St George trying to attract more local businesses
The Corporation of St George has launched a social-media campaign to entice new business in advance of new redevelopment expected soon for the old town.
One advertisement raises the prospect of a business agenda that could include a lunch meetings at Wahoo’s restaurant, followed by tennis at the St George’s Club before getting around to client debriefings at 4pm.
The corporation is hoping to get tenants for the slew of vacant buildings around the old town.
Among the problems is that the vacant buildings that could house new development are not owned by the corporation.
Administration officials, in many cases, have no idea who owns them.
“We do not have an open register to find out who the property owners are in this municipality,” said Candy-Lee Foggo, the corporation town manager and secretary. “Individually, we can find out who owns what through word of mouth or we can knock on doors. But that becomes labour intensive.”
People who are interested in renting or buying space are asked to speak to local real estate agents.
Ms Foggo said the reason they had no register was because they had no municipal taxes, one of the advantages of moving to St George.
“If the tax regime changed, then this would be a consideration,” she said.
Ms Foggo said that sometimes there was no incentive for landlords to utilise their empty buildings.
“Sometimes people say the building is already paid for so there is no motivation for them to rent the building,” Ms Foggo said. “If it stays vacant it is no skin off their backs.”
But it has caught the attention of many interested observers.
At a town meeting held at Penno’s Wharf in April, some attendees called the number of vacant buildings in the old town a “blot on the landscape”.
Then town mayor George Dowling III said the corporation was considering putting a tax on vacant buildings to try to encourage development. He is no longer in office.
The meeting was held to discuss a strategic plan for the town that has been in the making for the past three years. A draft of the plan gives one of the corporation’s goals as fostering a supportive environment for business and investment, and “removing barriers to innovation”.
“I do think some businesses forget about St George when they are setting up,” Ms Foggo told The Royal Gazette.
She said no municipal tax and a beautiful location, were some of the location’s advantages.
She said St George was very busy right now as peak tourism season hit but in the winter months things became very quiet.
“We have a pretty good residential community but the majority do not work in St George,” she said. “They commute out of the town then come back in the evenings once everything has wound down for the day. The same businesses that many people are commuting to, could be operating in St George.”
She urged old town landowners to be a part of the solution. The corporation would like to see more landlords of vacant properties, either occupying them or renting them out to other entrepreneurs. Landlords who need help with the cost of upkeep or painting, can talk to the Corporation of St George or the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation.
“St George is deemed an economic empowerment zone so the BEDC offers various benefits to setting up a business in the town,” Ms Foggo said. “We have all the amenities including state-of-the art meeting spaces.”
The BEDC’s St George offices for the EEZ are upstairs of the post office on York Street.
“It is meant to be an economic hub and has access to meeting-room space, as well,” Ms Foggo said.
She acknowledged that because of St George’s heritage as Bermuda’s first capital and its designation as a Unesco World Heritage site, there was a lot of regulation around what could be done to the structure of buildings there.
“I am not saying that the designation stifles development, just that there is more regulation to abide by,” Ms Foggo said. “I’m not saying you cannot develop.”
There are some bright spots. Restaurateur Marico Thomas opened the Three King’s Restaurant at King’s Square in St George last month and retailer Urban Cottage has moved in.
“A few buildings in town recently changed ownership,” Ms Foggo said. “In the next few months or so, we should see progress in terms of redevelopment.”