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‘Bermuda is a hard sell’ — Morgan’s point co-owner

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Developer calls for economic citizenship incentive for investors

By Sam Strangeways

Morgan's Point developer Craig Christensen is calling on Government to introduce an economic citizenship programme to provide the tourism industry with the “real game changer” it needs.

Mr Christensen told The Royal Gazette that finding overseas investors willing to plough their money into his proposed $2 billion tourism development on the former base land was “no question, a challenge”.

After attending the Caribbean Hotel Investment Conference in the Dominican Republic earlier this month, he is now convinced the Island needs to do something dramatic to raise its profile and entice investors here, such as selling passports to those willing to put money into new tourism properties.

“Bermuda is a hard sell,” said Mr Christensen, who co-owns Morgan's Point with fellow Bermudians Nelson Hunt and Brian Duperreault. “You would think, knowing Bermuda as we do, that Bermuda would be a prime opportunity, but many of the investors are looking at Latin American countries.

“They have heavy incentives in those locations that Bermuda does not enjoy. For any single project in Bermuda, you are really climbing up a significant mountain in order to turn around and attract investment.

“That being said, certainly investors that are familiar with the Island actually love Bermuda and what they say is we need a game changer in order to put Bermuda back on the map.

“I think that's why the economic citizenship issue would bode well for all projects being looked at in Bermuda right now.”

A number of Caribbean countries offer citizenship for a fee, as a way to boost their economies, and one tourism project currently under way in St Kitts allows investors to buy property and passports at the same time for $400,000.

Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy told the House of Assembly in July, after attending the Eighth ILO Meeting of Caribbean Labour Ministers, that his counterpart in St Kitts had agreed to share information with Bermuda about its economic citizenship programme.

It is understood the idea has yet to be discussed within Cabinet and Tourism Minister Shawn Crockwell declined to comment yesterday.

Mr Christensen said: “I know Government is considering this but I would encourage them to look at how this can really impact and benefit all of Bermuda and not just a select few. I think that this has got to be something well thought out for the benefit of all of Bermuda.

“I honestly think it's a potential game changer for Bermuda, it really is.

“St Kitts has two hotels going up as a result of the economic initiatives. They funded one hotel purely on selling real estate attached with citizenship.

“To me, there is absolutely no question that the rest of the Caribbean are now reviewing economic citizenship as an incentive to get hospitality developments going.

“I think Bermuda should have an economic citizenship incentive within hospitality-designated areas to encourage investment into the real estate component, which is absolutely critical to support the economics of a tourism-related product.

“I think it's really a must. We have got an opportunity to do something right for a change.”

He said the conference he attended was “really useful, very informative” but “really sort of pointed out that Bermuda is really not well-positioned on the road of tourism investment and ... hospitality”.

Mr Christensen said the focus was largely on Spanish-speaking countries, with Bermuda barely getting a mention.

The financial woes of Tucker's Point and Newstead — the Island's newest hotels — had not gone unnoticed, he added, and had “caused more concerns about Bermuda's long-term viability”.

Mr Christensen said he had given the idea of economic citizenship much thought and realised many people would worry about an influx of new citizens affecting their job security and ability to buy property,

But he said the number could be capped at about 1,500 and those buying citizenship would not be competing with the general population for jobs.

“There may even be a positive benefit in that they may be able to create jobs for Bermudians and certainly speak highly of Bermuda elsewhere,” he added.

“When you recognise that these people will be spending $2.5 million or more it's unlikely that they will have anything other than a positive impact.”

Mr Christensen said he thought the current laws surrounding the acquisition of property on the Island should be left alone — and that economic citizenship should only be available to those investing in a tourism product.

Government would need to flesh out the idea and decide whether citizenship would come with voting rights or not, he added, and applicants would need to be vetted to ensure they were “fit and proper persons”.

Government has recently formed the Economic Development Committee to try to reduce red tape for large development projects and Mr Christensen said he welcomed that.

Giving an update on work at Morgan's Point, he said the remediation of pollution left by the US military continued and he still hoped the first hotel on the site would be opened in 2016, despite the challenge of finding finance.

“We want to get things going as rapidly as possible because we recognise that Bermuda needs a project quickly and so we work 24/7 trying to expedite the process.

“There's no question that it's a challenge. We are having challenges. I think other developers have even bigger challenges and therefore it's necessary to make some bold steps such as economic citizenship.”

He said introducing gambling for hotels here was a must but would not be a game changer. “We are only trying to level the playing field. It doesn't give us a huge advantage at this point but it may attract some financing.”

Morgan's Point co-owner developer Craig Christensen
Morgan's Point co-owner developer Craig Christensen

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Published November 20, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated November 20, 2013 at 9:00 am)

‘Bermuda is a hard sell’ — Morgan’s point co-owner

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