Residents of Porto Bello in St James are now benefiting from an upgraded community centre, which was refurbished at a cost of $4.7 million as part of the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo) ‘Spruce Up’ programme.
The facility was officially opened by Tourism Minister, Hon. Edmund Bartlett, during a ceremony on Thursday (July 16).
Upgrades to the building include the addition of bathroom facilities; installation of windows, doors and kitchen cupboards; the completion of flooring and electrical works to the building; painting; and landscaping.
The project was executed in partnership with Member of Parliament for St. James Central, where the centre is located, Heroy Clarke, and the Porto Bello Citizens/ Association.
In his remarks, Minister Bartlett said the project aimed to facilitate “sustainable livelihood through job creation, sound environmental practices, participation of communities in local area development, and facilitation of small and medium tourism enterprises”.
He noted that the centre will also create a safer community and facilitate youth empowerment through skills training.
“Our youngsters will be able to access resources which were not previously available. They will be able to learn and share positive information with their peers and those they meet in this tourism-centric area of Jamaica,” Mr. Bartlett stated.
He pointed out that the community centre will be pivotal to facilitating personal and professional development courses offered by the TPDCo and Jamaica Tourism Centre for Innovation (JCTI).
“Individuals can gain access to resources aimed at improving their skill set, making them ready to join and add value to our industry whether directly or through linked industries,” the Minister further stated.
Mr. Bartlett said the Ministry’s efforts to develop local communities form part of overall plans to diversify Jamaica’s hospitality product through community tourism.
“I am assured that the community centre can be the start of many great achievements; you might wonder how this relates to tourism. We have been working to fully diversify the product, aiming for a well-rounded and eclectic experience for our visitors, and part of that includes community tourism,” he outlined.
For his part, TPDCo Executive Director, Dr. Andrew Spencer, underscored the importance of community involvement in tourism product diversification.
“If we understand that community tourism is the vehicle that will allow for community development to take place in a powerful way, then all of us would be applauding for the enormous work that has been done to revitalise and stimulate activities within the community of Porto Bello,” he said.
Dr. Spencer argued that tourists want to experience the “true” Jamaica, by moving around communities seamlessly.
Against this background, he said “you must have a place where you can host them, fete them and demonstrate to them that there is community pride”.
Mr. Clarke, in expressing gratitude for the upgraded facility implored the residents to take advantage of opportunities that the centre will facilitate.
For the 2019/20 financial year, the TPDCo completed some 14 major Spruce Up projects, all aimed at community development.