St George feels ‘abandoned’, retail pressure group says
Businesses in ailing St George have claimed they felt “abandoned” by the authorities as they battle to breathe new life into the Olde Towne.
The St George’s Stakeholder Group, made up of more than 20 businesses, said the town centre needed major improvements before the start of the summer season.
A spokesman added: "Over the last two years, businesses around the world have faced unprecedented challenges.
“Here in St George's, things have also been dire. During this time, not one entity has reached out to us for meetings, a forum or anything.
“It has been extremely disappointing for St George's business owners to see that, instead of receiving support and being included in conversations about the strategic direction of the town, we've felt abandoned by infrastructure services and sometimes even received pushback on what we thought were simple requests.”
The spokesman added: “We are asking the powers that be to give our beautiful historic town, Bermuda's Unesco World Heritage Site, the support we need to have a vibrant and successful tourism season."
He said: “As we look forward to the summer 2022 season, we felt it imperative to be more vocal about our plans and concerns to hopefully raise awareness and receive the support we desperately need."
The group has contacted government ministers, MPs, the Bermuda Tourism Authority and the Corporation of St George to highlight its concerns.
A government ferry service to St George, enforcement of pedestrianisation on Water Street and more entertainment were top of the group’s action list.
The corporation defended its record on promotion of St George and said it was working on a town plan and had appointed a steering committee that included a member of the stakeholder group.
The stakeholder group spokesman said: “Large cruise ships arrived in Dockyard with zero ferry service to St George's.
“When Viking Cruise Lines decided to cancel their St George's calls, despite requests for ferry service from Hamilton or Dockyard, none was put in place.
“So tourists were in Bermuda, but St George's missed out on an entire season unnecessarily.
"Ferries are the only way that hundreds of people can be transported to the town at a time. The negative impact of not having a ferry last summer cannot be overstated.“
The spokesman added it was “excellent news” that the Norwegian Cruise Line tender would run to St George from Dockyard in the summer.
But he said: “We must also have a St George's public ferry, either from Hamilton or Dockyard, as this would make it possible for hotel guests, residents and passengers on other cruise lines to use this service.”
The spokesman added that Water Street had been open to traffic for more than two years, even though it is supposed to be pedestrianised during the day.
He said: “"For whatever reason, the current administration of the Corporation of St George has not been amenable to implementing their own policy, but the businesses of the town are adamant that it must happen this summer to ensure guest safety and create the desired atmosphere.”
The group also appealed to entertainers to consider the town as a venue for performances.
The spokesman said: "Music, art, theatrical re-enactments — we need the town to come alive and want to work with tourism stakeholders and artists to create a plan.
“We intend to apply for tourism investment funding and would love to connect with anyone interested in hosting activities in the town.“
They added that some buildings in St George had been abandoned and turned into “safety hazards, eyesores and are impacting our heritage status”.
The spokesman said: “We are hopeful that some action can be taken to engage with these building owners before the summer season, particularly those on York Street and near the Town Square."
He added: "We are mindful of the many social and economic challenges facing our island.
“We believe that, with the necessary support, St George's can be part of the solution by creating jobs, celebrating our history and culture, enhancing safety and strengthening the community.”
Candy-Lee Foggo, the town manager and secretary at the Corporation of St George, told the pressure group in an e-mail: “While progress is still ongoing, we are in hopes that both the residential and business sectors support the Corporation as we move forward to wake up the town, provide an updated infrastructure and then hopefully become an assisted resource for both residents and businesses to thrive.”
She added that the inclusion of a group member on the steering group “demonstrates that the steering committee was constructed to be inclusive and you should utilise your stakeholder group representative to communicate your desires to the steering committee”.
Ms Foggo highlighted the role of the East End division of the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce in campaigning for the area.
She said: “This organisation has the ability to advocate on behalf of the businesses to the relevant ministry partners. The Corporation representative attends this meeting on a monthly basis with the intention to keep abreast of and communicate with the businesses of the town.”
Ms Foggo added that the corporation had to develop ways to become “financially self-sustaining”.
She said: “The business and residents of the town have enjoyed many services and infrastructure improvements without having directly contributed to the financial success of the town.”
The stakeholder group said it had contacted Renée Ming, the Progressive Labour Party MP for St George’s North, and Kim Swan, the PLP MP for St George’s West, to drum up support.
It added that it had also written to the Bermuda Tourism Authority, the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation, the Department of Marine and Ports Services, Lawrence Scott, the transport minister, and David Burt, the Premier, to highlight its case.