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Parties clash over hotel act amendments

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MP Zane DeSilva and MP Wayne Furbert, voice their concerns over hotel development in St. George's. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The Progressive Labour Party has expressed “deep concerns” with new amendments to legislation that will pave the way for the construction of a five-star luxury hotel in St George’s.

Zane DeSilva, the Shadow Minister of Tourism, claimed the Bermuda Government had shown a “stunning lack of commitment to Bermudians” in the changes to the St George’s Hotel Act.

Mr DeSilva told the media the amendments reduced opportunities for Bermudians and said the Government was allowing developers Desarrollos to “create subsidiaries as they desire”.

But Shawn Crockwell, the Minister of Tourism, Development and Transport, rounded on the Opposition last night accusing the PLP of deliberate misinformation and hypocrisy.

“The developer has already made a full commitment to employ and train Bermudians and they expect there to be far more Bermudians on site,” he said. “Every positive project that creates jobs and stimulates economic activity that this Government has proposed the Opposition has undermined. This is clearly their strategy irrespective of the benefits it has for the country.

“This project will take years to complete, it will create hundreds of jobs during the construction phase and hundreds of jobs on the operational side. It will provide new opportunities for St George’s and the golf course will be redeveloped.”

Mr DeSilva claimed the amendments removed the requirement for the employer to train Bermudians and for local entertainment to be employed, as well as allowing for the sale of Crown land. He said: “We need a hotel that will bring jobs and opportunity for Bermudians. That’s why we are deeply concerned about the stunning lack of commitment to Bermudians being displayed by the One Bermuda Alliance on their hotel project and the lack of transparency surrounding the awarding of this contract.”

Mr Crockwell told The Royal Gazette he met with Mr DeSilva and Wayne Furbert, the Shadow Minister of Economic Development, to discuss the amendments as a courtesy before the Bill is debated on Monday.

He said the amendments were designed to remove “cumbersome” terms and conditions that imposed administrative burdens not present in other jurisdictions.

Mr Crockwell added: “The reality is that the developer would like the option of being able to build fractional units on this project.

“Because this is leasehold we received legal advice that fractional units can not emanate from a leasehold agreement. They can only operate from a freehold. So we are putting in the Act the ability for Government to convey a quarter of an acre so they have that option. They will be operating a St Regis hotel and their clientele will be well suited to fractional units, but this is not a guarantee.”

In yesterday’s press conference Mr DeSilva called on the Government to release details from the Master Development Agreement governing the project.

He said: “We refuse to sit by idly and let a flawed process continue without saying something. The OBA wants Parliament to grant this 262-year lease and planning permission without even sharing the plans for the development or the Master Development Plan Agreement that will govern the project.

“How can Parliament be expected to give its approval to something we haven’t even seen that will tie the hands of Bermuda for the next 262 years? The Minister of Tourism must stick to these issues and explain why the Government has taken the stance it has.”

Meanwhile, Mr Furbert questioned why developers Desarrollos had still not begun work on a hotel they had been given permission to build in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

But Mr Crockwell defended the developers and said there was no precedent for releasing the Master Development Agreement, which was a commercial agreement between the Government and the developer.

Responding to Mr Furbert’s question he said: “They were only given permission to start that project this year.

“They have successfully built a Ritz Carlton in Aruba and other hotels in the Caribbean. This is a developer that works with high-end brands and is putting $70 million of their own money into this project and yet we have an Opposition recklessly undermining and demeaning their reputation.”

Mr Crockwell added: “This is historic for Bermuda and St George and this Government will continue to be focused on creating these kind of opportunities

“This site has remained undeveloped for 30 years because the proper incentives were not in place.

“Countries like Barbados are offering 25 years of tax breaks, while others are offering indefinite incentives. We are still well below the norm compared to our competitors.”