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Improving Road Town One Building at a Time  –  When I first joined Property Guide, our office was, at the very least, a little outdated. My workspace consisted of a few feet of Nick’s side desk against a nubby cubicle divider and tucked below overhead storage, upon which I often bumped my head. Daylight barely infiltrated through the stained aluminium blinds. I lobbied to telecommute.

But since we expanded and revamped our offices, I look forward to spending my day in the clean, spacious, sunny spot we now call home. Our old space has been converted into a two-room suite with a separate conference room and a waiting area outfitted by Arawak Interiors. I look at the red and light grey paint and pleasantly recall the time I spent on a ladder with a paintbrush in my hand and headphones in my ears.    

Around the same time that aLookingGlass remodelled, our landlords, JOMA (Properties) Ltd, decided to refurbish the entire building which is located on the western outskirts of Road Town at Road Reef. The building, which currently houses a number of offices and retail businesses, was repartitioned to create eight new rental units, and the facade and exterior of the property were updated to create a crisp, modern look. They’ve repainted, added a brick walkway in front of the building and redesigned the storefronts so customers now have access to shops directly from the Sir Francis Drake Highway side of the property. The changes have made the property more attractive and also more visible. Passersby now notice the attractive roadside storefronts and pull in to check them out. In addition, the changes have resulted in additional amenities for both existing and new tenants which include a standby generator designed to power the entire building in the event of interruptions to the power supply, increased parking and attractive signage.


Photos by Yacht Shots

Barbara O’Neal of JOMA says it is “a deliberate focus of the company to improve its properties over time.” Not only do they hope to retain current tenants and attract new ones by the improvements, but JOMA also likes the idea of improving Road Town as a whole. Hence, even while it is has been carrying out other projects  JOMA has also been systematically working at upgrading and improving its older properties, such as Road Reef Plaza. “We have been receiving a lot of positive feedback from members of the public,” says Ms. O’Neal. “People have been surprised by the extent to which we have been able to transform the look and feel of the building.”

When I ask Ms. O’Neal what her ideal Road Town looks like, she says, “Clean, for one thing.” She then mentions that additional green spaces would benefit the capital, as well as systematically laid out sidewalks and roads. “Not only sidewalks, but pedestrian friendly spaces as well. And appropriate planting of trees to make attractive shade areas.” Since I often walk through town in the mornings, from the bottom of Joe’s Hill to Road Reef Plaza, I appreciate that she mentioned sidewalks. And shade. She also brings up the benefits of landscaping both for “functionality and for the aesthetic qualities that trees and other plants can bring.”

Ms. O’Neal’s ideal Road Town maintains it heritage by mixing contemporary and historic buildings, as already occurs in some parts of the current Road Town. One of JOMA’s current projects in Road Town, Commerce House, emulates this concept by introducing an ultramodern glass and brick structure on the Waterfront Drive side of the site while preserving the Fireproof building, which is a historic building on the Main Street side of the lot. Ms. O’Neal explains that prior to the Commerce House project the lot on which it stands housed, in addition to the Fireproof building, a small, two storey office and retail complex constructed of timber and block, most of which was constructed in the early 1970s and which, in the view of the Company’s directors, no longer represented the optimum use of the lot, both in terms of functionality and utilization of space.  



We discuss Christiansted, St Croix, and the historic preservation guidelines they have in place. “A distinction may, perhaps, be drawn between Christiansted and Road Town in the sense that Christiansted may have started out with a higher concentration of buildings of significant historic interest, but, nonetheless, one’s capital should represent one’s country, and we should, therefore, all care what it looks like. Though you don’t want to discourage people from developing because you impose standards that that are arbitrary, that are arbitrarily enforced or are so cost prohibitive that you prevent people from participating in the country’s development. That’s the balance. You don’t want to prohibit or restrict people in that way, but you still want your capital to have a certain image.” But she doesn’t believe in preservation just for the sake of preservation. She explains: “There are pictures when the main thoroughfare in Road Town was a dirt road.  But the charm of the dirt road is lost on the people who live here when they compare it to the benefits of improved infrastructure,” Ms. O’Neal adds. At the same time, she names the Coldwell Banker office as an example of an older building that was converted into modern offices. “Over time, that sort of activity does help and revitalize certain areas of town.”

I ask if she believes JOMA is improving Road Town. “I think that we are playing a role,” she says. Another JOMA project that has been rejuvenated is the O’Neal Building. “As we’ve renovated the O’Neal building, the refurbishment of the Commercial Court building is starting to be completed,” Ms. O’Neal tells me. “The two combined have made a big, visible difference to just that little corner of town. It’s coincidental that it happened at the same time, but it shows how much renovating an old building can dramatically change the appearance and feel of its surroundings.”  Similarly, they have recently rejuvenated a portion of their property at Lower Estate by constructing a single-level retail complex, complete with landscaped grounds, in an area that was formerly used as an office and work yard for a local construction company. According to Ms. O’Neal, JOMA plans as far as possible to continue to improve its existing properties while pursuing future development opportunities. Future plans include the renovation of the Fireproof building and improvements to the company’s commercial development at Port Purcell.

I know the appearance and feel of my surroundings at work have greatly improved both when I first arrive and see the fresh coat of paint and new signs on the building and when I step onto the brick pathway to National Education Services, Arawak Interiors or Tortola Express. Tamra Caul, manager of Tortola Express, also praises the changes and is pleased that her customers have better access to claim their packages, due to the parking lot on the side of the building near Tortola Express’s back door. “We also have better visibility,” Tamra says, “because before we were tucked back in the hallway, and now you can see our flags blowing from the road.”

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