MPs hail new era of tourism as Morgan’s Point Act approved
The House of Assembly heard yesterday that a fresh era in tourism was being ushered in as a bill allowing a “critically important” $2 billion resort to be built at Morgan's Point was approved.
Deputy Premier Derrick Burgess promised that the development on the former US Naval Annex would become “a glittering jewel in tourism's crown”, providing vast numbers of jobs for Bermudians and first-class facilities for visitors and locals.
But he admitted Government didn't have the $30 to $40 million needed to clean up the pollution left on the peninsula by the US military and said the developers were “considering a methodology” whereby they would carry out the work “in lieu of the Government”.
MPs from both opposition parties offered effusive praise for the Morgan's Point Resort Act 2011 and the three Bermudian developers who plan to build the luxury resort: Craig Christensen, Nelson Hunt and Brian Duperreault.
They referred to the very public disagreement the three men had with former Premier and Tourism Minister Ewart Brown in February 2010 and applauded them for sticking with the project.
But several MPs suggested more clarity was needed on the clean-up and Shadow Public Works Minister Patricia Gordon-Pamplin said it was a shame the US wasn't persuaded to pay for the work as a “quid pro quo” for Bermuda taking in four former Guantánamo Bay prisoners in 2009.
Mr Burgess told the House: “It was the Government's view that the United States Government should take responsibility for the clean-up, but all of the appeals in that regard failed, including visits to the US Navy at the Pentagon, representation to Congressional and Senate leaders on Capitol Hill and enlisting the support of the United Kingdom Government.”
He added: “In the absence of the hoped for assistance of the United States Government, the Government of Bermuda accepts unequivocally its responsibility to hand over to any developer land that is environmentally suitable for development and has been taking steps in that regard.”
The Public Works Minister said regardless of who did the actual work “Government has made clear to all concerned that it retains oversight responsibility for the clean-up”.
The Act passed yesterday finalises a land swap deal between Government and the developers, which sees them hand over the 37-acre pristine Southlands estate to the public in exchange for 80 acres of brownfield land at Morgan's Point and a lease on another 128 acres.
Mr Burgess presented the bill, telling MPs the exchange would be a “win-win” for both Government and the developers, whose company was Southlands Ltd, but has been renamed Morgan's Point Ltd.
He said the proposed development would include three hotels with a total of 465 rooms, condominiums and residences for single families.
There would also be a “magnificent” par 71 golf course at 6,785 yards to be designed by Canadian firm Carrick, he said, as well as a marina, retail shopping, a spa, water sport activities and restaurants.
Mr Burgess added: “I reaffirm the Government's view that the proposed creation of a five-star hotel, a championship golf course and related facilities at Morgan's Point, Southampton, is a critically important opportunity for Bermuda, one that will not only provide a glittering jewel in tourism's crown, but one that will result in myriad benefits for our Island as a whole.”
Shadow Tourism Minister Cole Simons claimed the bill marked a “new day in tourism” and said he was excited about what was happening.
“We will have our first destination resort,” he said. “In the Bahamas, they have Atlantis. In ten to 15 years time, Bermuda will have its destination resort. This concept is new to Bermuda.”
Former Premier Alex Scott, who first proposed the site to the developers after their plans to build a hotel at Southlands sparked public protest in 2007, said the legislation paved the way for an “iconic” development.
He said the developers were “extraordinary Bermudians” who were prepared to invest in their homeland and had been forced to overcome many hurdles to get to this day.
He said they had already ploughed millions of dollars into their vision and could have simply turned down the swap and gone ahead with their original plan.
“They own pristine property on the south shore,” he said. “Most Bermudians, if they know of its existence, certainly didn't get an opportunity to see Southlands at its best.”
Bermuda Democratic Alliance MP Donte Hunt also praised the trio for their “measured response” when they were told by Dr Brown their initial proposal for Morgan's Point wasn't acceptable.
“They did not totally lambast and rip apart Government. They stated their case and they moved forward accordingly.”
He said the legislation had been drafted in the right way and told Government: “Great job!”
Mrs Gordon-Pamplin applauded the Government for bringing forward a bill that would create many jobs and which members on both sides of the aisle could “honestly and fervently support”.
Shadow Transport Minister Charlie Swan said Morgan's Point had shown potential for development for “a long, long time”.
He said: “It's a pleasure to see something finally happening with due diligence and patience being applied to it. What I hope is that nothing stands in the way of this development proceeding in a expeditious way.”
But Mr Swan added he found it “shameful” that after 13 years the question of who was going to pay for the clean-up of the polluted land was still an issue.
He said it was “a cause for concern” that Government was in control as “that always leaves a little to be desired”.
Shadow Public Administration Reform Minister John Barritt said he did not say “no, no, no” to everything as the Morgan's Point development was something he wanted to “encourage and support”.
“I want to praise the developers for sticking with it,” he said. “They have also made a conscious effort to keep everyone informed. There's a lot to be said about that approach.
“They are successful businessmen who know what a good deal is and what a bad deal is. I've no doubt that they've looked after their interests. One thing everyone wants to do is to stop what happened at Dockyard when the British left. There were no plans and it just sat there and went to waste.”
Mr Barritt added that “a master agreement to tie this thing down” had to be in place to ensure the developers went ahead after the land swap, regardless of the economy.
Opposition leader Kim Swan said the site would be returned to its “former glory” and he was particularly excited to see another golf course in the West End.
He said golfers could opt for “quality at a more affordable price” at Port Royal or “more exclusivity” at Morgan's Point.
Independent MP Darius Tucker called it “a great day for Bermuda” explaining the Island had to rely on tourism as “we don't have enough Easter lilies and onions to sustain us”.
He said: “Young people of Bermuda should really get excited about this as there are going to be lots of opportunities for them to succeed and go forward.”
Mr Tucker proposed a public-private partnership to pay for the clean-up and suggested tall ships could be moored at Morgan's Point to “support the economy”.
Tourism Minister Patrice Morgan said having suffered from a recent decline in hotel beds, Morgan's Point would put Bermuda into “the luxury premium market.”
She said: “I'm most confident the end product will be a five-star resort most comparable with other competing jurisdictions…This will bring in exactly the affluent visitors we are looking for.”
Premier Paula Cox said it had taken “blood, sweat and tears” but the island was on its way to a tourism renaissance.
She said: “There is going to be lots of opportunities for Bermuda. Tourism has the capacity to be the fastest growing sector. It hasn't been and we want to see that happen.
“This is an exciting venture but it will be a journey… it's about navigating our way out of a dim and dark tunnel to see the light.”
PLP MP Dennis Lister called the development “important and relevant to Bermuda”. He praised the developers for “standing by their wicket” and Government “for bringing it to the House in a timely fashion”.
He said: “This will be a product that we all should be proud of. It's been 30 years since we've had a tourism development like this in Bermuda. This is going to be top end, it's going to help promote the tourism market.”
PLP MP Marc Bean described the day as a “momentous occasion” that had happened through “fortitude and perseverance”. He said he believed the new development would rival Atlantis in The Bahamas.
Mr Bean said: “This will create employment much-needed in this country…there will be people willing to mix cement or pick up a shovel, people will want to participate in this.”
Attorney General Michael Scott said he was grateful to have been involved in a “truly magnificent tourism initiative”.
He said: “This is a big deal, this is important for the country. This Government is committed to working with the developers on this.”
The Act was passed after a four-hour debate, with Mr Christensen and Mr Hunt watching from the public gallery.