OBA questions silence over Southampton Princess revamp
David Burt has been “misleading” people about the controversial $376 million revamp of the Fairmont Southampton hotel complex, the Opposition has claimed.
Craig Cannonier, the One Bermuda Alliance tourism spokesman, has questioned why the Premier has remained quiet after pushing taxpayer-funded guarantees for the refurbishment through Parliament.
Mr Cannonier said it was “alarming” that people had not been updated on the current state of play for the huge project, which is seen as key to revitalising the island’s tourism economy after the Covid pandemic.
Mr Burt indicated to MPs in February that a deal with developers Gencom was imminent, before the finance minister at the time, Curtis Dickinson, quit his post with just days to go for the Budget in protest at the generous terms being offered to the company.
The deal, extending tax concessions, and giving taxpayer guarantees for the project, was approved by Parliament before it rose for the summer recess in July, but no details of a final deal with Gencom have yet been announced.
Mr Cannonier claims that the negotiations have become “problematic”, but the Government is not telling taxpayers what is going on.
Mr Cannonier told The Royal Gazette: “Our Premier has been alarmingly silent on where this most important project stands.
“We heard over and over on the importance to our tourism industry, local entrepreneurs and our taxi business that we must move swiftly.
“It is now many months since our Premier said ‘in two weeks an update would be forthcoming’. Again he has misled the people of Bermuda.
“Our Premier has been as transparent as mud. It’s evident this Government is having challenges and negotiations are problematic.
“I said it before and directly to Gencom that there is no need to extend concessions beyond the already legislated ten years.
“I wonder now how much more may be asked beyond the 15 years given?
“For now it's only Bermuda tree frogs in Southampton speaking.“
Mr Dickinson quit the Cabinet days before he was set to deliver the February 25 Budget after a bust-up with the Premier regarding plans to give Gencom generous guarantees.
The Premier took over the finance brief and pushed through Parliament tax concessions to the hotel complex developers of between $121 million and $133 million over 15 years.
The move, which was attacked strongly by Mr Dickinson, also included the Government giving a guarantee of $75 million, representing 21 per cent of the revised costs of the project of $376 million.
Mr Dickinson said that the legislation had failed to provide sufficient detail when, with the $75 million guarantee thrown in, it could run up to $180 million.
The former finance minister said that the cost could run still higher, with a potential for further incremental costs on the project.
Mr Dickinson said there was a risk that other developers such as St Regis could approach the Government for retroactive relief because of the Fairmont deal, and said the Government was "flying blind" on the real costs.
He said: "Given the Government's fiscal position, the proposed legislation is too generous.“
In an unusual but not unprecedented move, the House of Assembly is set to return in mid-September amid speculation that there could be further moves on the Gencom deal.
The Government has not responded to requests from The Royal Gazette regarding the current status of the deal with Gencom, or if a financial deal with the developers has been agreed.