The Port Authority Of Jamaica, Royal Caribbean International and Florida-based developers are planning to have a new cruise port open in Falmouth by September of 2009 - in time for the November arrival of the first 220,000-ton, 5,400 passenger Genesis-class vessel.
Developers also plan to make the shoreside experience unique, including new commercial developments in colonial style with cobblestone streets and areas closed to automobile traffic.
One of Jamaica's first ports, the tiny north-shore town of Falmouth, had fallen into disrepair. The historic harbor had silted over, the existing dock was unsuitable for cruise traffic and the local economy had been depressed since much of the sugar industry left town in 1840.
But the town itself, with its wide streets and colonial-era architecture, retained an old-world charm that developers think could make it a vibrant new cruise
"It was almost a blank sheet of paper. It had a great history and past, but almost no commercial development," said Hue Darley, president of Orlandbased developers Idea Orlando.
"We didn't want to disturb a lot of the Georgian era architecture," Darley explained. "It's going to look very similar to the 1700s or 1800s."
Darley said the historic port - once one of the New World's richest - could one day become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The entire project will cost somewhere around $200 million, Darley estimated - a massive amount for Falmouth's century-and-a-half-long recession.
John Tercek, Royal Caribbean's vice president of commercial development, said his company was acting as an advisor to the Port Authority of Jamaica, which was the main force behind revamping Falmouth.
He said the Jamaican government had wanted to revitalize Falmouth for years. When a new highway was built connecting other towns along the north shore for the Cricket World Cup last year, the plan became more viable, Tercek said. Suddenly, Falmouth was in the perfect location - just 45 minutes away from tourist attractions outside Montego Bay and Ocho Rios.
"The whole government rallied at every level," he said. "This is mind blowing. This just doesn't happen anywhere, especially Jamaica. We're running to keep up with them."
The new pier at Falmouth - big enough to handle two Genesis-class ships - will help reduce congestion at Jamaica's other ports, Tercek said. And the new shopping center will meet the ships' massive spending potential.
"The spending power of that ship will be amazing," he said. ''We're going to create a new town adjacent to the existing town," he said of the new shopping district.
Tercek compared the project to historic tourism towns such as Virginia's Colonial Williamsburg.
"So when you get off the ship, tourists will get the experience of what Jamaica was like hundreds of years ago," he said. "Falmouth is just a teeny little town."
Dr. James Parrent, executive director of the nonprofit Falmouth Heritage Renewal, said locals were thrilled the development expands on their history instead of paving it over.
"People recognize the value of historic buildings," Parrent said. "The product they are trying to sell, if you will, is the history of the town."
The town of less than 15,000 people plans to plant 200 tree species, add horse-drawn buggy tours and widen pedestrian areas.
''We want to increase that atmosphere of a people friendly town," he said, noting that the ships' arrivals will change the town forever. "A 27-story vessel coming into a town where the tallest building is two stories is going to have an impact. But we can't just sit here in disrepair."
Tercek said many of the building contracts are still out to bid, nonetheless, the aggressive schedule has developers and town residents blowing almost two centuries of dust off Falmouth in just a few years.
"We've got 24 months, so we are hustling," Darley said.