The Kerrs and the Jarretts sailed from England in 1655 with Admiral Penn, General Venables and Captain Henry Morgan to execute Sir Oliver Cromwell’s so-called ‘western design’ to wrest the island from the Spanish.
It has been said that sugar planter and long-standing custos of St James, Sir Peter Francis Kerr-Jarrett, believed it was divined for the Barnett lands his family inherited – at one time encompassing nearly all of Montego Bay stretching to Falmouth in its heyday – to be used to design a proud and planned western city.
Today, his son, Mark Kerr-Jarrett, and Mark’s lawyer wife, Paula, seem still wedded to that mission.
Working through the Barnett Group and its subsidiaries – Barnett Construction Services, involved in heavy equipment rental and project management; Barnett Tech Park Limited, a registered special economic zone; Montego Westgate Property Development; and Barnett Plantation Tours, operator of the Bellefield Great House – the Kerr-Jarretts have changed the face of the Barnett family business in Montego Bay that had its origin in the era of sugar, slavery, and colonialism.
They are now ushering in new property developments, including housing, modern shopping, and a tech park for business process outsourcing, or BPO, firms.
Having, by their account, spent billions of dollars on these new developments so far, the Kerr-Jarretts still have their eyes set on other vistas. These include the long-awaited western campus of the University of the West Indies, a multimillion-dollar commercial zone at Bogue, more middle-income houses in the already sold-out Montego Bay West development at Fairfield being done by Gore Developments Limited, as well as additional BPO space.
The 12.24-hectare (30-acre) Springs development at Bogue will involve the creation, over three to five years, of some 30 commercial lots to be leased and is now in the process of receiving approvals. The Kerr-Jarretts plan to shell out about $3 billion to develop the project, with $320 million of that being for infrastructure.
A “fair amount of interest” is said to be already coming from several Kingston-based companies seeking to set up regional operations in the western city.
The managing director, mechanical engineer Mark Kerr-Jarrett, says even after all this, there will still be more developable portions of his Barnett cane lands. A riverside reserve comprising “290 acres on either side of the Montego River” has been set aside for what he calls the Southbank Commercial Centre, planned to accommodate more BPO space, a financial services district and attractions for cruise ship tourists complete with a jogging trail.
“We are awaiting critical mass before we go into that,” he says.
With the upscale Westgate Hills serviced lots completed since 2013, the Kerr-Jarretts hope sometime in the future to construct apartments on another eight acres in that area, as well as more high-end housing on its 1,200-acre mountain forest overlooking Montego Bay and stretching all the way to Roehampton in the parish.
It is the commitment to holistic development following the two-decade-old Montego Bay South development plan for their properties which the Kerr-Jarretts say has been largely responsible for the build-out not being more rapid.
“Had we not had the Montego Bay South master plan, it would have been ad hoc. Some people think we are holding the land, being selfish about it, but you have to release it in a timely basis; if not, you are going to have a hodgepodge development with no real future growth potential and it’s not organised or sustainable,” they said.
“So the master planning was very important. Holding land is an extremely expensive business. If we just chop it up and sell, we would be a lot better off (financially). But we are adhering to the master plan. It’s like diamond mining, you release as it’s needed and as the demand comes, so you can adhere to the format and ensure that the end product will be an organised, well-defined, well-serviced, sustainable city that everybody can be proud of and where the quality of life will be ensured to the highest level.”
The high cost of capital is said also to be stymieing the rate of build-out of the 45-acre Barnett Tech Park, still only 25 per cent complete after investments of $2.5 billion and where several BPO companies have set up shop.