agreement signing
JOMA Properties CEO Colin O’Neal, left, and Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley sign a development agreement during a ceremony broadcast on Facebook. (Photo: GIS)

The ongoing redevelopment of Port Purcell took another step forward last week when government signed an investment agreement that will see Virgin Islands developer JOMA Properties Ltd. build a 65-room boutique hotel and other amenities by the water.

The project will include an upgrade of the area’s marina facilities as well as a restaurant, bar, retail shop and fitness centre, Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley said during a signing ceremony broadcast March 25 on Facebook.

“This is a significant investment by JOMA, and it illustrates what we have been saying all along: The BVI is pregnant with opportunities, and there are investors who have a lot of confidence in the BVI economy and our prospects for economic growth,” Dr. Wheatley said.

The project is part of a larger mixed-use development that JOMA is carrying out in the area, which also includes recently completed commercial buildings by the Port Purcell roundabout.

“JOMA’s renderings and development plans are very impressive, and when completed, the new facilities will transform the area which presently consists of warehouse-type structures,” Dr. Wheatley said.

Port Purcell project
The above rendering shows the plans for the Port Purcell area once the ongoing project is completed. (Graphic: JOMA)
Project’s genesis

JOMA CEO Colin O’Neal also spoke at the ceremony, explaining the genesis of the project.

“Our focus in recent years has been in providing space for our financial services sector that was rapidly expanding,” he said.

“At the same time, we recognised the challenges posed by the headwinds that faced the BVI and the global economy as they affect financial services, which remains our main tenant base.”

In light of such considerations, he explained, the company decided to enter the hospitality sector through the planned hotel and marina.

“Unlike conventional office buildings, hotel and marina developments entail many complexities, from heightened costs to prolonged lead times on materials,” he said. “Additionally, operational complexity necessitates meticulous planning with multiple consultants.”

‘We’re not foreign’

Because of such challenges, JOMA decided to seek the sort of investment agreement that the VI and other Caribbean governments often use to attract foreign direct investment.

“In our case, we’re not foreign,” he said. “We’re here, and we’re committed to developing the BVI, agreement or no agreement.”

The investment agreement, he noted, should help the developer and government alike, in part because the project is expected to stimulate the economy by providing hundreds of jobs during and after construction.

“An investment agreement with the government serves as a cornerstone or framework for regulatory clarity, incentive accessibility, risk mitigation and strategic planning,” he said. “It provides an environment conducive to investment and development, again hopefully benefitting both stakeholders.”

The agreement was not immediately made public, but government Communications Director Karia Christopher said it is being registered and will be made public when that process is complete.

Agreement’s purpose

Details of its provisions were not disclosed at the ceremony, but Premier’s Office Permanent Secretary Carolyn Stoutt-Igwe explained its general purpose.

“With these investment agreements, investors indicate the details of their developments while the government recognises the importance of the development to the territory’s economy and agrees to provide certain services, give some concessions, and help to facilitate various processes to ensure timely delivery of the project,” Ms. Stoutt-Igwe said at the ceremony.

Long history

JOMA’s involvement in the Port Purcell area dates back to the 1960s, when Mr. O’Neal’s father J.R. O’Neal obtained the seabed rights with the aim of using it as an industrial site, Mr. O’Neal said when announcing the project in 2021.

In 1970, he added, the family began a long and costly land reclamation with the help of one of the same Dutch engineers who had led the reclamation of Wickhams Cay.

“With great excitement as a boy, I remember seeing the sun rise as it emerged from the sea as the dredging progressed, and it was exciting for me to watch the piles driven for the port,” Mr. O’Neal recalled in 2021.

Over the years, he said, warehouses and businesses sprang up in the area, but he and his father still hoped to find the site’s “highest and best use.”

Plans for the development accelerated more than a decade ago, “when the infinite growth in the financial services sector seemed to be practically limitless,” Mr. O’Neal said.

Since then, circumstances forced the developers to rethink the plan several times and pivot from an initial focus on offices and retail to hospitality, he explained in 2021.