Thursday 21st July 2005

 

‘St Clair will become like Charlotte Street’

 
 
 
 
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British Gas T&T on St Clair Avenue

Under construction: a new office building by Ansa McAL, behind the old National Broadcasting Network, Maraval Road

Trotters, corner Sweet Briar and Maraval Road.

Photos: Dilip Singh

BY SANDRA CHOUTHI

Homes in St Clair are dwarfed by the size and cost of their commercial neighbours: Briar Place on Sweet Briar Road, Kam Wah Chinese Restaurant on Maraval Road and British Gas on St Clair Avenue.

The newest commercial building on the St Clair landscape is Briar Place, which is being developed by Joseph Rahael of Amera Caribbean Development Ltd.

Built at $800 a square foot, the office building has 60,000 square feet of lettable space and has basement parking.

Leasing manager Ava Tang Choon was reluctant to name the companies which have signed leases to occupy Briar Place.

Nealco Properties, a real estate development company, has sourced clients for Briar Place on behalf of Amera Caribbean.

Nealco director Sharon Inglefield said the building has two levels of parking for 250 vehicles.

“It has one of the best parking ratios in Trinidad,” Inglefield said.

She said Town and Country Planning Division regulations state that there must be a parking spot for every 500 square feet of space.

That planning policy should be applied across the board, she said.

“We should have parking for 60 cars, and that building has plenty more space,” Inglefield said. “It has parking space for every 380 square feet.”

The chocolate-brown Briar Place was hot from the onset.

“It’s completely rented,” Inglefield said. “It went on the market during construction. We had serious inquiries from the start.”

Inglefield, too, was reluctant to identify commercial tenants, citing confidentiality agreements and the scourge of kidnappings.

She was more amenable to talking about the upmarket construction materials used in Briar Place: marble walls and granite in the lobby and bathrooms.

Inglefield said the level of commercial development taking place in St Clair had the combined effect of bringing an enormous amount of vehicular traffic to the area.

Think of it: apart from employees’ vehicles, there will be those companies supplying stationery, delivering lunches, flowers, clients showing up for appointments, etc.

“St Clair will become like Charlotte Street,” Inglefield said.

There are five businesses alone on Gray Street, including Ross Advertising and Citadel Ltd.

The international chain restaurant Hooters is to open soon at the corner of Gray and Rust Streets.

Sweet Briar Road already has Briar Place, Ernst and Young, the Canadian High Commission, and Trotters (bordering Maraval Road).

Maraval Road has at least a dozen fast-food places, the most prominent among them being Kam Wah Chinese Restaurant Ltd and The Hott Shoppe.

Rituals Coffee House and Soupa Salad, also on Maraval Road, will soon be opening their doors for business.

Kam Wah, anticipating a greater demand, has redesigned its take-out section downstairs to accommodate a faster turnaround in lunch-hour traffic.

Ansa McAL is also constructing an office building, 30,000 square feet, at the back of the old NBN building along Maraval Road.

Finding a parking spot in St Clair will not get easier in the coming months with the construction of a Ministry of Education building on Alexandra Street.

A building to house the Ministry of Public Administration and Information is making slow progress on St Clair Avenue. Also on that street, RBTT Financial Holdings is constructing a $90 million, seven-storey building as its corporate, regional head offices.

The RBTT building, which will be located opposite Queen’s Royal College, will have 100,000 square feet of office space.

Two plots of land, equal to 48,000 square feet, were acquired last year at a cost of $25 million. That would make the cost of real estate on that end of town about $520 a square foot.

And more projects are in the works for this fast-changing neighbourhood.

Industry sources have said a top insurance company has purchased a property on Gray Street for $25 million for future development.

Businessman Nauzem Nahous has started construction on 46,000 square feet of office space at the corner of Alexandra Street and Tragarete Road.

The five-storey building will have two floors for parking 80 vehicles.

“Construction will finish before mid-2006,” Nahous said.

Nahous wouldn’t comment on the cost of the building, but said he’s asking $10 a square foot from prospective tenants.

“Anyone who can pay the dollar,” he said.

Residents of St Clair were reluctant to come out when this visitor rang or called a week ago.

Martin Scott, 67, a partner at Personnel Management Services Ltd, was a bit more open.

Three years ago, Scott sold his Valsayn North home, in which he lived for 35 years, and moved to Gray Street, St Clair, behind Ernst and Young.

He traded in the traffic along the East/West Corridor and all its accompanying frustrations for the convenience of living and working closer to the office.

The other reason he moved?

“Geriatricity,” he said. “I will be 68 in August. I could not afford what is considered more desirable places—the west or Maraval.”

Without disclosing details of the sale of his Valsayn home, Scott said he wasn’t about to buy more than what he could afford.

“I wasn’t taking on more worries. All my life, I paid mortgage and overdraft and I done with that.”

He said the pace of commercialisation of St Clair within three years has been faster than he anticipated.

“Gray Street has become a motorway for racing people trying to get to and from Tragarete Road to St Clair Avenue,” Scott said.

Parking has become “cluttered and indiscriminate.” People double park and park at corners, he complained.

Scott said since he didn’t buy a property on Gray Street as an investment, he’s not about to move, even if someone offers him millions.

“I moved here because the convenience outweighed the inconvenience,” Scott said. “Everything has a price.”

An aerial shot of Maraval Road

A shot of Tatil Building from Sweet Briar Road.

Better security, parking than downtown PoS

The banks, energy companies and financial services sector have shifted some of their operations to St Clair because it offers improved security, favourable parking ratios and better visibility from main roads and thoroughfares.

St Clair is also easily accessible from the west, the East/West Corridor and the Queen’s Park Savannah.

That’s the opinion of Nealco Properties’ director Sharon Inglefield, when asked about the appeal of St Clair for many high-profile companies shifting from downtown Port-of-Spain.

“The biggest problem in Port-of-Spain is parking for business people,” she said. “They don’t want to come downtown and have nowhere to park.”

She described the Unit Trust Corporation building on Independence Square as “a good example of bad planning.”

“It’s an incredibly well-drawn building with very little parking.”

She said the demand for commercial properties in St Clair was always there, but it has accelerated within the last five years. The cost of rental per square foot was then $6, but that has now gone up to as much as $12, she said.

Real estate prices have also gone up because of steep increases in building materials, namely steel, and the fact that some with skilled labourers, or potential labourers, are opting to work with Cepep instead of the construction sector.

Describing the introduction of Cepep as “bad timing,” Inglefield said there’s sufficient private sector and government projects to keep “that level of worker really busy.”

Some prominent law firms are relocating north of Port-of-Spain, Inglefield said, citing Lex Caribbean having offices on Sweet Briar Road, St Clair, and M Hamel-Smith and Company on Albion Street, which is close to Queen’s Park Savannah.

 

 

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