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St George’s hotel ‘an emotive subject’

Legislation setting the stage for a long-anticipated resort in St George's has been approved in the Senate.

However, the St George's Resort Act, which allows leases and concessions in connection with the development, faced sharp scrutiny from the Opposition.

Senator Michael Fahy, the Minister of Home Affairs, said the public could take heart that developer Desarrollos Group aimed to put $70 to $90 million of its own money into the hotel and casino at the former Club Med site.

The Progressive Labour Party criticised passing the Act separately from the master development agreement — but Sen Fahy said the agreement would be tabled for debate in due course, calling this move a first.

While the two sides continued to debate the extent to which locals workers stood to gain from the deal, the minister said that existing immigration policies would ensure that Bermudians got access to jobs.

“I don't see how you can put in place an Act that says the hotel must have 65 per cent Bermudians,” Sen Fahy added, asking if the hotelier would then be fined or punished if the necessary qualified Bermudians were not available.

After a lengthy debate watched by both Tourism Minister Shawn Crockwell and Shadow Minister Zane DeSilva, the Act was ultimately passed over objections from PLP senator Renee Ming.

It was brought before the Upper House by One Bermuda Alliance senator Vic Ball, the Junior Minister of Tourism Development and Transport.

Sen Ball called the project “an emotive subject” — particularly for the residents of St George's, where a resort was first opened on the site 42 years ago as a Holiday Inn.

Opposition senator Marc Daniels queried what returns for the resort had been pitched to Desarrollos.

“Where is the real, overarching perspective into this development that gives us a little more detail?” Sen Daniels asked, noting there had been public concerns over possible “negative back-room dealings” behind the selection of Desarrollos.

Echoing PLP concerns raised earlier in Parliament, Sen Daniels also said that the master development agreement for the resort should have been tabled with the leases and the bill itself.

He asked what protections were in place should the developer seek to sell the resort, or run into financial trouble.

The Senate heard that concessions had created the right environment for investment, with Sen Ball saying the substantial investment by Desarrollos showed that the developer would not be inclined to drop the project.

Responding to suggestions that the deal had been linked with the Jetgate scandal, Sen Ball said the agreement had “absolutely no connection” to the US developer Nathan Landow.

Sen Ming, an East End-based politician, noted that the beach at Fort St Catherine had been privatised under previous developments.

“If the Government wants a fight on their hands, they will have it when it comes to Fort St Catherine beach,” Sen Ming said. She also questioned why the map for the development included the beach in the six acres zoned for the hotel.

Sen Daniels, along with Sen Ming, queried the Act's wording, noting that it says the public shall have “reasonable access to any beach and foreshore on the property”.

Sen Ball said rowdy behaviour such as a 2am beach party would be considered “unreasonable”, but that otherwise the beach would remain public.

Independent senator James Jardine said he was no fan of the 262-year lease, calling it excessive.

Sen Jardine said the developer's ten-year exemptions from taxes should be attached to some form of expenditure, and to have that link in the Act, as it is for the Morgan's Point development.

However, in giving his support to the Act, Sen Jardine said he took comfort from the minister's assurance that the training of Bermudians at the resort, advertising expenditure and the hiring of local entertainers would be part of the master development agreement. Jeff Baron, the Junior Minister of National Security, told the Senate that there had been no plans in the pipeline to revitalise St George's during the last decade that would achieve it as this development would.

Sen Baron told the Senate he was fully confident that Bermudians would be trained and employed. He cited his own experience with the Rosewood Tucker's Point, where there are now 182 staff, including only 8 per cent expatriate. All have gone through significant hospitality training.

“This is a win for Bermuda, not politics,” Sen Baron said.

However, Diallo Rabain, the Opposition leader in the Senate, pointed out that nothing had been signed thus far committing the developer to anything.

“The biggest bone of contention that I see is we seem to be doing anything by any means necessary to get this hotel built — we have removed conditions from the Act and say we're going to put them in the master plan, but we have not seen the master development plan,” Sen Rabain said.

“What in this particular Act stops the Desarrollos Group from walking away tomorrow?” Sen Rabain added.

Until the agreement is tabled, “we are just spinning our wheels”, he said.

Senator Vic Ball

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Published August 24, 2015 at 12:42 pm (Updated August 25, 2015 at 2:58 am)

St George’s hotel ‘an emotive subject’

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