Dayne Francois

East Side Plaza manager Dayne Francois speaks to the Express at his office last month.

—Photo: Curtis Chase

The Chinese are not going to buy and take over East Side Plaza located on the popular Charlotte Street in Port of Spain .

The plaza is to be renovated and refurbished at a cost of approximately $45 million funded by an Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) loan.

East Side Plaza vendor Kimberly Strong said she started a business a short while ago “but I am excited about the change”. About 100 years old, the building has been used since 1991 as a business incubator for entrepreneurs to grow their businesses.

East Side Plaza manager Dayne Francois told Express Business the building is going to be refurbished soon and dispelled rumours the Chinese government is “going to buy and take over the Plaza”.

“That’s furthest from the truth. It cannot be validated by good sense, and authenticated by name. We have been due for an upgrade,” Francois explained.

East Side Plaza, which is located at the “Old Charlotte Street market,” houses about 151 tenants and 156 booths.

The Plaza has two floors, including the retail area, which costs about $375 per square foot; and upstairs, which has the production area, and costs about $525 per month.

There was an exception for an elderly woman who paid $175 for her kiosk.

Francois said he has been locked in discussions on matters concerning the plaza with Housing and Urban Development Minister Pennelope Beckles; Minister in the Ministry Adrian Leonce and acting permanent secretary Claire Davidson-Williams.

Iconic edifice

Last week, Beckles described the renovation plan as an intervention.

She said two other State entities in Port of Spain will be included in this new development under one entity.

“It will serve to significantly boost the economic performance and attraction of this iconic edifice that once served the capital city’s historic market. In so doing the project would result in the rebranding of three malls: the East Side Plaza, New City Mall and 43 Independence Square - as a single entity under the Port of Spain Shopping Complex Ltd,” she said.

The minister also shut down the notion that the Government is selling East Side Plaza to the Chinese.

She noted that the project will be funded by an IDB loan.

In November 2020 Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley unveiled the Government’s plan to revitalise the capital city when he admitted it was the 17th attempt to revamp it. The plans also include the revitalisation of the Piccadilly Street Development.

Physical challenges

Francois said a massive earthquake struck the plaza in 2018, and shifted a wall at the southern end.

“The (City) Corporation came. The fire department came. The structure was declared structurally sound. The wall was dislodged but there is work to be done,” he said.

Last week, an alarm was raised when the roof shook due to inclement weather.

“People trembled and they ran into my office. We had to call in the contractors to look after the roof,” he said.

“It’s the old Charlotte Street market. The design does not make for a community environment. We have no cooling system. It’s very hot,” he said.

Outlining a litany of woes, Francois said he had to contend with pressing maintenance issues.

“Pest control ranks among our biggest problems. We have bug infections. Rats and rodents scamper in from the streets. Cats make mas in the place because of the gaping holes throughout the entrances. Several holes were repaired. They climb from the (Diamond Steel Orchestra) panyard. It’s a no-win situation. If you get rid of the cats the rats come,” he said.

The East Side Plaza manager also had to cough up about $30,000 in claims for damage to electrical equipment and clothes caused by water seepage.

Francois has also been having discussions with chairman of Community Recovery Committee, Anthony Watkins, about the building being used as a “thoroughfare” for bandits fleeing law enforcement officers.

“I don’t want to say much but sometimes they run across the Plaza to get to George Street. It’s not safe for customers and vendors,” he said.

He also indicated that the Plaza was burdened by some vendors who could not meet their monthly rent.

“It got worse during Covid-19. Some vendors could not even make the $375. Port of Spain is replete with talent, people making exquisite hand crafted jewelry. We have people teaching YTEPP at the Plaza. How can you be so talented and not be able to pay the rent? Some of them went home. I know their struggles. We have to find a way to help them,” he said.

Move to Queens Plaza

Francois said before construction begins apace, vendors will be relocated to the proposed site at Queens Plaza at 62 Queen Janelle Commissiong Street.

He said: “Queens Plaza appears to be the place but some of the tenants are not too pleased. It has four levels. The challenge is to fit every person into the designated space. Some hairdressers have agreed to share a common space. They have been saying, ‘half a loaf is better than none.’ Issues have to be worked out. Some vendors were stuck in the United States because of Covid-19. Some want a written document stating they have access to the Plaza when the refurbishment works are completed. Some elder vendors are saying they might just go home.”

Francois said he was an advocate of the “Stanford Model” in business which entails analysing the business models of competitors and incumbents, understanding what a business is and how to structure it by examining the characteristics of common types of business models.

“The Stanford Model shows how value is created, what is the profit model, and what is the logic of the business. We have people here who were supposed to stay for a year but they ended up staying for about 30 to 40 years. It’s unfair to young people who have unbridled energy and untapped talent. They want to do so much. They want to experiment with their entrepreneurial spirit,” Francois added.

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