Giftland OfficeMax President Roy Beepat believes that the company’s $6 billion investment in its showpiece shopping mall currently under construction at Liliendaal, on the East Coast Demerara, is a high-profile reflection of the “upward trajectory” of Guyana’s investment climate.
He says it makes a strong statement about the level of private sector confidence in the country’s economy. More than that, he believes the mall will bring a positive change to aspects of the culture of consumer behaviour in Guyana; his argument being that as Guyana grows consumers deserve better. “When completed we can take pride in having the largest department store in the English-speaking Caribbean,” he adds. “The whole idea is to offer Guyanese consumers a new experience that goes way beyond just shopping.”
The deadline for completion is still months away. Beepat is hoping for a December opening. He is acutely aware of the fact that an October deadline had earlier being proffered by the company. December, too, may be a tough ask but Beepat believes the result will be more than worth the wait.
The caution that attends responses to questions about an opening date is underpinned by an awareness that key infrastructure inputs like the mall’s state-of-the-art, multi-million electricity generating plant, the highly technical installation of which will require expert external engineers, is still to be done. Then there is the construction of a car park on a three-acre plot contiguous to the mall, which, Beepat says, is awaiting the completion of discussions on matters pertaining to the lease arrangement.
For Roy Beepat the creation of the new mall is a personal preoccupation. In order to effectively oversee the creation of the mall he had long transferred his own office from Giftland’s Water Street shopping complex to the Liliendaal project site, next to the Caribbean Community Secretariat. A plan of the unfolding complex is pinned to the wall in his current makeshift office and a hardhat lying casually on a table gives the impression of hands-on supervision of the project itself.
Meanwhile, the day-to-day operations of Giftland’s downtown Georgetown department store have been left in the hands of its serving Chief Executive Officer, Ian Ramdeo.
The mall is the realisation of an eight-year-old ambition to give the Giftland brand a deserving home. Beyond that, Beepat regards the mall—believed to be the country’s largest ever local private sector investment—as a landmark accomplishment for the country’s business community. “I believe that the faith in the country’s economy which this project symbolises can inspire other local investors to undertake equally significant investments,” he says.
The Giftland Mall spreads itself over 10 acres of real estate. The building complex itself sits on a 300,000-square-foot portion of the property. It makes provision for the re-siting of the current Giftland Complex plus the creation of trading space for 140 concessionaires.
Beepat says that Giftland’s own showpiece store will enable the company to significantly refine its service to consumers both qualitatively and quantitatively. In the latter regard a the Giftland range of consumer items will include selectively sourced home furnishings and other accoutrement, products which, Beepat says, could not, up until now, be accommodated on account of considerations of space.
From a quality standpoint, Beepat says, the mall will be ‘raising its game’ by dedicating entire areas of the facility to popular high-quality brands. For good measure he allows brands like JC Penney, Walmart and Macy’s to slip, a tactic clearly designed to whet consumers’ appetite without giving too much away.
Conceptually, Beepat says, the mall goes way beyond a mere facility for trading. Caribbean Cinemas leads a host of other investors who will be bringing services to the facility. On the tour of the complex, Beepat continually gestures to spaces dedicated to cinemas, children’s play areas, an English pub, a sports bar, a grill and restaurants offering multi-cultural cuisine.
Giftland’s facility will employ approximately 800 service staff. The concessionaires will bring a further 1,200 employees and Beepat does not miss the opportunity to make the point that an investment that provides employment for 2,000 persons is a tribute to the role which the private sector plays in the country’s economy.
Beepat painstakingly articulates the myriad “ideas” and novel features that comprise the Giftland Mall. Those, he says, are intended to create “a unique experience.” The complex includes a bus terminal with cafeteria and restroom facilities. Designed to accommodate up to 90 buses the facility will also allow for a free shuttle service between the complex and the University of Guyana campus.
Earlier this week as the workforce on site was busying itself with the completion of the physical infrastructure, Beepat had already turned his attention to one of the last remaining projects that comprise the complex – the car park. It is, he says, an integral part of an initiative designed “to create every reason for consumers to visit the mall.”
Back in his temporary office Beepat reflects on private sector investment in Guyana, pointing to what he describes as “the significance” of initiatives like the recent Canadian-organised forum on foreign private investment in Guyana. “It gives us a sense of the direction in which we are hoping to take the investment climate,” he says. As far as the Giftland Mall is concerned he believes that it is an example of the kinds of domestic private sector investments that have made an eminent case for comparable official attention. These are among the issues on which he may well be reflecting as he awaits the outcome of engagements with government that should see the start of the car park and the full and final completion of the landmark project.