Bay Street’s ‘Forgotten Step Child’ Fear Eased
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
• Minister reassures on $250m cruise port tie-in
• Again urges that buildings face the waterfront
• ‘Be best’ if a major developer was to swoop in
A Cabinet minister last week met with Bay Street business and property owners to reassure them they will not “be a forgotten step child” in downtown Nassau’s redevelopment.
Dionisio D’Aguilar, minister of tourism and aviation, disclosed to Tribune Business he met key stakeholders last Wednesday to address concerns over how their interests will “tie in” to the ongoing $250m transformation of Nassau’s cruise port.
Attendees, he said, were especially keen to understand how cruise passengers will “flow” from the redeveloped port on to Woodes Rogers Walk and into the city of Nassau in a way that distributes visitors evenly among numerous merchants and other vendors that depend on the industry.
Pledging that cruise visitors will no longer be “bunched up” and funnelled exclusively through Rawson Square when the cruise port’s reconstruction is finished, Mr D’Aguilar said his recent visit to The Pointe had again highlighted how Bay Street needed to be almost entirely reconfigured.
Hailing the “awe inspiring” and “breathtaking” views across Nassau harbour from the near-completed project adjacent to the British Colonial Hilton, he added that buildings on downtown’s main thoroughfare - especially the section between East Street and the Sir Sidney Poitier Bridge - needed to face the waterfront rather than inwards to the street as they presently do.
Mr D’Aguilar, acknowledging that it downtown Nassau’s redevelopment has been hindered by difficulties in obtaining “consensus” among its major property owners and other stakeholders on the way forward, even argued it would “be best” if a major developer came into acquire the idle waterfront real estate and transform it in similar fashion to the Dart Group’s Cayman Island investments.
“I met with the land owners of Bay Street,” the minister revealed to this newspaper of his March 17 discussions. “They were concerned as to how they will be tied into this port. They don’t want to be a forgotten step child in how the port is redeveloped.
“The whole point of the port being redeveloped is to allow passengers to allow passengers to flow into Bay Street through multiple different arteries. They can come down Rawson Square, Frederick Street and Charlotte Street, as well as Pompey Square, instead of everybody bunching up through Rawson Square and being carried down Woodes Rogers Walk.”
Mr D’Aguilar said he provided details on plans to “open up” Rawson Square and beautify/renovate the location, with the existing Churchill Building earmarked for demolition and a new Cabinet Office constructed on that site - possibly with retail and other office space.
He added that the area will become “a more welcoming and warm space for our visitors”, while traffic flow restrictions and the removal of vehicle parking would make Woodes Rogers Walk “a more pleasant pedestrian option and stroll” for visitors and locals alike.
Charles Klonaris, the Downtown Nassau Partnership’s (DNP) co-chair, yesterday confirmed both the March 17 meeting and the issues discussed with the property owners and businesses as outlined by Mr D’Aguilar, although he himself was not present.
“They wanted to find out the details of the cruise port development and how they can tie in, particularly down the side streets and how tourists will flow into the city,” Mr Klonaris added. “They were saying that Woodes Rogers Walk is critical in terms of how it ties in with the port to help pedestrian traffic flow through the city and side streets.
“From what I understand the DNP was also exploring with them [Bay Street stakeholders] the draft of the management agreement for the city. Hopefully, the DNP will have a management agreement set up to manage parts of the city. The Bay Street property owners would like to help and tie in with the management of the city and play a significant part.”
Such a management deal would see the DNP, effectively a public-private sector partnership (PPP), take over responsibility from the Government for running certain aspects of downtown Nassau. Acknowledging that this would have to be legislated by Parliament, Mr Klonaris said the draft management deal was “submitted some time ago” and negotiations had been delayed by COVID-19’s fall-out.
“The property owners feel there’s a lot of impetus going forward, especially with the likes of The Pointe and Margaritaville, so they feel it’s the right time to get together and put some energy behind the redevelopment of Nassau,” he added.
“The boardwalk is expanding rapidly, we have the new US embassy, Central Bank and Supreme Court taking place on the top of the hill. These are factors that are going to reignite the redevelopment of the city of Nassau.”
Downtown Nassau’s revival has been talked about for decades. While the removal of the shipping industry from Bay Street; waterfront boardwalk; and Pompey Square can be cited as successes, progress has been painfully slow with the city declining as an attraction that has to compete against both Atlantis and Baha Mar.
Many properties located east of East Street remain abandoned and/or in a state of disrepair, with the area increasingly becoming an eyesore and depreciating real estate values. The provision of tax breaks by the Government has failed to incentivise redevelopment, although there were long-standing complaints until recently that this was being held back by zoning restrictions and other red tape.
Mr D’Aguilar did not identify exactly who he met with last week, but among Bay Street and downtown Nassau land owners are some of The Bahamas’ wealthiest families such as the Kelly’s, the Bethell’s and the Symonette’s.
He added that his visit to The Pointe had reaffirmed that too many waterfront properties are facing the wrong way, which in many cases he attributed to their former use by the shipping companies.
“The views of the harbour of Nassau were so breathtakingly beautiful, and really emphasised that properties on the waterfront have for many years been oriented inwards to the street when they should be oriented outwards to the waterfront,” Mr D’Aguilar told Tribune Business.
“It took The Pointe project to allow everybody to see with their eyes how beautiful the city of Nassau is, and the views from the city of Nassau are breathtaking. The views from the resort are awe inspiring.”
Mr D’Aguilar said Margaritaville and The Pointe’s owner, China Construction America (CCA), are likely “under-estimating” the business they will attract from cruise ship passengers, with their project and the redeveloped cruise port set to “provide the impression that Nassau has been upgraded and transformed” post-COVID-19.
The minister also made what some might interpret as a plea for a major developer to acquire all the waterfront real estate between East Street and the Paradise Island ‘on’ bridge, and transform the area into a mixed-use “living city” much like the Dart Group has achieved with Camana Bay in the Cayman Islands.
Noting that little redevelopment is occurring in this area, Mr D’Aguilar said: “If anybody could have the foresight to buy all those properties and develop them in the way that The Pointe did, orientating them towards the harbour, it is absolutely stunningly beautiful and would enhance the value of real estate tremendously. I don’t understand why that has not happened.
“If we are ever to make downtown Nassau a living city, with condos, apartments, timeshares and flats, there should be a master plan for how to make it happen. The problems of Bay Street have always been the problems of Bay Street. There are multiple owners, so it’s very difficult to get consensus on how to move forward.
“It would be best if a developer came into Nassau and created something similar to what Mr Dart did in Cayman, with a mixed-use development from East Street all the way to the beach soccer stadium, and having everything oriented to the waterfront with lots of living and eating options. It would be absolutely incredible.”
The Dart Group arrived in The Bahamas around a decade ago when it acquired real estate at the corner of Bay Street and Parliament Street from Phillip Hillier’s Parliament Properties. Its ambitions at the time were said to extend beyond this purchase but such designs have yet to materialise.