There was good news this week when it was announced that land at Morgans Point has been transferred to developers Craig Christensen, Brian Duperreault and Nelson Hunt in return for their property at Southlands in Warwick.
On the face of it, this is a good deal. An important piece of green space in a heavily populated and environmentally sensitive area will be saved and opened to the public at the same time that the Morgans Point area, a classic brownfield site, will be developed, almost two decades after it was returned by the US Navy.
If all goes as planned, this will provide tourism and the economy with jobs and an important new resort which should help to put Bermuda back on the map.
Still, as Mr Christensen stated, the five years that it has taken for this land transfer to take place lays bare the problems facing hotel developers in Bermuda.
Developers must already take account of high land and building costs in developing a property before starting to deal with the high costs of operating a hotel. But before that, developers face a monumental task in getting a hotel project through the Byzantine approval process. No one disputes this and it was almost as difficult under the United Bermuda Party before 1998 as it is now.
Former Premier Dr Ewart Brown, the then-Minister of Tourism and Transport, assigned his own Cabinet Secretary to the task of cutting through the red tape, but even then, the task proved to be almost insuperable. Nor is this an endorsement of special development orders, or a suggestion that corners should be cut.
But there has to be a better way to ensure that the list of approvals and agreements needed for a hotel development can be checked off in an expedited way. It should not, even with the environmental challenges that Morgans Point posed, take five years. Social media website Facebook was only beginning to take off in 2007 and now it is a behemoth. In that same time period, Bermuda could not organise a land transfer.
Mr Christensen suggested that an independent tourism authority might be the answer, and this is indeed another reason to support such an institution.
There was also a good deal of political interference in the Southlands-Morgans Point deal, and while politicians must lay down guides for where tourism and the economy should go, they should also let the developers, who are taking the personal risk, manage the project. Obviously, the developers still have a great deal to do and face substantial challenges to get this project off the ground.
It is worrying that none of them, while all possessing excellent and varied business backgrounds, have tourism experience, which the recent travails of some local properties suggest is crucial. They will also face the challenges, even in a down economy, of dealing with high local development and operating costs. It will not be easy.
Still, a smaller scale Atlantis-style development should work in Bermuda and will bring a younger visitor to the Island as well. But the developers will have to keep a tight grip on costs and will have to be very to ensure its success.
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