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Wray & Nephew Pension Fund to redevelop old rum headquarters

The edifice that once housed premium rum maker J. Wray & Nephew Limited, JWN, is to be redeveloped by its owner, the Wray & Nephew Pension Fund, but no definitive plan has yet emerged.

The pension fund is still in the process of conducting a feasibility study on the property, JWN representatives reaffirmed on Thursday.

Jean-Philippe Beyer, who is both managing director of JWN and chairman of the pension fund, described the property market in downtown Kingston as “hot” with “a positive outlook”, a state of play that offers various options for monetising the vacant property.

“Some are interested in renting, others in a partnership with the pension fund to develop that property into some form of commercial operation,” said Beyer in an interview conducted last month.

“There are a couple of ideas and proposals. We are still pushing the numbers, and a lot of people are interested because downtown is hot right now,” he said.

A manager at the company added that the feasibility study is being done in conjunction with “external partners”, who were unnamed, “to determine the best use and returns for the building”.

The pension fund acquired the property from JWN. The price and year of sale were not ascertained up to press time. The building sits at 24 Port Royal Street in downtown Kingston and extends for an entire block. It was the head office of the company from 1909 until the early 1970s when JWN moved its headquarters to Kingston’s industrial belt on Spanish Town Road.

Beyer said the sale to the pension fund allowed the wider company to focus on its core activities.

“We are focused on rum production, not real estate,” he said.

“The first inclination was to sell it and let people do whatever they want, but we said, ‘that’s not a good idea’ because downtown has a bright future,” Beyer added. “It is going to take a while, but it is starting, and we should be a part of that.”

JWN is Jamaica’s top rum producer and owner of the famous and centuries-old Appleton Estate. Its top brands are Appleton and Wray & Nephew.

The spirits company, which is owned by Campari Group of Italy, earned about $12 billion in revenue in the first half of this year, January to June. Sales improved by more than 17 per cent in the period due to the performance of the Magnum Tonic Wine, Appleton Estate, and Wray & Nephew Overproof brands.

As for the redevelopment plans for the building, Beyer said fund administrator Sagicor Life would make proposals to the directors of the pension fund to inform a final decision. He added that the pension fund objectives can be vastly different from the company’s.

“If it comes out that the best return on investment for that property has nothing to do with our brand, then that’s what we will take,” he said, referring to the approach to be taken regarding the choice of investment options.

In 2012, when Campari Italy acquired the rum group, it stripped the company then called Lascelles deMercado of its non-sugar and non-rum assets. What remained was the core rum-making entity, J. Wray & Nephew Limited.

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