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Sandys 360 ‘could still be a success’

Blaming OBA: Walter Lister blamed former government for closure of sports centre ( Photo by Glenn Tucker )

A failed sports centre could still be a success if more public money was spent on it, a former MP who led the project in its early years said yesterday.

Walter Lister told The Royal Gazette the financial collapse of the Sandys 360 sports centre and pool could be blamed on the former One Bermuda Alliance government, which cut off a multimillion-dollar grant promised by the Progressive Labour Party when it was in power.

Mr Lister, who was chairman of the Sandys Secondary School Foundation when it launched in 2002 to raise funds for the centre, said: “It failed because the second government didn’t follow through on the original plan.”

The former Progressive Labour Party MP added: “The promise made by the PLP government, if that had been followed through, I think it would have been a very successful project.”

Mr Lister said: “It did go down but ... it could have come back up if the funding arranged by the previous government had continued.”

He predicted: “It is going to be a successful project if we get everything together. If it’s funded or supported, if it gets up and running, it will be a positive project for the West End community.”

But last night Leah Scott, Deputy Leader of the OBA, challenged Mr Lister’s claim that the former Government had backtracked on a grant to Sandys 360 and asked him to supply details of the “purported amount”.

The Sandys 360 Sports, Aquatic and Enrichment Centre opened in 2009, but closed its doors at the end of 2013 because it was unable to make ends meet.

Disclosures under public access to information show more than $5.3 million of public money was spent on the scheme between 2007 and 2013.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars were also donated by the corporate sector and the public.

Senators are expected to approve a government plan today to buy the Broome Street centre and the 2.56 acres of land it sits on for $1 million, although details of how much it will cost to renovate and run in the future have not been tabled in Parliament.

Mr Lister appeared to contradict the views of Sandys 360 chairman and former treasurer Stanley Lee, who told the Registry-General in 2016 that the centre got into difficulty in 2011 due to “declining income” which left it unable to pay its rent to the trustees of Sandys Secondary Middle School.

A $6 million grant from the Ministry of Government Estates and Information Services, agreed to by the PLP government in 2012, was only to be used to reduce its debt and “not for operational expenses”.

Mr Lee said after it received the first $2 million instalment of the $6 million grant, “low income and high overhead” meant Sandys 360 was “challenged in meeting its obligations”.

He added Belco had “no choice” but to shut off power in 2013 due to unpaid bills.

Mr Lister, a Sandys MP from 1976 to 2012, said he could not remember how long he served as chairman of the Sandys Secondary School Foundation or if he was still leading the organisation in 2006, when education minister Terry Lister, his nephew, approved a $1 million Ministry of Education and Development grant towards construction costs for Sandys 360.

Asked how the foundation convinced the Government to provide the initial grant, he said: “It didn’t take a lot to convince anybody with common sense that it was a good community project.”

He added the foundation’s board made “sound presentations” that showed the need for a fitness centre in Somerset and outlined how local schools would benefit.

Mr Lister said Sandys 360 had “teething problems, like any new development” but that they could have been ironed out with additional public funding.

He added: “Who was going to benefit? Taxpayers. I think it had some challenges. I must admit that they were financial challenges but the service to the community, it was very good.”

The retired MP insisted any tax dollars given to Sandys 360 were paid out when his party was in charge of the public purse strings, although the Pati disclosures show that $1 million was provided under the OBA.

The public money appeared to have stopped flowing after professional services firm KPMG carried out a review for the OBA administration. The review has never been made public.

Mr Lee said in his letter to the Registry-General that an early review of the status of Sandys 360 by KPMG “provided the obvious, we were insolvent”.

Mr Lister said he disagreed with the review.

He added: “There are reviews and there are reviews.”

Ms Scott said: “The trustees of Sandys 360 rarely, if ever, met their financial commitment under the terms of an ‘arrangement’ with the PLP Government.

“Accordingly, it was the position of the former OBA Government that it was not in the best interests of our taxpayers to contine to distribute Government funds to an organisation that was not honouring its own financial obligations of the arrangement with the Government.”

Terry Lister could not be contacted for comment..