$1b FirstRock luxury villas for St Thomas

The parish of St Thomas is not usually associated with luxury living, although its diverse topography offers some of the best vistas in Jamaica. The magnificent hill and oceanfront views are precisely what real estate investment and development firm FirstRock is seeking to cash in on with an investment of more than $1 billion to construct several luxury villas on a six-acre property there as part of its foray into the hospitality business in the parish.

The development will be a 50/50 joint venture between FirstRock Capital, one of the several entities in the FirstRock group, and a corporation, which Group Chairman and CEO Ryan Reid has declined to name.

“We are bringing luxury oceanfront villas to the parish of St Thomas. The first of its kind for the parish. Five high-end villas with all modern amenities,” Reid told the Financial Gleaner.

Construction is slated start this year but a target date for the units to hit the market has not been disclosed.

“We are putting the professional team together and we are excited about the prospects for the development,” Reid said.

He indicated that the area holds promise for FirstRock as, with its significant beach frontage, it allows the company to expand into the hospitality segment of the real estate market, suggesting that the villas will go on the market as accommodation rentals. The FirstRock group, with companies incorporated in Jamaica and overseas, also has a realty business that handles real estate sales and rentals.

Reid did not say whether the villas would be sold or kept in FirstRock’s growing real estate holdings for rental income.

In recent years, St Thomas has been receiving government-financed capital investments, including the ongoing spend on the south coast highway project. The move towards developing the parish’s tropical landscape and sandy beaches has the potential to contribute to reversing some of the rural poverty it has suffered particularly as a result of the decline of the sugar-growing economy, on which it was reliant for years, as well as the closure of other big agri-businesses, including the Serge Island milk plant.

The St Thomas villas constitute FirstRock’s third real estate development project in Jamaica and its fourth overall, including a high-rise project being done in Costa Rica. FirstRock also has plans for its fifth project, which would see the development of a residential complex on lands it acquired for US$5 million in the upscale Kingston six area of St Andrew.

“We are in the process of completing the concept. We will not purpose that property for a high-rise,” said Reid about the St Andrew property.

FirstRock operates in Jamaica, Cayman, Barbados, Costa Rica and United States. FirstRock Capital made a profit of US$3 million for its December 2021 year-end, higher than the US$2.6 million a year earlier. It reported US$45 million in total assets and equity of US$32.3 million at December 2021.

Its core business activities are holding investments with a focus on real estate acquisition, development and rental. “The company’s primary aim is to provide its shareholders with a tax-efficient vehicle, offering an enhanced level of income, above-average dividend yields and preservation of capital through the diversification of assets,” its audited financials said.

In September 2021, St Lucia-registered FirstRock Capital Holdings secured US$10 million of debt financing from Sagicor Bank Jamaica for the Hambani Estates project, a 12-unit real estate development in the Kingston six area, targeted at high-end buyers.

Hambani will feature seven five-bedroom residences on two storeys, and five four-bedroom residences on three storeys. It is due for completion in April 2022.

The units priced US$1.8 million and US$2 million are being marketed by a number of realtors with more than one-third of them reportedly already sold.

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