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Jerked around over Fairmont Southampton

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On this latest saga with the development of the Fairmont Southampton hotel and senior statesman Sir John Swan re-entering the fray with a reversal of his initial stance, which he deemed as a kneejerk reaction to the proposal last year.

His latest support, he says, is based on the realisation that Bermuda needs to be attractive to investors and the fear that if these investors don’t get what they need to secure their investment against failure, they may not invest. As he put it, the hotel would be abandoned and future investors would be scared off.

After numerous phone calls, I found almost universal support for opening the hotel and broad acceptance for “some” scale of residential development to be included in the redevelopment. I find myself included in that batch. Recognise that the model for the hotel industry today, particularly for resorts, hinges invariably on a mixed stream of investments and not the old, characteristically single buildings with rooms and a restaurant/bar.

Bermuda has been trying to shift its brand for the past 30 years. One thing that has been consistent has been the ambition to attract high-end earners and the wealthy. The theory is that we get more from less because the high-net-worth persons spend more and require more services than what C.V. “Jim” Woolridge used to term the “T-shirt crowds”. We hear this often in the cruise ship industry, where we prefer the smaller liners over the mega carriers.

One need not be an architect to wonder about the thinking behind the cluster of units designed and promoted by the developer Westend Properties — certainly not for high-enders. It’s hard to imagine what specific target would want to own part of a six-storey cluster development resembling more a project development than a luxury villa.

So, no, I think Sir John’s new position is more the “jerk” reaction — possibly pocket jerk, wanna-be-included jerk, float-among-the-rich-and-famous jerk, whatever. But certainly not a jerk of principle. OK, he and Jim had a parting of ways, but I don’t believe it ran so deep as to tear up the very principle of the former’s tourism etiquette or that he himself would step outside the idea of less is more.

Whoever is running the PR for the Westend group has not done a good job for its principal investor. This, of course, is a euphemism or metaphor, but you don’t bring the mafia as your promoter unless it’s a drug deal going down — persons pushing the project while you can plainly see the saliva drooling down their cheeks. Everyone likes money and we all have self-interest, but there comes a time when the interest of everyone should override narrow self-interest. Unfortunately, for the investor, the appearance of a narrow club starting from the leader sliding all the way over to the union and then down just a wee bit provides the aroma of a deal that doesn’t smell pleasant.

So, from a practical level, there needs to be the addition of condos, but can they be tasteful and cater to a market not normally afforded by the middle-class Bermudian? Why snatch that market from Bermudian developers and cripple their opportunity by providing a foreign investor with tax-free benefits?

I wondered why in the Throne Speech the Premier indicated they wanted to repeal the Morgan’s Point Act. Now it makes sense: Morgan’s Point has the highest density potential on the island and the right to build six storeys and higher. Even though the luxury villas at Morgan’s Point did not aspire to be built that high, the other portion had that capacity. So can I be direct and ask whether the Premier was in advance attempting to eliminate competition for the Fairmont Southampton?

I have seen this done in Nova Scotia, where wealthy developers created major housing complexes totalling 2,500 homes or more, while other neighbouring property owners suddenly had their properties rezoned or delisted for development until the bigger projects had been concluded.

I hope this is not the trend here, but we have seen nothing but self-interest and conflicts of interest worn like badges of honour.

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Published May 01, 2023 at 7:49 am (Updated May 01, 2023 at 7:49 am)

Jerked around over Fairmont Southampton

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