Caroline Bay was doomed from start
Like some Bermudian facsimile of Richard Nixon, Bob Richards's strident defence of his role and of the debacle that is Caroline Bay is a shocking but familiar defiance of reality.
The former Minister of Finance, whose “stock in trade” is his purported crystal-ball insight into all matters economic, demonstrates a tragic grasp on the present, no clue about the future and a Trumpian approach to the past.
To be fair, both parties when in government have had their share of maddening failures usually based on the whims of some minister.
What makes this Caroline Bay mess different is the scale of the error in judgment and the massive symbol this failed project represents about Bermuda. The message it is giving us is plain to see. The question is, will we receive it?
More than being in denial, Mr Richards is wrong. This project was doomed from the start.
Let's face it: an insurance icon, a local entrepreneur/trucker and an accountant simply didn't possess the expertise to deliver Bermuda's largest hotel development ever. But successive politicians, and now we learn certain other titans of industry, endorsed this fiction and gave them land, millions in cash and a people's guarantee. Just in case.
Well. it's Bermuda so normal rules don't apply. That no one else would put up money, and those who would did so only if we guaranteed it, was the biggest hint that was ignored by everyone.
Where else on the planet would you get $165 million on your first go at anything?
Fast-forward to the construction, the branding by Ritz Reserve and the “back of the envelope” plan for a marina, and here we are with the proverbial white elephant, depreciating daily with its exposure to the elements and dormancy.
Perhaps Mr Richards's most outrageous assertion is that this unfinished work somehow represents a modicum of success because it was work done and wages paid. What kind of short-term idiocy is that? Respectfully, sir, the unfinished units on site make things worse and represent failure — nothing approaching success.
So, why is Bob Richards so wrong?
His thinking is replicated throughout Bermuda, on both sides of the political divide. We all seem to have a “Field of Dreams” complex: we simply need to build it and they will come.
The depressed luxury housing market, the softening air arrivals and the vacant commercial spaces all say the same thing: we are not creating a demand for Bermuda.
Where is the added value that makes a destination viable?
We seem interested in only the construction because it provides three years of wages and the veneer of economic activity. But what happens next? How do we sell those places? What makes us the place to be?
Like it or not, under the Bermuda Tourism Authority, Bermuda has become a mainly cruise destination, and no amount of slick PR from the Washington Mall penthouse team can change that; the numbers don't lie. So in a destination where the only thing “luxury” is its price tag, Bob Richards's demand that we race to add more overpriced housing units to join the stock of empty overpriced housing units defies logic. When will someone chart a course to actually create the demand for this supposed luxury we claim to possess?
Caroline Bay and Bob Richards's “I would do it all over again” symbolises the hubris and ignorance that have plagued us on a grand scale for decades.
Rather than consider we may need to actually create luxury demand, we're clinging to the 1980s ethos that the US/East Coast/white/blue blazer country club crowd will always be our mainstay.
Cue the national hero's recent admonition of “we need more rich, white people here” and you have the warped, dated and now dangerous approach to growing this economy.
It's over, guys. Bermuda is just another destination these days and to charge these prices, politicians, business people, tourism gurus and all of us need to devote our energies to constructively making the argument for our price point by delivering more than “it's Bermuda”, with a little pink sand thrown in for good measure.
For what it's worth, I like the post-2017 General Election Bob Richards. He told The Royal Gazette then: “It's time for old soldiers to shove off”.
Truer words have never been spoken. No crystal ball required.
ATIBA S. SIMONS