UDC still seeking offers to manage Sumfest site

SIX years after an attempt to farm out development and management of the Catherine Hall Complex in Montego Bay, the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) is once again inviting bids.

For years, the complex has been the venue for the popular Reggae Sumfest music festival, but the plan is to have the location developed and operated by the private sector instead of the State-run UDC.

The Catherine Hall Complex is one of several that now have a May 14 deadline for bids. Others include One Man Beach in St James. These are some of the projects back on the agenda since the UDC resumed operations after the lifting of the St Catherine quarantine, which had put a dent in its workforce.

“The regular operations of the UDC have been significantly affected by the current government measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Our services have had to be scaled down, with work-from-home as much as possible. Like many other institutions, our operations were further impacted by the lockdown of St Catherine where many of our staff reside,” UDC Director of Corporate Communications Lorna Clarke said last week in response to questions from the Jamaica Observer. “These measures impacted our ability to serve the public in collecting tenders; and in the interest of maintaining transparency of the process, the deadline for all active bids [was] postponed on April 20 and a new submission date of May 14 has now been confirmed.”

Clarke was unable to provide the date when the Catherine Hall Complex was first tendered but in April 2014 the Observer carried a story that outlined efforts to lease the 18.89-acre complex. On February 9 of this year, the UDC published an extension of the request for proposals, with a new deadline of April 21. Clarke did not provide details on the number of bids received between then and 2014 when submissions were being invited.

“Each opportunity has to be treated with on its own merit and so the timeline between submission of tenders and being awarded differs,” she said in response to questions about whether the process was taking an unusually long time. “In the event that there are no suitable bids, the UDC can explore a variety of development options for taking the project forward.” She did not elaborate on those options but added that “the UDC is required to complete the current procurement process prior to actioning any alternate”.

Montego Bay Mayor Homer Davis is among those eagerly awaiting the outcome of the on-again tendering process. But he does not expect to see any movement until later in the year.

“This process won’t be concluded any time soon. It takes a couple months before they open these tenders and [then] it goes through another process,” the mayor explained. This includes input from the National Environment and Planning Agency, the local government ministry, and other interested parties. “So probably they won’t be getting any positive results as to who are the successful bidders until maybe the last quarter of this year,” he said. “If I had to start a four-bedroom house now, I’m sure I could finish the house [and] live in there even before a contract is signed [for the Catherine Hall Complex]. Those things just take a long time. And these are the things that frustrate me sometimes as mayor.”

He made it clear, however, that he understood the need for a transparent process, which may result in slower progress than private sector-owned projects. “We need to move a bit faster on a number of these things. But you know when you [are] divesting government land if you don’t do it right…the whole country come down on you,” he said. “So I think what [the UDC] is seeking now is transparency.”

The plan, the mayor added, has always been to retain the Catherine Hall Complex as an entertainment venue geared towards music festivals and “possibly other attractions”. The project is part of a wider thrust to upgrade the city’s shoreline, where much of the property is owned by the UDC. Davis is looking forward to the economic activity and revenue the various projects would bring to the city.

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