Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe
By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
TOURISM Minister Obie Wilchcombe said the government is considering pedestrianising Bay Street as it strategises about revitalising the tourist hotspot and looks to increase visitor arrivals.
Mr Wilchcombe said that while making the switch had been on the table for many years, he was in the process of reviewing a proposal that examined the feasibility of turning Bay Street into a vehicle-free zone.
Mr Wilchcombe said: “Does Bay Street become a pedestrian walk? Does it become a place where more Bahamians could own shops and more Bahamians can own, if not a shop, but certainly have kiosks just on Bay Street? Can we not turn it into an exciting place very much like they have on Paradise Island Marina Village?
“It has been on the table for years. Many people have raised it. I am right now reviewing a document that was prepared.
“It is a review done several years ago by Robert Johnson and it is an incredible piece of work.
“We are looking at it and the question is what can Bay Street become in the new order of the world.”
He spoke to The Tribune about the government’s plans for the tourism product on Monday at his office in the business centre of the British Colonial Hilton Hotel.
Mr Wilchcombe reiterated that for a long time, the three to four million tourists who enter the country by cruise ship have not been spending enough in downtown stores.
“They are not spending as we think they should spend,” Mr Wilchcombe said. “So we have to look at Bay Street, at duty free shopping, at the types of restaurants, variations of restaurants and bars. Entertainment is a big factor as well along with variations of it.
Right now there are none.
“So the object here is cause for a draw to Bay Street and get all those passengers off the ship.”
This comes after Mr Wilchcombe’s defence of the reported multi-million dollar deal for the British Colonial Hilton to be sold to China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC).
He said the government did not influence selecting which entity would purchase the Hilton.
The sale, which was formally announced on Friday, coincides with the government’s plans to restore downtown Nassau. CSCEC plans to inject more than $700m into the Bahamas’ economy.
Mr Wilchcombe said: “The government had no responsibility for the sale of the Hilton.
“The government had to approve the sale from one group to the other, but the truth is it did not sit (with the government).”
CSCEC’s purchase of the hotel has attracted criticism from some who feel it will give China a larger stake in the local economy.
“It is currently building the $3.5 billion Baha Mar resort and has a $150m equity stake in that project.