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EDITORIAL: What next for Downtown?

AS the ribbon was cut on the new cruise port on Friday, much of the discussion was centred not on the new facility – but on what it means for Downtown.

Reassuringly, it seems there is unity across the political spectrum that something needs to be done to improve the Downtown area.

Admittedly, the decline in Downtown has also occurred across that same political spectrum. Both parties have presided over years of the area becoming tattered and rundown.

The port itself has an obligation to provide $8m to beautify the area – although $1m of that has reportedly already been spent on renovating the tourism building at the north end of Rawson Square to turn it into a police station, as well as on moving vendors into the square and demolishing old shacks.

That $8m will be very welcome, but $8m won’t go very far on its own to create a sea change in the district.

The Bank of The Bahamas alone has written off more than that over the abandoned plans to build a new headquarters in the downtown area.

FNM leader Michael Pintard has called for greater urgency in revamping downtown – and sought collaboration between the government and the private sector. He did, notably, lament that it was “most unfortunate that we have taken so long over successive administrations”.

He is also open to working with the government – and a bi-partisan approach could avoid such issues as a bank headquarters being junked after a change of administration.

Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis, speaking at the opening of the port, called on investors to “shape the future of Nassau and create a vibrant and prosperous urban centre that we can all be proud of”.

He pointed to the demolition of “existing eyesores” and said his government remained “committed to the revitalisation of Downtown Nassau”.

He talked of “bold steps” – well, how bold, exactly?

If we are still only calling on investors, we are not at the stage of having a grand plan, it would seem. Where is the plan for which those investors should give their support?

In the ideal world, the opening of the port would have matched the completion of downtown renovations to give the whole area a new zest and vitality.

One thing that the owners of the port and the businesses downtown share is the common goal of encouraging more visitors to come off the cruise ships – wallets that never leave the ship will never be opened at businesses around town.

Some efforts to beautify the area need little in the way of expense – start with a drive to clean out the litter-filled alleyways along Bay Street. Urban Renewal could take the lead. It could coincide with our Independence countdown – we could Pick Up With Pride.

DOWNTOWN will need more substantial efforts than just that, of course, but as long as we are content to leave such a mess, no one will believe we really intend to tackle the larger issues.

We have said before in this column, the opening of the port is not an end, but a beginning.

It is time for those who would lead our country to write the next chapter.