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Govt unable to support city’s waterfront plans

A row has developed between Government and the Corporation of Hamilton over plans to redevelop the waterfront.

The CoH plans to update the public on the project on Monday, but Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy says any announcement now is premature as Government has not done its due diligence on the project’s financiers and is unaware of its key details.

And there are concerns about the process followed to develop the project. Former Premier Sir John Swan, who has long been a proponent of redeveloping the waterfront, said he was approached by the City but refused to participate because of such concerns.

"The Government cannot support the Corporation of Hamilton's development project at this current time," Sen Fahy said in a press release issued shortly after the Corporation sent its invitation out to the media.

The One Bermuda Alliance promised in the run up to the general election to “implement welcoming policies in partnership with the Corporation of Hamilton that stimulate foreign investment in Hamilton, particularly on waterfront redevelopment, thereby boosting tourism and generating jobs”.

But, according to Sen Fahy, whose portfolio includes responsibility for the municipalities, Government is yet to be fully briefed on the project and cannot therefore support it.

“The Premier and I met with the CoH for the first time on Friday, January 18, and we were only advised at that time that they were making a public announcement on January 28, regarding this project.

“We asked the CoH not to move forward at this time for two specific reasons. One, we have absolutely no knowledge of the project in terms of its scope or design and two, we have not been provided any opportunity to conduct any due diligence with respect to the proposed financiers or developers.”

The Minister met again with Mayor Graham Outerbridge and members of his team “and made fresh requests for the CoH to suspend their proceedings, in the interest of establishing a proper partnership and getting a full briefing of the proposals,” the release continued.

“However the CoH denied the request citing that due to financial obligations related to the January 28 announcement they had no choice but to proceed with their original plans.

Minister Fahy said: “The Government has been put in a terribly precarious position and it’s very regrettable that we cannot come to a reasoned agreement on this matter.

“For these reasons, the Government must advise the public that it cannot support the Corporation of Hamilton’s Waterfront Development Project at this current time.

“That’s not to say that there will not be support in the future, however the Government has no information and thus we cannot in principle support this project.

“Like all major projects Government must give consent in respect of planning, immigration and labour issues as well as potentially grant duty concessions and approvals for mortgages by foreign entities over Bermuda land. In the absence of any information the Government has today advised the Corporation that such consents will not happen.

“It is the Government’s hope that information required to consider the development will be forthcoming in the weeks ahead, as we do agree that the impact of the project is significant to our economy and to the reputation of Bermuda in the international marketplace.

“We do not wish to be seen as obstructive — however a project as important to Bermuda’s future must be in partnership with the Government. We again urge the CoH to hold on their announcement pending a Government review.”

Sir John Swan indicated disappointment with the way the project had been handled by the City.

He said he “refused” to get involved when he was invited to do so by the Mayor because he did not believe in the approach being taken.

The process was faulty, he said, and excluded Government.

"It should be a Government, Corporation and private matter, not a Corporation and private sector matter. And the bulk of the benefit should accrue to the public,” Sir John said.

"To have a process that is a cabal without any due process taking place — there should have been a consultation with the Government.

He said he had informed the Mayor of his views. "It's wrong, it's not in the public interest, it's in the individual interest."

Sir John continued: "You cannot just say we are the Corporation … you do have to work within the framework of the context of the spirit of the country itself and I think the Corporation has missed that point."

The Royal Gazette understands that developer Michael MacLean, who is president of Par-la-Ville Hotel Ltd, the company behind the proposed St Regis hotel and condos in the City, has been awarded a contract to develop the waterfront.

Mr MacLean would only refer us to the City when we contacted him to corroborate our information. But he did confirm that he would be at City Hall’s press conference on Monday.

Responding to the Minister’s release, Mayor Outerbridge confirmed that the City had received communication from the Minister but it had contractual obligations and had to go ahead.

“We understand the Minister’s position and have received communication from his office on this matter. However the process the City began last summer and the commitments we have made to our partners requires that we move forward as planned,” Mr Outerbridge is quoted as saying.

“Our planning began before the general election was called and the subsequent change in government. We respect Minister’s Fahy’s request and look forward to partnering with him and the Bermuda Government on this important Hamilton initiative. Given our contractual obligations, the meeting with stakeholders on Monday at 12 noon, in the Earl Cameron Theatre, will take place. We have also called a press conference for 3:00pm on Monday during which we will share with the local media the details we will provide during the 12 noon meeting.

“I want to state clearly, and this will be reiterated on Monday during our meeting, no plans have been drawn up. Our process going forward will encourage and support government and the general public’s full participation. The meeting on Monday is an information session which will provide the attendees with details of our process and where we are to date.

“We look forward to meeting with Minister Fahy in the near future to establish a formal working relationship on this important Hamilton project.”

We asked the Mayor how the Council went about choosing a contractor for the project and his reaction to Sir John’s comments.

But no response had been received by press time last night.

Corporation of Hamilton Mayor Graeme Outerbridge

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Published January 26, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated January 25, 2013 at 10:25 pm)

Govt unable to support city’s waterfront plans

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