robinson-Regis was tight-lipped.

“I am not going to talk about that, we didn’t talk about that today,” she said.

The catalysts of the Rejuvenation of the City of Port-of-Spain include:

• ↓Memorial Plaza Development – development of the UDeCOTT-owned property located at Keate Street and south of Memorial Block to house a Mixed-Use Complex inclusive of residential, commercial, office, parking and recreational spaces.

• ↓Development of the Salvatori Site – this project is in the planning stage of development.

• ↓Piccadilly Street Development – this project is before the Cabinet for approval for UDeCOTT to proceed with an RFP and determination of the funding source.

• ↓PowerGen Site Development – development of the stated-owned, former site of the Power Generation Company located at Wrightson Road.

• ↓City Gate Development – a concept is to be developed for the revitalisation of City Gate.

• ↓Foreshore Greenspace – this project would include the expansion of green areas involving land reclamation at the Foreshore at Mucurapo.

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