JHTA, MoBay Chamber back DownSound’s Catherine Hall lease bid

The spotlight of interest has again shifted to the Catherine Hall Entertainment Complex in St James, as some key stakeholders have given their views regarding the future of the venue which hosts the annual summer show, Reggae Sumfest.

Reggae Sumfest, which was postponed this year because of the novel coronavirus, is in its 27th year. The music festival is highly regarded among the best in the world.

Reggae Sumfest was last held in 2019, and officials have said that it has had an economic impact close to an estimated $5 billion in revenue for the western tourist city and it contributes in excess of $25 billion to the Jamaican economy.

In this environment, more than 12,000 people are employed indirectly to Reggae Sumfest. The entertainment, cultural, and creative sector contributes approximately 10 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and close to 7 per cent of the country’s labour force is employed in the cultural and entertainment creative sector.

The Urban Development Corporation (UDC), owners of the Catherine Hall Complex, has sent out a request for proposals to develop the facility into a first-class entertainment centre. Tourism officials have said that a redevelopment project designed to transform Catherine Hall into a year-round world-class entertainment venue would undoubtedly bring major economic benefits to Jamaica’s second city, Montego Bay.

Despite its potential, observers have suggested that the venue is woefully underutilised. According to Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Janet Silvera: “The Catherine Hall Entertainment Complex is sitting their all year doing absolutely nothing.”

DownSound Entertainment, owned by businessman Joe Bogdanovich which has been running the annual Reggae Sumfest, has submitted a proposal to the UDC for a long lease, which would allow the company to, among other things, turn the complex into a state-of-the-art facility. Top officials of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) and the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry gave a resounding “yes” to the move by DownSound Entertainment.

DownSound is proposing a full upgrade of the location that will be better able to accommodate and facilitate the Sumfest crowd, and create Montego Bay’s first permanent, large-scale, entertainment venue which would have the potential to host events all year around. “Music or culture is part of our tourism product and it is part of what makes Jamaica special,” suggested JHTA President Omar Robinson. “It’s what brings out people to our destination, and Sumfest is one of the most iconic reggae festivals in the world. As such anything that can be done to make it more sustainable would be welcomed by the JHTA.”

“If it is to be leased to someone who has a track record like Joe Bogdanovich,” Silvera said, “I would support it wholeheartedly. It is going to be investment for Montego Bay. We can’t continue to have just one major event each year if we really mean business as it relates to entertainment.

“So, with Catherine Hall being equipped or refurbished or being upgraded to the standard that would allow it to attract persons who are going to be doing those types of events, then I say more power to Joe Bogdanovich. I would welcome that move and I think it’s time that something is done to the venue; it needs work, it needs the upgrading, it is sitting there all this time doing nothing,” the Chamber President said.

Contacted yesterday, Bogdanovich reiterated his commitment to bringing top quality entertainment to western Jamaica: “We want to make it (Catherine Hall Entertainment Complex) into the best performing arts centre not only in the Caribbean but to be on par with the biggest festivals in the world like Coachella (California, USA) and the ones in Europe. That’s what we are about – to compete with the world and be able to show Jamaica and reggae music as competitive with all other genres, which it well deserves.

“When you look at the economic impact that this brand has brought to the country and Montego Bay in particular, it is significant. We are promoting culture and the best Reggae show on earth. Also, there are a lot of people who depend on Reggae Sumfest to put their kids in school.

“Now that it didn’t happen this year, they will be affected. For that reason we have been doing COVID-19-relief feeding programmes and care packages for different communities. For 2021, we are hoping to bring another great Reggae festival so that all persons involved directly will benefit economically and be excited about what this festival means to Jamaica. It’s our music, our festival, and our culture,” Bogdanovich stated.

It is still unclear whether or not there are other potential bidders who have an interest in leasing the Catherine Hall Complex.

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