Westend hits back over hotel SDO ‘tokenism’ claims
The company spearheading a proposed redevelopment of the Fairmont Southampton says changes in a special development order are not “tokenism” and include key environmental and community gains.
Westend Properties Ltd issued a statement to “set the record straight” after Craig Cannonier, the Shadow Minister of Tourism, said the development had been scaled back simply to garner public support.
The Bermuda National Trust also said the new plans appeared to be “tokenism”, suggesting it was “the game plan all along to propose something so outrageous that any scaling back would be considered a win”.
But in the statement, Westend hit back and a spokeswoman said: “Despite recent claims in the media to the contrary, we would like to reiterate that our strategy was never to apply for higher density with the intention of then ‘settling’ for fewer units.
“We do not view this process as a game and have not submitted a revised application as a ‘publicity stunt’.
“Rather ― and as we have stated repeatedly ― we would like to start the hotel renovations as soon as possible; going through the SDO review process twice is only resulting in further delay.”
She added: “The revisions made to the SDO application were based on the feedback we received through the public consultation process and from the Department of Planning.
“Our goal is to present a proposal that will satisfy all parties and we believe we have achieved this objective through the revised SDO application.”
Westend initially sought permission for 147 residential units and 114 tourism units on the property, in addition to refurbishing the hotel building.
The new plans proposed dropping the total units from 261 to 250.
Tourism units were increased from 114 to 159, and the residential units proposed have dropped to 91, meaning the number of tourism bedrooms will increase from 311 to 441.
The Westend spokeswoman added that the company also planned to improve surrounding traffic conditions at its own expense.
This would include the realignment of South Road to eliminate its S-bend and establishing a three-way traffic light system at the hotel’s access road junction with Middle Road and Lighthouse Road.
Westend has also pledged to add improvements to the Railway Trail such as installing security lighting and a ramp for cyclists.
It said that it would ensure the “active preservation” two Historic Protection Areas on Turtle Hill and install natural seating, signs, and bluebird nesting boxes.
The spokeswoman added that about 60 per cent of the property would remain a green space.
She said that the six-storey buildings initially proposed would be replaced by two and three-storey buildings redesigned to “reduce massing and integrate better into the landscape”, however according to the revised SDO plans remain for four-storey buildings.
The Westend spokeswoman said: “It must be emphasised that this rebalancing will not result in any further concessions from the government.”
She said that, regarding Gencom CEO Karim Alibhai’s comments that “everything that could go wrong has been going wrong” with this project, Westend was confident in its ability to reopen the hotel.
In an interview with trade publication Hotel Investment Today, Mr Alibhai was quoted as saying on the Fairmont Southampton: “That one has been not so easy to execute on because the markets, construction costs, capital market costs, everything that could go wrong, has been going wrong. But we’re going to get it done.”
The Westend spokeswoman said: “There’s no denying that global events, from the Covid-19 pandemic, to supply chain issues, to rising interest rates and capital markets volatility, have made embarking on major construction projects in the hospitality industry extremely challenging in the past couple of years, not just in Bermuda, but worldwide. This project was not unaffected by these external forces.”
The Westend spokeswoman said that, after purchasing the hotel in December 2019, they hoped to keep it open throughout 2020 before closing for 12 to 18 months and reopening for 2022.
But she added that “the onslaught of the pandemic” closed it down and declining market conditions kept it shuttered.
The spokeswoman said: “Despite these unforeseeable challenges, we remain optimistic about this project and are looking forward to getting started on the development so we can share Bermuda’s breathtaking beauty and unmatched hospitality with the rest of the world.”