Thursday 9th March 2006


Seeking to redevelop East Port-of-Spain

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Photo: Shirley bahadur

Stories: Sandra Chouthi

Live where you work, work where you live. That is urban planner Anthony Fifi’s answer to the traffic woes facing the country.

“Something I learned about 30 years ago in planning school: you do not solve traffic problems by building bigger and better highways,” Fifi said in an interview at his Home Construction Ltd (HCL) office, Long Circular Mall.

Fifi was responding to the cover story in the February 23 Business Guardian, “Want Housing? Go East,” which cited a concentration of at least ten housing developments in east Trinidad, especially the Arima area.

In the article, chartered surveyor Afra Raymond said he expected the new developments will increase the population of east Trinidad by at least 40,000 within three years, and likewise, the traffic along the east/west corridor.

Fifi said jobs are the greatest generators of traffic because people have to drive to and from their workplaces daily.

“Modern, even old town planning principles, dictate that what you try to do if you want to control traffic is cut work to residence distances,” Fifi said.

He connected that statement to an earlier point: that the Government currently has 40 buildings under construction in Port-of-Spain.

Stating that the Waterfront Project, Government Campus and Salvatori buildings were among the 40, Fifi said those “substantial buildings” were not only reintroducing more jobs into Port-of-Spain but also displacing the city’s population.

He said the population of Port-of-Spain had dropped by more than 120,000 over the years, but crime wasn’t the reason that drove people out of town.

“Woodbrook is being depopulated because there is absolutely no town planning policy,” said Fifi, touting HCL’s construction of One Woodbrook Place as “the first project in urban regeneration to take place in Port-of-Spain in the last 100 years.”

“As far as I’m concerned, One Woodbrook Place s part of an overall strategy. You need to take people to jobs, you need to take jobs to people,” Fifi said.

He said the lack of a “proper, rational, urban plan for the country” is displacing people out of Port-of-Spain, sending them to east Trinidad and putting the highest employment opportunities back into Port-of-Spain.

“It just doesn’t make sense,” Fifi said.

Logic dictates that jobs should be brought closer to where people live, Fifi said, adding that he preaches that to the powers-that-be, including his “good friend” Calder Hart, CEO of the Urban Development Company of T&T (Udecott.)

“I say it all the time. They normally agree. And then nothing,” Fifi said.

“I say as much as I can in terms of trying to influence but then again there are powers and there are forces stronger than me or whoever.

“Possibly, it has to start with having a planning department that really sits down and plans properly and operates within a political system that is willing to be rational with respect to your plans,” Fifi said.

“We do not have a vision for our settlement pattern, for our urban structure, for our cities. We don’t.”

Asked what he thought of Udecott’s development programme, Fifi replied, “Ad hoc.”

“I don’t want to criticise my good friend, Calder, but can we really sit down and rationalise, has Calder rationalised his approach?

Have you asked him?

“Of course.”

What does he say?

“He has to build. He’s building. They’re building,” Fifi said.

Anthony Fifi, CEO of Home Construction Ltd (HCL), was appointed chairman of the East Port-of-Spain Development Company Ltd on January 5.

Other board members of the company are:

Dr Deborah Thomas, assistant co-ordinator, Town and Country Planning Division. Her doctorate is in land economy from the University of Cambridge.

Noel Garcia, managing director, Housing Development Corporation.

Hayden Ameerali, estates manager, HCL.

Ingrid Lashley, managing director, T&T Mortgage Finance Company Ltd.

Folade Mutota, Women’s Institute for Alternative Development.

Brigadier Ralph Brown, retired Chief of Defence Staff, T&T Defence Force.

The mandate of the company, which Cabinet agreed to form on September 15, 2005, seeks to develop and redevelop a zone in east Port-of-Spain, bounded by Charlotte Street, Lady Young Road and the Eastern Main Road, and including Morvant, Never Dirty and Caledonia, to improve the economic, social and physical environment of those areas.

Fifi said the company, the budget for which comes out of the Infrastructure Fund, is working on a budget to present to the Ministry of Finance.

It is also in the process of securing a home. Possible locations are Success Village, Prizgar Lands and John John, Fifi said.

Sheryl-Anne Haynes, director of the Town and Country Planning Division, comments on the mainly private sector housing thrust in east Trinidad:

Without any analysis, I think the main reasons would be:

availability of land

cost of land

available infrastructure

population requiring housing

the fact that we’ve grown accustomed to long commutes

Home Construction Ltd (HCL) is also developing an administrative and business centre in Trincity, so this at least for their housing would be a major selling point.

One of the issues being looked at in the National Transportation Plan, spearheaded by Ministry of Works and Transport, is an improved commuter system between Arima and Port-of-Spain. This would also make the east attractive to develop.

The Business Guardian had reported on February 23 that at least ten housing developments were in progress in east Trinidad, among them Carib Gardens, Carib Homes, Cleaver Heights, The Foothills, Cacique Villas, A River Runs Through It, The Crossings, La Croix, Ascot Gardens, Buena Vista Gardens.

Fifi on One Woodbrook Place

One Woodbrook Place is about six weeks behind schedule. We’re going to finish when we said we’re going to finish. The completion is the end of 2007.

We’re affected by all the problems of the industry: skills, labour, concrete, you name it. In spite of that, we have our ways of solving things.

We are on schedule. We have our own purchasing lines. Our organisation is integrated. We have our purchasing department. We import directly.

Trincity Mall to expand by 13 acres

More mall space, more cinema screens, fine-dining restaurants and a hospital are all part of the expansion of Trincity by its developer Home Construction Ltd (HCL).

Anthony Fifi, HCL’s managing director and CEO, said on Monday that Trincity Mall will be expanded by 600,000 square feet (13 acres), and will include the building originally earmarked for the American shopping chain K-Mart.

Stating that the first phase of the mall expansion was Caribbean Cinemas, the food court and the northern wing, Fifi said the second phase will encompass the K-Mart building and a connecting block.

The third phase of the mall expansion will include eight more cinema screens on the northern end, a bowling alley and about 200,000 square feet of shops.

The final phase will be another 400,000 square feet of shopping space—some of it upscale—as well as fine-dining, an amphitheatre, an adventure park and miniature golf.

All phases are due for completion by mid-2008.

By the time the mall is fully expanded, Fifi said it will have one million square feet of gross leasable area and will be the largest shopping centre in the Caribbean apart from Puerto Rico’s Plaza de la Americas.

“The Trincity area sits on 80 acres,” Fifi said. “The K-Mart building alone is 165,000 square feet.”

Fifi said phases one and two cost $150 million, with the others to cost another $200 million, all of which were funded through HCL’s cash flow and loans. The restaurant Muscovado has just opened and a sports lounge is expected to be completed by month’s end.

HCL is also constructing a $60 million, 82-room business class Holiday Inn along the Churchill Roosevelt Highway. It is due for completion by year’s end.

“We want to open it in time for the (Cricket) World Cup,” Fifi said. “We want to open it in time for business early next year.”

The Trincity complex will include a $250 million medical clinic that will offer heart surgery, oncology, lung and vascular treatment.

“We want to get that ready before the end of next year,” Fifi said.

“The first phase, oncology, will open this year. It’s a module that lends itself to early completion. It’s not as complicated.”



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