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FRONT PORCH: RCI beach club a bad deal, but Bay Street needs to be revitalised


MANY generations of Bahamians have walked or driven past St Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk (Church) on Shirley Street in downtown Nassau. The iconic buildings, just east of Peck’s Slope, Market Street, Gregory’s Arch and Government House atop Mount Fitzwilliam, form part of an historic cityscape.

The Kirk, especially in the mind’s eye of a child, was always a complex of gleaming, pristine white structures, and somewhat mysterious.

Drive past the main church structure today and one is disturbed, saddened by the layers of black dirt or soot that seems caked onto the stairs of the building facing Shirley Street directly across from the Central Bank.

Last week, in the middle of the day, with Bahamians and scores of tourists bustling throughout the City, there was a homeless man stretched across the steps rolling a cigarette. A tourist peered at the man through the black iron fence. One can imagine what she was thinking.

The scene seemed a metaphor for the state of downtown Nassau: an unkempt, grimy locale daily welcoming millions of cruise ship and other visitors to a city in dire need of sweeping transformation, improved amenities and general restoration.

According to the Kirk’s website: “The St Andrew’s Society, formed in 1798 … agreed to donate £200 towards procuring a church site, constructing a building, and paying a minister’s stipend …

“In 1873 the cornerstone was laid for the Kirk Hall … [which was] built by Mr Joseph Elias Dupuch, with the plans drawn up by Mr James B Smith, an architect from New York. The stonework and carpentry were done by local workmen and overseen by the stonemason foreman, Mr Thomas Dorsett.”


There is other layered and rich history resident throughout the City of Nassau, including Government House, which after some refurbishments over the years, is finally undergoing extensive upgrades and repairs.

Over the last several years there have been new developments and upgrades, both commercial and historical, in downtown Nassau including: the new Straw Market, Pompey Museum and Square, the Pointe and others.

The new Nassau Cruise Port and new US Embassy will help to improve the image of the City. The previous government was set to build a new judicial complex on the site of the now demolished main post office, and permission was given for a new central bank on the site of the Royal Victoria Hotel Grounds.

Despite some progress, much of downtown Nassau and the surrounding city environs from east to west and from north to south, are mostly grimy, seedy, putrid and heartrending.


A Bahamian professional recently noted in a post: “I worked in the downtown area a long time ago and then more recently, in the last 10 years. I have watched the deterioration of the area with much sadness and regret.

“Today, I had occasion to go downtown and was amazed at the amount of people on Bay Street and the side streets. There seemed like thousands or many hundreds of people on the north and south sidewalks, on the cross walks, standing around in the street.

“The people who were headed west had lots to see. But my heart went out to the people who were heading east. I am almost certain they were looking for Atlantis which was a relatively shortish walk from the cruise port.

“But I am sure nobody told them they would have to go through the ‘war zone’ that is the space between Elizabeth Avenue and Christie Street to get there.”

“The jitney buses, the broken-down buildings, the garbage - yes garbage - in the road, the rundown side streets, the terrible state of the road, potholes everywhere. The sidewalks themselves are a danger to walk on, any next step could land you flat on your face.

“There are little oases here and there, but if you are walking with young children, like I saw some of them doing, you are going to turn back long before you get to one.”

There has been some progress and reimaging of downtown Nassau, including legislation offering a range of incentives for redevelopment. But our progress has been too slow, too unimaginative, and lacking in bolder and new thinking on city governance and new ideas for economic development.

There needs to be some sort of independent authority and perhaps private maintenance group, both with the necessary funds, to maintain downtown. Public authorities clearly and demonstrably lack this ability, which is a failure of imagination, will and competence.


We have failed so miserably in refurbishing downtown that both an FNM and a PLP government have given a cruise line, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line (RCCL), permission to build its own beach club cum enclave, in part to keep their passengers away from Nassau.

RCCL, like other tourism businesses, seeks to maximize profits. Our responsibility as a sovereign nation is to what is in the best interest of Bahamians and to place our guidelines and necessary strictures on how we deal with international airlines, hotel groups, cruise lines and foreign investors.

The RCCL deal is a failure on at least two major fronts: A failure to improve our tourism product and services, and a failure of economic justice and progress for greater Bahamian ownership and involvement in tourism.

On our part, the deal feels more a boon for certain Bahamian oligarchs, black and white, and a failure to realise greater opportunity for other entrepreneurs who are not connected to certain power and economic structures and clubs.


Former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham would likely not have approved such a deal, and Perry Christie has publicly stated his difficulties with the project. In a story in this journal, Mr Christie argued: “One of the challenges I’ve always had with cruise lines is that I accepted their argument that they needed a destination within The Bahamas where they could put a special experience in place. In the case of Royal Caribbean, that was done in the Berry Islands. I think they put a major investment there. I never saw that as important for New Providence.

“What was important for New Providence to me was not to be victim of the argument that people have very little to do because huge numbers are now coming through cruise ships but to improve the experience so that the greatest number of people are able to access the revenue that is available from cruise passengers as opposed to having a limited experience, peculiar to Royal Caribbean or any other cruise ship.”

“So quite frankly, I’ve always been an advocate for widening the amount of people who people are exposed to [sic] New Providence is a place where we have to do a much better job developing the experience of Bay Street. I mean, we tried, and governments have tried and we’ve never somehow been able to put together a sustained approach to rehabilitating the environs of Bay Street and making it in itself a destination.”

“We have places like Clifton that we have not integrated into the tourism mainstay, even though it is some distance. And I think the country has to continue to recognise that if we’re going to get the real value from cruise passengers that we must expose them as best we can to many more people than they are now exposed to, enabling therefore the revenue that comes from them to benefit more.”

Mr Christie is on the mark. There is a place for the cruise industry, more of which in subsequent columns. But no cruise line should have its own foreign-owned enclave on New Providence or Paradise Island.

The RCCL idea of establishing a private island experience for its cruise passengers in the heart of downtown Nassau began with the previous administration.

Under this arrangement, hundreds of thousands of their passengers would sail into Nassau, get off the ship, transfer to their controlled Paradise Island Beach Club, return to the ship, and sail away having left a few proverbial crumbs behind.

The Beach Club will also deprive taxi drivers, tour providers, Junkanoo Beach vendors and Fish Fry vendors of an opportunity to earn directly from those hundreds of thousands of visitors. The Bahamas will count those visitors but they will leave relatively little behind for the general economy.


The notion that a minority portion of the RCCL investment will be reserved for Bahamians is a poor substitute for depriving hundreds of Bahamian vendors of direct income.

The Atlantis objection is seeking to solve the minor problem. While there might be some environmental issues to be solved, those solutions will still leave the stench of economic betrayal of the small man and other Bahamian entrepreneurs in this deal.

The job of the government is to use taxpayers’ money to accelerate the economic growth and development of The Bahamas and ensure that the benefits derived therefrom are spread as equitably and widely as possible.

This is a bad deal for the environment. It is a poor deal economically. It is a colossal failure by some Bahamian leaders to dramatically transform downtown and to transform their own thinking in terms of industrial strategy in tourism, including diversification within the industry and the redevelopment of the City of Nassau.

More in the weeks ahead.