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OBA demands answers on status of Fairmont Southampton

Fairmont Southampton (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The opposition One Bermuda Alliance has renewed calls for answers on the status of the Fairmont Southampton – a year after the resignation of former finance minister Curtis Dickinson.

But David Burt, the Premier, hit back, accusing the OBA of “political theatrics and posturing”.

Doug DeCouto, the Shadow Minister of Economic Development and opposition spokesman for tourism, noted that Mr Dickinson resigned from the post one year ago yesterday over the Government’s deal with Gencom for the hotel.

“It’s now two years since the Fairmont Southampton closed and there still appears to be no progress on the site,” Mr DeCouto said. “The only area Gencom seems to be progressing is the development of the condos.”

He said that recently, area residents had received a letter consulting them on the environmental impact of the ‘residential development“.

Dr DeCouto said he presumed that was condos, which, he said, would be built “tax-free by Gencom”.

He said the public had a range of concerns and questions about the deal, such as what the present status of the project is, if financing has been secured, when construction will begin, when the hotel will reopen and if condos will be built before then.

“Based on the history of missed deadlines, lack of transparency, and unmet promises, we are unlikely to get any answers,” he said.

“Time and time again David Burt promises dates, and time and time again, nothing happens.”

The Fairmont Southampton, which accommodated 28.5 per cent of visitors that arrived on the island before the Covid-19 pandemic, shut its doors in 2020 making more than 700 employees redundant.

While Gencom initially said it intended to reopen the hotel in April 2022, that timeline has since been pushed back.

On February 14 last year – 12 days before the Government delivered the 2022-23 Budget – Mr Dickinson resigned from his post citing concerns about the hotel project.

Mr DeCouto said that while Mr Burt told PLP delegates in October 2022 that the deal “is ready to go”, it appeared the hotel reopening was “nowhere in sight”.

“We demand the Government explain what, if anything at all, they are doing to progress this, or any other project, to secure Bermuda’s tourism future.

“We are concerned that the Premier has become distracted by his personal political problems and has not paid suitable attention to this project of vital national importance.

“We need answers because the people of Bermuda deserve better than this.”

In October 2022, during a leadership debate against Mr Dickinson, Mr Burt claimed that a deal with Gencom “has been done”.

He told delegates: “The deal has been signed. What we are doing is getting to the closing process, which takes 45 to 60 days.”

In the four months since that proclamation, Mr Burt has failed to provide any updates on how the deal is progressing.

In a statement issued last night, he defended his government’s record and accused the OBA of distraction tactics – but made no mention of the Gencom deal.

Asked to respond to Dr DeCouto’s remarks, Mr Burt said: “More political theatrics and posturing.

“We recognise that as we get closer to delivering the national Budget, there will be those who look to distract the people of Bermuda away from this government’s commitment to delivering a responsible and fair budget for its citizens.

“We remain focused on the mandate we undertook to deliver in 2017 and 2020. Not only did we promise a fairer and better Bermuda, but we also understood that in the wake of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, it would take strong leadership to see us through.

“The people of Bermuda can rest assured knowing that our commitment to economic recovery and balanced economic growth is unwavering. Our focus on fiscal prudence is steadfast, and our vision for the future remains positive.”

Mr Burt claimed the economy had experienced five consecutive quarters of GDP growth and the budget deficit was falling.

In fact, according to Government figures, while GDP had increased for five quarters in nominal terms, it contracted in the second quarter of 2022, the most recent figure available, once inflation was taken into account.

He added: “Tourism numbers are increasing, employment figures are improving with more Bermudians working, and a recent survey reported two-thirds of local businesses expressing confidence in their economic future, with many planning on creating additional jobs.”

While Mr Burt may have access to more recent figures, the 2022 employment Briefs, the most recent to be made public, showed filled jobs falling to 31,361 in 2021 and Bermudian-held jobs falling by 747 to 22,003 in the same year.

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Published February 15, 2023 at 7:51 am (Updated February 15, 2023 at 9:06 am)

OBA demands answers on status of Fairmont Southampton

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