Eastside Plaza vendors, management at odds

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Eastside Plaza tenant Andre Remy (L) talks to reporter Sunshine Arthur (C) as president of the Eastside Plaza Tenant Association.

JOEY BARTLETT AND SUNSHINE ARTHUR

Eastside Plaza Tenants Association president Felix Hospedales is calling on Housing Minister Camille Robinson-Regis to keep her promise and help them.

Hospedales said Robinson-Regis visited the plaza late last year and promised to return to hear and help with their concerns.

He said on October 20, mall manager Dayne Francois sent a letter to the association saying the Port of Spain Shopping Complex LTD (POSSCL) board, which is responsible for the mall, no longer recognises the association as a legitimate body. He said the board have made no improvements to the plaza and management has gone silent.

Hospedales said the association was formed many years ago but was legalised in 2021 and acknowledged by the board. Speaking with Newsday on Thursday, he called the letter shocking, saying it came without warning.

Hospedales believes tenants “pressuring” the board to address their concerns played a role in the board no longer recognising the association, citing major electrical issues affecting nine businesses, leaking roofs affecting electrical panels, faulty plumbing and cracked floors. He said the women’s toilets have not worked for over two months. “Women now have to use the men’s toilet.”

He said Montgomery Guy, who is POSSCL’s new director as of 2022, shows little interest in the well-being of tenants and has only visited the plaza a handful of times. Hosepdales said tenants are frustrated and management has taken to issuing letters for unpaid rent instead of making any attempt to address their “laundry list“ of concerns.

Hospedales called for better advertising, which he believes can increase customer traffic and a proper facility that enhances the overall shopping experience and safety. He said since the covid19 pandemic, things are a lot harder, but management and the board are not working with tenants.

In a phone interview with Newsday, Guy denied the association’s claims, saying at least five discussions were held with the vendors and association.

He described Eastside Plaza as aged, and he said POSSCL has been spending money on remedial work to treat the discomfort of tenants, such as electrical and plumbing work.

“They are aware; they are informed. The board of directors met with them face-to-face at their facility and had several discussions with them in October.”

Guy said there are plans to refurbish the entire mall, but this can only be done when vendors are relocated. He said the long-term goal is a “spanking new mall.”

Despite not being able to give a time frame for the new mall, he said POSSCL is working on having vendors relocated to suitable venues.

“Our hope is that the relocation will take place before the end of the fiscal year (September), and within the new fiscal year, refurbishment works will begin.”

He denied the association’s claim that it had not been told about the plans.

He cited the merger of Eastside Mall and New City Mall as the reason the board no longer recognises the association as a legal body.

He said the board supports an association for all POSSCL’s plazas. He believes an individual association does not make sense. He said the malls no longer operate as separate entities, and what would have been registered as Eastside Plaza has been de-registered.Guy said it was not an issue of POSSCL not wanting to recognise the association, but the association can no longer be a representative body for an entity that no longer exists officially.

He said to ensure streamlined operations, the board has encouraged tenants to form one association.

Responding to Newsday via WhatsApp, Guy said POSSCL has been working closely with the tenants to develop their businesses and management is aware of challenges at the mall.

“Tenants enjoy heavily subsidised rent and they have been approved for training in several different business disciplines. We are on the cusp of integrating the malls with different agencies to ensure upward mobility.”

He said management has asked tenants to fulfil their obligations, mainly paying their monthly rent, which has been challenging. He said over $4 million is owed in rent.

“This is unacceptable. Tenants need to understand the symbiotic relationship that should exist between landlord and tenant. They are not paying their rent. This must change immediately in order for us to mitigate some of the ills at the malls.”

He ended by saying contracts have been issued to deal with electrical problems and the maintenance of AC units has been dealt with.

Newsday spoke to tenant Rosemarie Thomas-Cambridge on Thursday, who believes management is not doing a good job of managing the plaza.

“When I WhatsApp management, they’re never available. They lapsing. Holidays no longer bring much business. Nobody wants to come here – the place is dismal.”

Hairdresser Andre Remy admitted he is behind a year in rent, but attributed this to covid19, adding, “There are frequent power outages. How do they expect us to do business in the dark?”

Remy said the mall does not invite people and most people believe it has been abandoned or closed down.

Janice Mars, a seamstress whose main issue is her leaking roof, called the situation unbearable. While at her booth, Newsday observed visible water damage.

Mars pleaded for the women’s toilet to be fixed, calling it a safety concern.

“Everyone has to use the male bathroom, and sometimes I am even responsible for providing people with toilet paper.”

Echoing Mars’s concern, Sandra Lewis added two toilets for the entire mall are not feasible. The Fine Print Bookstore owner said her main concern is no AC.

“For years the AC has not worked. The majority of the tenants here pay their rent, so what is the problem?”

Newsday tried contacting Robinson-Regis, but was unsuccessful.