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Transformation of St Clair

Published Thursday 8th July, 2004

This week we will examine St Clair more closely, since very important changes are taking place in this long-established district.

St Clair is the large, upper-income residential district in the western part of Port-of-Spain. As shown by the map, it is virtually triangular, with its eastern edge being Maraval Road and its western extreme being the Harvard’s corner on Roxy roundabout.

The district was established in the late 1800s as a first-class residential district, but this is now changing with the incursion of the commercial users mentioned in the recent series on PoS.

St Clair Avenue, which connects the Roxy roundabout with the QRC roundabout, is a useful dividing line in that commercial users are not generally allowed north of it.

The size of the St Clair lots and the generous widths of its streets have made it one of the most preferred locations for large, new commercial buildings.

The sheer volume of new commercial space in St Clair suggests that there could be serious traffic problems there within the next three years.

In the case of downtown PoS, when the traffic and other problems got too great, we saw the beginning of today’s commercial migration.

In St Clair, large quantities of capital have been invested in commercial schemes with payback periods exceeding 10 years so there is little likelihood of another migration at anytime in the near future.

In any case, the lack of suitable options mean that the problems arising from these new St Clair developments would have to be dealt with if these are not to also undermine the success of the area as a commercial destination.

In the meantime, these features are critical in understanding the role of St Clair:

Change of Use—The area now has a large number of non-residential users and these would virtually all have been liable to seek the State’s consent for change of use.

Apart from the large schemes detailed on the map, there are a variety of other, smaller non-residential users—some of these are the radio station 95.5FM, Bombay, various advertising agencies and restaurants, the new Australian High Commission at Herbert Street and the Body Academy Gym on Gray Street. As earlier described, State policy is to make a flat charge per square foot for this change of use.

The estate has traditionally been managed by awaiting applications for change of use from leaseholders, but the risk of this type of management is that, in the absence of an active monitoring system, those who do not apply can escape without paying for change of use.

The information as to the actual changes of users is easily available via TTPost, TSTT or simply walking up the street and making notes.

No prudent landlord would wait on his tenants to notify him of situations where more monies were due. Good public policy would have proactive management of State assets as a basic.

One size fits all—As earlier mentioned, this kind of policy can lead to serious losses to the public purse.

The system of making flat rate charges means that corner sites on Tragarete Road or St Clair Avenue are charged the same as those on side streets for changes-of-use despite the obvious differences in value.

Loss of opportunity—In the medium-term, we can expect the upcoming release of reclaimed lands by Udecott at Invader’s Bay (off the Audrey Jeffers’ Highway, near MovieTowne) in large parcels for commercial use.

When we weigh the scale of the St Clair schemes and the transformation of this elegant city district against the ambitious proposals for the development of our neglected waterfront, other aspects begin to emerge.

The growing commercial appetite for space which is not in downtown is now being satisfied by using St Clair lands and those on the Savannah fringes, so where is the momentum to come from for the development of the waterfront?

Can there be enough commercial demand for both to succeed?

Has there been a study of this question and if not, is it now timely that we examine the future shape of our capital more closely?

Next, we will begin to examine the rapidly-growing city of Chaguanas.

Afra Raymond - Property Matters

The size of the St Clair lots and the generous widths of its streets have made it one of the most preferred locations for large, new commercial buildings.

The sheer volume of new commercial space in St Clair suggests that there could be serious traffic problems there within the next three years.