Jamaica's government plans to spend $21 million over a five-year period to renovate and revitalize Ocho Rios, the island's tourist center on the north coast whose physical appearance has slipped in recent years.

Infrastructure developments will include the launch of several new tourism products, according to Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett.

"This development is part of plans by the Ministry of Tourism to ensure that the country's tourism product is enhanced and that Jamaica maintains its image as having more attractions than all of the Caribbean combined," Bartlett said.

To launch the initiative, Bartlett recently toured sections of Ocho Rios earmarked for extensive, tourism-related development. These included the Reynolds Pier and the Ocho Rios Pier, where the cruise ships dock, as well as the proposed site of a new arts-and-crafts market and village.

(The Reynolds Pier was featured in the 1962 James Bond film "Dr. No," starring Sean Connery and Ursula Andress.)

"We have taken a serious look at some of the critical areas of decay in the Ocho Rios area and have focused primarily on the areas of sanitation and what I call 'the uglification' of the town of Ocho Rios," Bartlett said.

"We have also looked at some new developments for the town, one of which is the Artisan Village."

Better drains on tap

Bartlett described the village as a "new concept in merchandising" that will serve as a display site not only for products made by Jamaicans but also as a showcase for the techniques used to create the authentic and one-of-a-kind wares. Visitors will be able to tour the village and buy the products.

The estimated cost for the construction of the Artisan Village is approximately $11.7 million, according to Bartlett.

"We also will be spending about $1 million to improve the general look and condition of the town itself over the next eight months," he added. "I have allocated $11,500 just for the maintenance of the street drains on a weekly basis."

Bartlett also pointed out that it was up to the people and the business community of Ocho Rios to help keep the town clean and presentable.

"The people have to buy into this and take that responsibility," Bartlett said. "We can invest in fixing up the sidewalks, keeping the drains free of debris and sweeping the streets, but this cannot be sustained unless the community buys into it and stops throwing garbage all over the place."

The minister launched an islandwide anti-litter campaign in August in Montego Bay, stressing the importance of Jamaica's appearance as a tourist destination.

For Caribbean and Mexico news, follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly.

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