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Shipping container visitor hub gets extra two years

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The Bermuda Tourism Authority's Visitor Services Centre on Front Street (File photograph)

A visitor hub made from shipping containers is to be removed from its Front Street location in less than two years under terms set by the Development Applications Board.

The Bermuda Tourism Authority was given permission to continue operations at its Visitor Services Centre in Hamilton until February 16, 2025.

It will have another three months to remove the structure and restore the land to its former condition, the DAB stipulated.

The BTA said yesterday that it would plan a relocation of its Hamilton services.

A report to the Development Applications Board from the Department of Planning said that the tourism authority had sought to extend a temporary five-year permission for the three-storey unit for a further five years.

The department recommended limiting approval to two years from the date of planning permission.

Minutes from a DAB meeting, held on September 6, said that board members discussed backdating the approval.

The minutes explained that the board agreed to approve the application with certain conditions, which included: “In order to safeguard the amenity of the surrounding area (Front Street and the waterfront), the permission hereby granted is for a limited period only until February 16, 2025 when the use shall cease and, within three months (by May 16, 2025), all structures shall be entirely removed and the land shall be restored to its former condition.”

They said that a building permit revision must be obtained from the planning department within a month of the permission and that the approved use of the structure must cease unless a Certificate of Completion and Occupancy is issued within two months.

The minutes added: “In the interests of ensuring the structural and visual integrity of the temporary structure, a maintenance programme shall accompany the application for a revision to the building permit, to include a schedule of painting and rust management and a timetable for the dismantling and removal of the structure within three months from the date that the planning permission expires.”

Jakai Franks, the BTA’s vice-president of operations, said yesterday: “We acknowledge and respect the decision of the DAB regarding the future of the Front Street Visitor Services Centre.

“Although initially unexpected, we are reframing this latest development as an opportunity to establish a new location that will continue to meet the needs and expectations of our visitors, who continue to favour the VSC positively.

“We will plan our relocation and secure a new space that retains the accessibility, convenience and customer service of our existing Visitor Services Centre.

“We look forward to sharing further updates soon.”

The visitor centre is on land rented from the City of Hamilton and a city spokeswoman said yesterday that the organisation was in the process of agreeing a new lease.

The America’s Cup Team Artemis guest pavilion which was used to make the visitor centre (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Planning approval for the unit was first granted in 2017 after the BTA applied for permission to move the Team Artemis guest pavilion — used as part of the event village for the 35th America’s Cup — to its site on Front Street, near the junction with Queen Street.

In its meeting minutes, the DAB said then that the permission would expire five years from the issuance date of the building permit, “when the structure shall be removed and the land shall be restored to its former condition”.

The BTA said earlier, in response to a public access to information request, that the initial budget for construction of the building was $825,000 but that did not include acquisition of the containers and an elevator, or work related to disability access.

It added that spending on the build turned out to be $952,772 after additional costs related to strengthening of the structure to meet Bermuda code.

A BTA information officer confirmed later that the containers cost $245,831, the elevator was $66,000 and the remaining amount attributed to work for disability access was about $65,000.

Those figures brought the total spend to more than $1.3 million.

The Hamilton Visitor Services Centre was officially opened in April 2019.

A letter from Adwick Planning, on behalf of the BTA, dated December 23, 2022, said the VSC became “an extremely important resource on Front Street which is convenient for visitors and a revenue generator for Bermuda”.

It added: “Since 2019 125,000 visitors have used BVSC [Bermuda Visitor Services Centre] despite the loss of two full tourism seasons due to the Covid pandemic.

“It has also developed into a vibrant and recognisable amenity on Front Street with a successful independent vendor located on the top floor providing hospitality jobs and a local experience for visitors.

“The Bermuda Tourism Authority recognises that the BVSC is essentially a temporary structure but the impact of Covid has severely hampered its ability to look at alternatives.”

Minutes from a meeting held in April of the Advisory Architectural Panel showed that among their inquiries members sought further information on how the building generated revenue.

The notes said Peter Adwick, the agent for the application, responded that the BTA did not perceive the structure as a revenue-generating entity; its purpose was to service visitors on the island.

They added that he said the tourism authority was looking at opportunities to create income on the second level.

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Published September 19, 2023 at 7:57 am (Updated September 19, 2023 at 7:38 am)

Shipping container visitor hub gets extra two years

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