The Promise of St Thomas

Turn right off the A4 on the eastern edge of Bull Bay across from the Kingdom Hall, down a narrow lane between ramshackle huts and zinc fence, and across the unmarked parish border you’ll find Bob Marley Beach. Fishing canoes rest idle, Rastas burn ganja in the shade, and the sounds of reggae drift on the breeze. Far from the famous beaches of Negril, few locals know this fishermen’s enclave, and fewer foreign visitors still. Those who do find their way to Jamaica’s easternmost parish marvel at the beauty of its rugged, windswept coastline, in places rocky, in others pebbled, or lined with black or golden sand. So named for being one of the late legend’s favourite chill spots, Bob Marley Beach is a fitting entryway to an underexplored parish dotted with laid back and lightly visited attractions.

Notwithstanding its economic relevance historically as a major banana, cattle and sugar producing region, St Thomas has all but escaped the frenzied development that catapulted much of Jamaica into the modern era post- independence. It’s often referred to as the forgotten parish, and for good reason, as anyone who’s punished their vehicle on its roads can attest. There are still no stoplights in the parish, its largest town has less than 100,000 inhabitants, and it wasn’t until 2022 that Kentucky Fried Chicken announced plans to establish its first location in the parish at the Morant Bay Urban Centre on the grounds of the old Goodyear tire factory. Forgotten indeed.

The Morant Bay Urban Centre is part of the Government of Jamaica’s Tourism Destination Development and Management Plan (TDDMP) 2019-2030 for the parish, and will be home to a university campus, a bank, business process outsourcing (BPO) facilities, a courthouse, and the Paul Bogle Museum.

The government’s comprehensive plan aims to position St Thomas as an attractive place to live and an up-and-coming tourism destination by improving road infrastructure, supporting small businesses, and protecting the natural environment, among several other focus areas. The plan aims to facilitate the construction of 4,170 new hotel rooms, grow visitor expenditure to US$244 million, and add 13,000 new jobs to the local economy by 2030.

The roadwork underway on the A4 is the most visible manifestation of the improvement plan to date, addressing a longstanding need and obvious prerequisite for making the parish more accessible to commuters and tourists alike. Real estate developers have lost no time breaking ground on bold projects alongside the road construction in anticipation of a growing demand for residential and tourism properties.

Kevin Fritz is the developer behind Sun Coast Beach Club, an ambitious 91-acre resort-style gated residential community overlooking the craggy