On the waterfront: Talks are under way with investors over major new developments

Much of the April 2016 mid-year budget review by Trinidad and Tobago’s finance minister, Colm Imbert, focused on the importance of austerity and fiscal prudence, but one project was of particular investment potential.

According to Imbert the government had begun discussions with foreign investors “on a set of integrated projects comprising an expanded International Financial Centre [IFC], a five-star hotel and a convention centre in Invaders Bay, coupled with a new commercial port, maritime and shipbuilding complex, industrial park and free zone development to the south of the Beetham [Highway]”.

The development of the Invaders Bay area, to the west of Port of Spain, has long been on the drawing board but has faced numerous challenges and delays. Confirmation that the project will be a government priority in the coming years should prove a much-needed boost to the economy.

Invaders Bay Investments

In recent years, a 24-ha plot of reclaimed land in the bay area has seen investments in facilities such as the MovieTowne complex, PriceSmart Shopping Complex and the corporate office of BHP Billiton. In August 2011 the Ministry of Planning and Sustainable Development launched a request for proposals for further development of the site. Derek Chin, the owner of MovieTowne, was awarded 4 ha of land for a project called “Streets of the World”. Estimated to cost TT$1.3bn ($200.2m), the project proposal is for a shopping district with each street themed by countries and regions.

Another local firm, Invader’s Bay Marina Company, was chosen to develop a separate 5-ha plot in an investment that was set to reach TT$5.5bn ($847m), but in October 2014 the Joint Consultative Council, the major advocacy group for the construction industry, challenged the decision on the basis that the process had breached the Central Tenders Board Act, and the project has since stalled. Imbert’s speech has reinforced confidence that the projects – overseen by the Urban Development Corporation of T&T – will come to fruition, though it is unclear whether new tenders for the primary contracts will be made.

Financial Centre

Imbert said that the IFC would have one or two Chinese banks as anchor clients focused on servicing Chinese loans and investments in the region. The IFC will not be a destination for offshore finance, an important distinction given that tax havens have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years.

“We are not following the Cayman Islands or Bermuda models, we are looking more to Singapore and Dubai,” Varun Maharaj, CEO of TTIFC, told OBG. “Fair and transparent taxes will be payable, the IFC will have its own legislation, quick dispute resolution and its own financial regulator. English common law will apply. The IFC will use local talent and enjoy low energy and operational costs.”

In addition to providing a home for international banks, the project will continue the transformation of the Port of Spain coastline, a scheme that began with the construction of the International Waterfront Centre, completed in 2009. The government said that the project would boost property prices and help T&T become a centre for tourism and international business.

The project is also expected to provide a much-needed boost to the construction industry in T&T and provide a substantial number of jobs during the construction phase. It is estimated that a first phase of construction for the IFC in Port of Spain could be completed within two or possibly three years. In the English-speaking Caribbean, due to its location and time zone, the two-island nation is in a good position to attract financial services companies from cities such as London, New York and Shanghai.