DeSilva urges end to political grandstanding over hotel SDO
Plans for the redevelopment of the Fairmont Southampton Hotel were the focus of MPs in the House of Assembly on Friday.
Opening the debate during the Motion to Adjourn, PLP MP Derrick Burgess said he supported the proposal, arguing that the lack of hotel beds was one of the reasons for limited airlift to the island.
He said he was grateful for Gencom’s commitment, stating that the island had few “concrete” investors.
“We need that investment,” he said. “I’m so glad that Gencom is still here because if any investors had to go through what they have been through, they would have taken their money and left.”
Mr Burgess also noted the continued payment to Aecon over the minimum revenue guarantee at LF Wade International Airport.
“If we want to get out of those type of payments, we need some rooms and we need some immediately,” he said.
Zane DeSilva said Gencom had a proven track record in Bermuda and was willing to invest almost $500 million in the island.
Gencom, through hotel owners Westend Properties, is planning to refurbish the hotel and build 114 tourism and 147 residential units at the site.
Mr DeSilva added that while some had complained about the proposed creation of 261 units, that number would only be built if the demand was proved to be there.
“It’s only if required,” he said. “Only if the enthusiasm is there, only if the demand is there.”
Mr DeSilva added that he would “take a job over a tree every time for our people” and urged a stop to political grandstanding over the project.
Wayne Caines, a former government minister, said that discussion and debate on the topic was a positive thing for the island.
“I think people taking their positions for and against this issue is healthy,” he said. “I think this hotel development must stand on its merits.”
Mr Caines said that the PLP cared about the environment and that Gencom’s proposals must hold up to scrutiny. He adding that neighbours were legitimately concerned.
“There are concerns about the environment? Tackle those. Deal with those. Don’t discount those that are arguing and fighting,” he said.
Mr Caines later added: “As a country, we have an opportunity to make some progress with this. I don’t want to see this bifurcate or separate us because we have the opportunity to do something great in this community.”
His sentiments were later echoed by PLP MP Lovitta Foggo, who said the Government must listen to the public while working to put Bermuda in the best possible position.
“When we ensure that we give due and proper consideration to those concerns and can demonstrate that we are giving due and proper consideration, it invites confidence from the public domain,” she said.
One Bermuda Alliance MP Craig Cannonier also called on the Government to consider the concerns of the public, arguing that some of the backlash was because the public did not know why 261 units would be required.
He said: “The concern is that it appears if they don’t get 261 units, the hotel won’t get renovated, so many people will ask the question why?
“If it’s going to be contingent on 261 condos, maybe someone should have said that in the first place.”
Mr Cannonier compared the concerns voiced about the project to those raised about access to Gates Bay in advance of the construction of the St Regis Resort in St George’s.
“Maybe we were not being clear enough about the fact the beach in St George’s was not going to be private, but I do appreciate the fact that there were many people who felt that this beach would be blocked off and private,” he said.
David Burt dismissed allegations that the SDO process was not transparent as “utter nonsense”, pointing out that rules laid out in Parliament had been followed.
The Premier also insisted that the new residential units planned for the development were “critical” in solving a housing shortage.
He said: “This is about doing what is right for the future. We all know that there’s a critical situation in housing.”
Our economy is moving in the right direction, but you cannot have a growing economy if you do not have continuous development with people having places to live.
“The fact is we have an acute housing crisis right now and there are developments on the table that haven’t even started yet.”
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