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Fairmont Southampton ‘project proceeding, works ongoing’

A photograph sent earlier this year by Westend Properties Ltd shows workers at the Fairmont Southampton start the much anticipated renovations (Photograph supplied)

Work at the Fairmont Southampton is “ongoing” and the “project is proceeding”, the hotel’s owner, Westend Properties, said.

However, in a statement, Westend admitted that there had been a delay in delivering staff housing for use during the renovation of the hotel.

Last Friday, the One Bermuda Alliance leader, Jarion Richardson, asked when a special development order, which would pave the way for up to 250 tourism and residential units at the hotel, would be published in the Official Gazette.

In response, the Cabinet Office minister, Vance Campbell, said: “When all matters pertaining to the overarching transaction that governs the project have been completed, the SDO will be brought into force.”

Asked what the outstanding matters were, the minister replied: “Those matters are of a private nature — they don’t involve the Government — and when we are advised that everything has been agreed and signed off, we will bring the SDO into force.”

The Royal Gazette asked Westend what matters remained outstanding, as well as what stage the overarching transaction governing the project had reached — and what the overarching transaction related to.

In its statement, Westend said: “The project is proceeding and works are ongoing. Necessary demolition at the Beach Club in preparation for the upgraded facility has been completed.

“Initial work at the site of our staff housing revealed the need to replace some critical infrastructure.

“This key first phase of delivering staff housing for use during the main hotel building renovation is therefore taking slightly longer than anticipated.

“Westend remains excited about restoring this iconic tourism property and we are working hard, laying the foundation for a world-class tourism product in Bermuda.”

Last night, OBA senator Dwayne Robinson accused the Government of refusing to update the House of Assembly, the Senate or the public on the progress of work on the hotel.

Mr Robinson pointed out that an SDO for the hotel got approved in 2009.

He added: “It is still unclear as to why the 2009 SDO could not have been enough to get the hotel reopened.

“Why couldn’t building begin, and then, if needed, the SDO expanded in the future?”

Mr Robinson also took the Government to task over tourism, saying the Vacation Rental (Application and Registration) Fees Act 2023, which placed an additional tax on the vacation rental industry, had had a detrimental effect.

“The Bermuda Rental Association of Vacation-Home rentals claims that 300 members took their properties off the rental market when the fees were introduced.

“This further reduces our bed capacity, on top of the closure of the Fairmont Southampton.”

He called on the Government to reverse the fee and urged it to review the Landlord and Tenant Act 1974 to make landlords more confident about renting out their properties.

The senator also said that the Bermuda Tourism Authority’s grant was cut this year by $2.46 million to $16.54 million, “the lowest amount in recent history”.

“While revenues from visitor fees supplement the government grant, they have not increased enough over time to compensate for reduction in funding due to capacity constraints.

“Tourism needs rebuilding, and we are forcing our flagship entity to operate with less and less year-over-year, yet expecting an increase in results.

“However, we see the finance minister increase the government guarantee of the Bermuda Gaming Commission to $10 million despite there being no gaming industry to regulate.”

Last night, the Government hit back, accusing the OBA of being “misleading“ and issuing ”empty criticisms“ that did not ”align with the facts“.

A spokesman for the Cabinet Office said: “Over the past years, the Government has worked tirelessly to support the National Tourism Plan and has worked to enhance Bermuda’s tourism offerings.

"There has been progress in tourism infrastructure and hotel development, and we have witnessed a strong rebound in air and cruise visitors to Bermuda since the pandemic.

The spokesman listed several hotels, including Grotto Bay, Azure and Cambridge Beaches, that were undergoing renovations.

"As it relates to the Fairmont Southampton SDO, the Minister for the Cabinet Office was clear in the House of Assembly last week. But once again, the Opposition is not being fully transparent.

“They know that there are works taking place at the Fairmont site and we expect that Westend Properties will provide an update on the status of the works, which are significant.”

The spokesman added: “The success of our tourism product and the development of our hotel properties is in the national economic interest of Bermuda.

“The Government has been steadfast and committed to strengthening Bermuda’s tourism product following a once-in-a-century pandemic, and the Government has delivered, which is why no one in the tourism sector is complaining about the start to this year's tourism season.

“The only complaints seem to come from an Opposition who is so desperate for relevance, they continually ignore the evidence of tourism progress all around Bermuda."

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Published June 21, 2024 at 7:57 am (Updated June 21, 2024 at 7:57 am)

Fairmont Southampton ‘project proceeding, works ongoing’

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