OBA demands clarity on Southampton Princess plans
Greater clarity is urgently needed on stalled plans for the massive $376 million revamp of the Fairmont Southampton, the Opposition has demanded.
One Bermuda Alliance leaders called for the Government to push on with some sort of financial guarantee for the project as the House of Assembly discussed the Tourism Department’s budget allocation yesterday.
David Burt, the Premier, had signalled to MPs on February 4 that a deal was imminent, and could even come that day.
However, little has been said about the state of negotiations with developers Gencom since then.
Cabinet strife about how to handle government sweeteners for the huge project is believed to have a been a key trigger for Curtis Dickinson’s shock resignation as finance minister only days before the Budget.
After the political bust-up, Mr Burt said Mr Dickinson had agreed a $50 million guarantee to owners Gencom for the Fairmont Southampton in 2019.
Shadow Tourism Minister and former Premier Craig Cannonier said the Government needed to push on with the huge project.
Referring to the head of the Bermuda Tourism Authority (BTA), Charles Jeffers II, Mr Cannonier asked the Premier: “I know that Mr Jeffers … has talked about timelines … for the Southampton Princess. Is the Premier any closer to getting a timeline … to sealing a deal, contract, whatever it is, with Fairmont Southampton understanding that it is a challenge, according to Mr Jeffers, of not knowing when it will be back on line when it comes to planning?
“Are we any closer to sealing a deal with Fairmont Southampton and a better idea of reopening time. Certainly, a year from now we don’t anticipate it being open, so what is that time?
“Because of the speculation … is there a guarantee in place at this time for Southampton Princess?
“It would be nice to know that the Government is backing it with some form of a guarantee to get it moving.
“There probably would be some nays and yahs against that, but certainly we know that we have to get it up and going.”
Because the OBA used their parliamentary time to ask dozens of questions, Mr Burt was left with only three minutes of the session to give answers and did not address the Fairmont Southampton issue in that time.
Mr Jeffers recently stated that reopening the island’s biggest resort was “critical” to the recovery of the visitor industry.
He noted that the number of hotel beds in Bermuda had slumped below 2,000 and that the 1,800 available rooms was only 43 per cent of the 1990 figure.
Mr Jeffers said: “Without a timeline on the Fairmont’s reopening, we are challenged to plan for group business sales and increased airlift, which underpins so many elements of our tourism growth strategy.”
Meanwhile, in his tourism Budget statement, Mr Burt also said that the BTA was set to receive fees from cruise ships of $3.6 million, $4 million from hotel fees and $500,000 from vacation rentals.