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Prestige arbitration centre plan sidelined by lack of money

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Not happening: the overgrown site of the proposed international arbitration centre, which was expected to be completed this month (Photograph supplied)

A flagship arbitration centre has been shelved because of a lack of cash – even though it was supposed to be built “at no cost to government”, The Royal Gazette can reveal.

A spokesman for the public works ministry said: “The Ministry of Public Works can advise that the development of the arbitration centre is still under review.

“In light of the economic realities of the last two years, the advancement of this project is being balanced against critical infrastructure needs such as the Tynes Bay waste to energy facility.”

Construction work on the site of the old Hamilton police station was scheduled to start in December 2020 and the building was expected to be completed this month.

But, although the old station was demolished before the arbitration centre was announced, ground has still to be broken for the proposed five-storey block.

Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the public works minister, unveiled plans two years ago for the international arbitration centre on Parliament Street in Hamilton.

Two years on: Veteran union leader Ottiwell Simmons, second left, is joined by David Burt, the Premier, left, Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works, and representatives of Milhouse Engineering and Construction in breaking ground on the eponymous Ottiwell Simmons International Arbitration Centre (Photograph by Owain Johnston-Barnes)

Colonel Burch – who was on sick leave for the last six months and has just returned to work – said at the time that the project had the potential to “put Bermuda on the map”.

He added: “And, of course, it cannot be lost on anyone that this, too, will also provide jobs and economic stimulus in the country when it is most needed”.

Colonel Burch said that the centre would be funded through a public-private partnership deal with Chicago-based builder Milhouse Engineering & Construction.

He added: “The details of the financing of this project is the final hurdle – the term sheet is still being reviewed by the Ministry of Finance and, as soon as we get the green light, the financing specifics of the project will likewise be reported.

“We anticipate an early response that will lead to construction beginning in December 2020 and delivery of a complete building 15 months later in March 2022.”

Colonel Burch later said that the centre would be a money-spinner for the Government because it could be rented out to overseas organisations.

He said last March: “The current offer that’s on the table, being reviewed by Finance, is for a rent to buy.

“The developer will pay and build the building and the Government will rent it back over a number of years in order for them to get their money back.

“I ask the finance minister weekly for status because we are chomping at the bit in terms of getting construction under way and creating some more jobs.”

The building was to be named after Ottiwell Simmons, a former president of the Bermuda Industrial Union and an ex-Progressive Labour Party MP.

Mr Simmons, 88, was the BIU president from 1974 to 1996 and an MP from 1976 to 2007.

Further questions on the stalled project were not answered by press time.

The Opposition One Bermuda Alliance questioned why the project had been delayed.

Craig Cannonier, the shadow public works minister, asked if funding for the new building had been arranged.

He also questioned why the project was unveiled before then-finance minister Curtis Dickinson had given approval for the development.

Mr Cannonier said: “Bermuda has grown tired of the lips service from this government – tired of the blame game.

“I've been calling on this government to address the issues our people and the economy since they took government in 2017. I've pointed out our population decline due to our negative birth rate but we've seen little to address these now overwhelming challenges.

“To state this project is being balanced against such things like the Tynes Bay waste facility is a farce. The arbitrary project was to be funded by foreign direct investment, not the people’s money.

“The last we heard of this project was that it was waiting for the finance minister to sign off on. Maybe the former finance minister didn't, or hadn't gotten around to it.

“And if he did, what’s the problem? Let’s go.”

Mr Cannonier added: “This government raced to have two different companies demolish the building and we have nothing to show for it today.

“The fact that this project was unveiled in July 2020 and nothing has happened other than trees growing on the property should alarm us all.

“We were told that projects like this would be done to create work and opportunities for Bermudians, but to no avail.

“Once again – like gaming and other projects – we get lots of talk and no action. Promises made, promises broken.”

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Published March 01, 2022 at 7:58 am (Updated March 01, 2022 at 7:58 am)

Prestige arbitration centre plan sidelined by lack of money

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