Exemption for hotel work during lockdown pulled after two days – The Royal Gazette | Bermuda News, Business, Sports, Events, & Community

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Exemption for hotel work during lockdown pulled after two days

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Construction work continuing this week at the St Regis Hotel site in St George’s (Photograph supplied)
The 120-room St Regis Hotel (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

A special exemption for the construction of a St George’s resort to continue during lockdown has been scrapped after two days, the developers said last night.

Construction bosses had queried why work at the St Regis was being allowed to carry on when other projects have had to stop as the island’s cases of Covid-19 soared.

But last night the developer, Hotelco, said permission for the building to continue during lockdown had been abruptly pulled.

A spokeswoman said: “We received an exemption from the Government of Bermuda after long conversations with the Premier and his team.

“This exemption was granted by the Ministry of National Security.”

She said there had been no explanation given for “why this exemption is being revoked after only two days”.

The ongoing work at St Regis resort this week raised eyebrows across the construction industry, after residents were ordered home as part of strict health regulations.

The East End project, which is nearing completion, was initially granted permission by the Ministry of National Security for hotel employees to keep working “until the expiration of the stay-at-home order”, according to a document seen by The Royal Gazette.

Simon Tully, the president of the Construction Association of Bermuda, questioned how the St Regis site got approval when the Azura hotel in Warwick, also scheduled to open soon, got shut down.

Mr Tully said: “Why open one site that’s a tourism product, and not open another site that’s also a tourism product? That’s the problem the association has – it’s the same beast, but only one stays open.

“The Azura was scheduled to open later this month as well. I genuinely think that’s not fair to all. Why single out St Regis?”

A video clip taken from a car passing the site, allegedly showing construction workers, was widely shared this week in the wake of a one-week stay-home order that came into effect on Tuesday.

Mr Tully said: “The whole point of this lockdown is to have people isolated. It’s about Covid. It’s not about opening times.”

Will Irvine, executive director of the association, said it was difficult to comment without knowing the “nuances” of the project.

The hotel is scheduled to open in May.

Mr Irvine added: “There might be key workers doing emergency work, if they’re halfway through the installation of something that’s critical. It could easily be something categorised as essential and allowed to continue.

“Them working should not be at the expense of other construction sites not working, but I can see why that might have been given slightly different consideration.”

The Gazette reported this week that most of the condo units built under the first phase of the project were under agreement for sale.

Mr Irvine pointed to the aggressive vaccination strategy in the United States and the island’s goal to attain “herd immunity”, with 70 per cent of the population immunised, by the Bermuda Day holiday of May 28.

“There will be a lot of freshly vaccinated American tourists with a bunch of money saved for the last year looking to travel,” Mr Irvine said.

“We want those people here, and we need to recognise some things may need to continue.”

But he added: “I could imagine the Green Family asking why the work at Point House could not continue.”

No reason for the permission appeared on an apparent copy of the exemption, also widely shared via social media.

An industry source familiar with the project, who asked not to be identified, said he knew “the kind of stress that project is under”.

“Given the Government’s guarantee associated with the project, there’s probably a lot of stress riding on the dates there.

“What protocols are in place, I don’t know – but in the last lockdown, even in the strictest phase, there were a few projects that were allowed to continue. I do think it’s incumbent on as many of us as possible to stay under lockdown.”

The resort was given a government guarantee of up to $25 million in May 2017, towards the $60 million loan from Butterfield Bank for Hotelco Bermuda Holding Ltd, which is part of the Desarrollos Hotelco Group behind the development.

The National Security Minister Renee Ming said the approval had been “made in error”.

She said the “exemption approval issued to the St Regis developers to conduct construction at the site during the Stay-at-Home period has been rescinded - effective immediately”.

Ms Ming added that the approval was made in error, saying: “In the haste to respond to more than 1,500 exemption requests received, an exemption was issued to St Regis without my authority and without me having the opportunity to fully consider the application.

”Like most of Bermuda, I became aware of the work going on at the site today. And after further discussion with the developers I have advised them of this position.

“The approval has since been rescinded. The Ministry extends its apologies for any angst and frustration this matter has caused the public during these very sensitive times for our country.”