By Richard Coulson
John Issa, the astute Jamaican hotelier of the Breezes chain, has written his umpteenth column of acute criticism about down town's dilapidation. While fully accepting the Chinese renovation of the western segment with the completed parking structure and the Pointe in progress, he will not let us forget the much larger area from the British Colonial to the Paradise Island Bridge remains the "decaying" centre, with eastern Bay Street a painful "eyesore".
Naturally he lays this at Government's failure to create a unified "master plan" for downtown, after innumerable false starts. He may not be aware that last February, six months ago, Prime Minister Minnis announced any new improvements were now the responsibility of the Downtown Nassau Partnership (DNP), that well-meaning but shadowy private-sector entity that has been long on ideas but short on results.
Yes, it can take credit for Pompey Square and a few pedestrian-only streets, but any tangible restorations in the "zombie zone" east of East Street remain invisible.
I had hoped that under the leadership of vigorous hotel executive and talk-show host Ed Fields, the DNP would become a well-spring of hard news, but seems still locked in its own, or Government- imposed, inertia. Mr Fields often speaks about the new harbour-front boardwalk, planned and financially backed by the private property owners, that will become the "catalyst" for Bay Street renaissance. But of this large and complex project, not a single sign of construction nor even preparation can yet be spotted anywhere along the waterfront. Another chimera?
When I asked Mr Fields about smaller initiatives that the DNP could undertake, I get nothing but vague generalities. For years, the so-called cotton-gin building, a gem of colonial architecture, has stood as an abandoned sore thumb looming among parking lots just east of Prince George Dock. The owners have said they are willing to undertake restoration, but Mr Fields only mentioned to me "government complications". I thought his job was to solve them, rather than be paralysed by the Antiquities & Monuments Corporation.
The gloomy cockroach haven the long-shut Corona Hotel blights a full Bay Street block and is an obvious candidate for demolition or government seizure for re-sale, But it sits there dark and unchanged, earning zero and probably not paying one penny of property tax. Mr Fields could give me no firm answer as to its fate, not even a suggestion.
These two buildings are small examples of how Bay Street redevelopment could begin. Why does not DNP undertake its task by leading their restoration rather the waiting for a grand "master plan" that may be years down the road, if ever?
An effective broad-scope scheme for all down town will never be realised unless the cruise-line companies or other foreign development experts join with both their ideas and their capital.
For the immediate present, having assigned the down town responsibility to DNP, Government should demand it publish a report of its results to date and its specific plans for the future.