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We need to start waterfront project

There is much in Government's Throne Speech that points to progressive steps in improving the lives of residents and tackling our most serious challenges. One of the most significant is the development of the Hamilton waterfront. This project has the potential to be transformative for Bermuda in so many ways and it is important it be done right and undertaken with a level of urgency.

I agree with the sentiment of Frank Stocek, outgoing general manager of Elbow Beach Hotel, that the development has to be iconic; it must have a compelling design that in and of itself draws global attention; and if the design speaks to something quintessentially Bermudian, all the better. Two further aspects are critical: (1) an international design competition should be launched and (2) the Department of Planning may have to suppress its proclivity toward bland conformity.

Developing the waterfront is currently being led by a triumvirate of Government, Corporation of Hamilton and business people. We need to expand this group to include community-minded souls to ensure there is adequate consideration for people from all social strata.

Structuring the framework for development once the overall concept and direction have been approved will say a great deal about Government's commitment to equality of opportunity. There should be many opportunities for Bermudian investors and Bermudian shopkeepers. It is not necessarily the case that global brands have to own the store in which their products are sold. Further, Bermudians may seek to own shares of any publicly listed company involved in the waterfront development.

One way to finance the development is by making a series of long term leases available. This not only reduces the investment required by any particular group, it also creates much desired diversification of ownership which is a foundation for greater equality of opportunity. There are obviously many possibilities to structuring it but my view is that there must be a philosophical underpinning relating to what the intended benefits are.

There have been some earlier projections of as many as 20 years to fully develop the waterfront. This is unacceptable. We do not have the luxury of time. If the Dutch can build the city of Almere of over 100,000 residents in less than 20 years surely we can develop our waterfront in less than five. Perhaps we have grown complacent about our own productivity; we need to shed this. Our frame of reference should not be the lethargy of the Tourism Board but rather the exuberance, drive and passion of former Tourism Minister David Allen.

If Government is to drive this project and create the framework for private enterprise to operate the many aspects of the development design, construction, as leaseholders and as business operators its role should ideally be limited to that of the catalyst, and revenue collector. Similarly, if private enterprise is to undertake all these roles to Government's exclusion, then it must bear the responsibility for financing the project. Ideally, under the best set of circumstances Government would have to invest only negligible funds in what would essentially be a private sector driven project, with Government oversight after having created the template for development.

In the absence of any demonstrated movement on key private sector projects and a still depressed economy along with depressing tourism numbers, developing the Hamilton waterfront will mean a great deal to a great many people. We need to get moving on this project and we need to do so now.

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Walton Brown is a social and political commentator. Follow his blog on www.respicefinem1.blogspot.com. He can be contacted at walton[AT]researchmix.com

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Published November 09, 2011 at 1:00 am (Updated November 09, 2011 at 8:37 am)

We need to start waterfront project

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