Trust urges public to oppose Southampton Princess SDO
A conservation charity urged residents today to speak out against a proposal for almost 150 residential units at the Fairmont Southampton resort.
The Bermuda National Trust, in a letter signed by its executive director, Karen Border, said that the properties will have a “severe” negative impact on the site’s tourism offering and the environment in general.
It came after Westend Properties, an affiliate of the Miami-based investment firm Gencom, unveiled plans to area residents to add a total of 261 units to the resort in a phased construction project expected to last up to 20 years.
Ms Border said that the BNT was pleased that the redevelopment of the iconic hotel — closed in October 2020 — looked as if it will begin soon, bringing “much needed economic benefit” to the island and hundreds of jobs.
She added: “BNT strongly supports the Bermuda tourism industry, which is such an important part of our economy and of our cultural heritage.
“For this reason, we understand that building additional fractional tourism units on the Fairmont Southampton site may be necessary to make the hotel renovation more financially viable and to increase visitor beds and local job opportunities.”
Ms Border wrote: “However, we are extremely concerned with the proposed new special development order, which would double the number and height of the buildings proposed in 2009 from 130 to 261 units, some of them six storeys high, saturating all the remaining open space on the site — apart from the golf course — in concrete.
“Our primary concern is with the addition of the 147 proposed residential units, most of which will be sold to foreign buyers as second homes and would bring very limited benefit to Bermuda and Bermudians.
“Gencom will gain from the sale of these units, but everyone else would lose, as they would have a severe negative impact on the tourism amenity at Fairmont Southampton and our environment overall.
“The golfing experience and the views from and of the hotel will be impacted, and the infrastructure and facilities of the whole site will be overburdened.
“In exchange, Bermuda gets a short-term bump in construction business, and some low-paid cleaning jobs.”
An SDO granted in 2009 gave planning permission in principle for 71 fractional tourism properties, 37 residential villas and 22 town homes.
Plans seen recently by area residents indicated that the developers hoped to add 114 tourism units, each with two to four bedrooms, at the site, as well as the 147 residential units.
Westend Properties said in a February update that a new SDO application was “in the process of being submitted”.
The company added: “The footprint is not substantially different from the SDO that was granted in 2009, but there is a proposed increase in the number of villas as well as in the height of some of the residential and tourism units.”
It also noted that 62 per cent of the site would remain as green space and recreational areas and that construction of the villas will not start “until well after the hotel renovations have commenced”.
The owner claimed that if the SDO project was approved, it would have a $312.9 million impact on construction, with $462.2 million “flowing to local business“. The overall impact of the project on the economy over 20 years was estimated at $846 million, according to figures credited to the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Ms Border said in her letter today that while Gencom argued that residential development was needed for the economic viability of the wider project, the proposal was “simply not sustainable for Bermuda”.
She feared that the development could “damage the visitor appeal of the hotel and fractional tourism units, which generate much greater income for the island and provide attractive careers for Bermudians”.
Ms Border wrote: “Gencom is only doing what companies do: trying to maximise profits. That is to be expected.
“It is up to the Government of Bermuda, guided by the voices of Bermudians, to determine the appropriate parameters in which it is allowed to do that, weighing up the delicate balance between the economic benefits of development and protection of the natural beauty on which our tourism offering and the quality of life of all Bermuda residents depend.
“BNT strongly believes that to allow the special development order as proposed would not respect that balance.
“We urge the people of Bermuda to make their voices heard loudly against the residential portion of this proposed development.”
When contacted for comment, a spokeswoman for Gencom said the company had not been given enough time to respond fully. Government was also contacted for comment.
Karim Alibhai, the founder and principal of Gencom, said earlier that the residential component of the development project "will be very thoughtfully done“.
Legislators heard last May that the Government would give a guarantee on a loan for the Fairmont Southampton hotel redevelopment project of up to $75 million, representing 21 per cent of the cost, which was $376 million at the time.
Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works, told MPs in March that the outlay was now expected to be $450 million.
A string of incentives approved last year was estimated to provide between $121 million and $133 million in tax concessions over 15 years to the resort’s owner.
Vance Campbell, the Minister of Tourism and the Cabinet Office, said then: “It means the hotel must first pay the normal tax or customs duty in accordance with existing law, before being entitled to a rebate.
“In turn, the rebate will flow back to pay the loan the Government has guaranteed.”
Mr Campbell said that the new arrangement would reduce the Government’s exposure and help the essential redevelopment of the island’s biggest resort to go ahead.