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Luxury hotel hopes mixed with caution

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Going, going, gone: This panel of photographs shows three stages of the life of the old Club Med in St George’s. Once a proud landmark, it finally bit the dust, leaving just memories(Photograph by David Skinner)

When it comes to a new resort on the old Club Med site, the feelings of St George’s residents are easily summed up by former mayor Henry Hayward.

“I’m afraid the popular belief is ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’,” Mr Hayward said of the property whose history is chequered with a litany of false hopes.

The latest reason for optimism came on Saturday, when the Bermuda Government tabled the St George’s Resort Act which paves the way for the construction of a new luxury hotel.

But controversy has come easily to the site, whose current developer, Desarollos, has been the target of suspicion from Opposition Members of Parliament.

Many political hopes have been staked on securing a developer, and allegations linked to the estate scuppered the career of former Premier Craig Cannonier in last year’s “Jetgate” affair.

“Having checked up on the Desarollos group, I think it’s a step in the right direction — I think we are going to see something happen,” Mr Hayward added.

He said the building of a resort could also jump-start any number of significant projects for the Old Town.

“It would be particularly good for St George’s with no regular cruise ships coming,” Mr Hayward said.

“They could agree on the widening of Town Cut to let ships in.

“The St George’s golf course, which was so beneficial, could open up again. People used to come down four or five times a year when we got the cruise ships, and the course was very popular.

“All of this is going to supply jobs to the St George’s community and all of Bermuda.”

To trace why many Bermudians will choose to wait and see, The Royal Gazette compiled a timeline for the site’s history.

• 1988: The Club Med resort in St George’s closes, beginning a two-decade spell in which the site has mostly lain empty.

• November 2003: Fifteen years later, the St George’s Renaissance Consortium, led by Canada-based Quorum, fights off a host of developers to secure an exclusivity deal to transform Club Med. It vows to knock down the eyesore building and replace it with a $210 million five-star hotel with piazza-style colony housing.

• Summer 2004: The Bermuda Government announces that a lease will be presented to Quorum.

• March 2005: The hotel chain Four Seasons is lined up by Quorum to manage the new hotel.

• August 2005: The Government reveals it is reviewing the terms of Quorum’s lease.

• Early 2006: Quorum is dropped as developer in favour of KJA Developments.

• September 2006: KJA developer Jack Avedikian announces he wants to construct a five- to seven-star hotel with a Nick Faldo signature 18-hole golf-course.

• November 2006: Mr Avedikian’s position is dropped as developer of choice.

• Early 2007: The Government announces that squatters in the derelict building will be evicted by the end of March. They eventually move, although the eviction date is put back.

• April 2007: Bazarian International — a company linked to luxurious five-star resorts all over the world — is named as the latest operator for a new resort.

• April 2008: Premier Ewart Brown announces Bazarian International’s intent to develop the site for the Park Hyatt hotel chain. The $294 million project, due to be ready by spring 2011, is to feature 100 rooms and suites, swimming pools, tennis courts, five restaurants and bars and the 18-hole Faldo golf course. A $90 million, 262-year lease on the property is signed.

• August 2008: In a first for the Island, the 11-storey derelict hotel is imploded. The opening year for the hotel is now put off until 2012.

• December 2008: As the world recession unfolds and hoteliers express doubts that the project can secure backers, Carl Bazarian Sr, president of developer Bazarian International, gives firm assurances that he is near to signing for $300 million in financing.

• June 2009: Dr Brown candidly acknowledges that development around the world is at a standstill, but stands by Mr Bazarian’s promise.

• January 2010: Mr Bazarian, having said that he expected to get $120 million in backing from HSBC, declares that he has full funding and should break ground on the project by the year’s end.

• October 2010: Park Hyatt announces it has become a “significant” backer of the project.

• July 2011: Designs for the resort, now open to the public, incur criticism as scepticism grows. Environmentalists and residents formally object to the hotel’s design.

• July 2012: Echoing the sentiments of most east enders, St George’s Mayor Kenneth Bascome voices his disappointment at the lack of progress. A deadline to begin construction within 48 months of the demolition is about to expire.

• October 2012: Wayne Furbert, the Minister of Tourism, calls the deal “terminated” but subsequently retracts the remark, and Mr Bazarian now says the resort could be built by 2015. The Opposition calls on the Government to come clean about the deal. Mr Bazarian applies for permits to begin the first phase of building — but the Government terminates the Club Med lease.

• January 2013: New Tourism Minister Shawn Crockwell affirms the Government’s cutting of ties with Mr Bazarian.

• September 2013: Parliament repeals the Park Hyatt (St George’s) Resort Act, opening the way for fresh negotiations.

• May 2014: Mr Crockwell announces the signing of a 120-day Memorandum of Understanding with Venezuela-based developer Desarrollos Hotelco Group for the site. The negotiating period will later be extended until the year’s end. Meanwhile, embattled Premier Craig Cannonier steps down over the “Jetgate” uproar when it is revealed that he and other One Bermuda Alliance ministers flew to Washington, DC on a private jet owned by US developer Nathan Landow, allegedly to discuss investment in the Club Med.

• December 2014: Mr Crockwell announces that Desarrollos have switched brands for the project, choosing St Regis, Starwood hotels for a five-star resort to be developed, starting in May.

• July 2015: After repeated calls from the Opposition for Mr Crockwell to give an update on the project, the minister tells Parliament that legislation authorising the lease of the site is to be tabled later in the year.

Deserted and unkempt: The location of the old Club Med
<p>PLP seeking Government transparency</p>

The Progressive Labour Party has been unrelenting in its pressure for great transparency from the Bermuda Government over the building of a new hotel at the East End.

Shadow Tourism Minister Zane DeSilva said the party welcomed the tabling of the latest bill, but called on the One Bermuda Alliance to show openness for “this critical project, which gives ten years of concessions, a 262-year lease, and a casino to a potential developer”.

Mr DeSilva said the OBA had failed to come clean on the selection of developers Desarrollos Group, saying its principals “remain a mystery”. Parliament heard on Friday that a Master Development Agreement was imminent.

Mr DeSilva said it should be tabled before the Opposition would support new legislation, with the total cost of the ten-year concessions revealed.


“While this is still a long way from getting shovels in the ground, we remain hopeful that this will move beyond these initial stages and that this hotel will become a reality.”

PLP senator Renee Ming pointed out that air arrivals stood at a 48-year low and must be increased to support the development, as its survival rested on “getting visitors to Bermuda and filling hotel beds”.

“A hotel is needed in the East End to create jobs, boost the overall economy and stimulate business in the Old Town,” Sen Ming said.

“We are eager for this project to succeed and are still hopeful that we will see the old town restored to its proper glory, as a jewel in Bermuda’s tourism crown.

“However, more information is needed as to whether or not key infrastructure needs such as sewage treatment are included in the developer’s plans.”