By NATARIO McKENZIE
and NEIL HARTNELL
THE Prime Minister yesterday promised downtown Nassau's revival will have a a Bahamian "flavour", with Bay Street property owners to fund construction of a harbourfront boardwalk.
Dr Hubert Minnis, speaking after a site tour of The Pointe development, said: "There is a downtown committee looking at the entire downtown project, which includes a boardwalk. They have a very extensive programme and they will involve who they think they need to involve, but it will have a Bahamian flavour."
He was responding to queries over the proposal by China Construction America (CCA), the Pointe developer and Baha Mar general contractor, for a masterplan of downtown Nassau's redevelopment.
Tribune Business previously revealed that China's interest in downtown Nassau extended beyond the British Colonial Hilton acquisition, having presented former Prime Minister Perry Christie with a 'Master Plan' to redevelop Bay Street and surrounding areas. Dionisio D'Aguilar, minister of tourism, said yesterday that the "six or seven" Bay Street property owners will fund the development of a boardwalk. "We have already approved a boardwalk that the private sector is going to pay for themselves, going from East Street to Lucianos. All the owners have agreed to do that," said Mr D'Aguilar.
"The key component to Bay Street's revival is to make it a living city. Ultimately, you will have to build high rises because the higher you go, the cheaper it becomes per unit. You want young persons to move downtown. That's going to be a critical competent, and that is what that portion from East Street to Lucianos will be used for."
Mr D'Aguilar, in a recent interview with Tribune Business, said the boardwalk's construction would enable "foreign visitors to stroll along the waterfront as opposed to going down a piece of Bay Street that's extremely rundown" - a reference to the decaying condition of many properties between the two starting points.
Emphasising that the boardwalk will be "entirely" funded by the private sector, not the Government, the Minister added: "We are obviously looking at how to revitalise Bay Street, and a critical component of that is how to revitalise specifically the area from East Street to the Paradise Island Bridge, which is basically in a state of decay."
He acknowledged that the area, vacated by the shipping companies following their Arawak Cay port location, was now "dormant and underutilised", but said the boardwalk's construction would help to attract cruise passengers east, with the retail and restaurant component "to come".
"Obviously the private sector is going to drive this process," Mr D'Aguilar told Tribune Business. "The Government will provide the environment and necessary approvals to make it happen.
"The incentives can be provided, the real property tax rebates and the like, to get it going; to spark it. This is basically the start of the process."
Reviving downtown Nassau, especially Bay Street, has been identified by successive governments as a major policy priority for almost two decades. Yet little has happened to achieve this, apart from the shipping industry relocation, Pompey Square upgrades and some pedestrianised streets.
With Baha Mar now joining Atlantis as an additional attraction for both cruise passengers and stopover visitors, Bay Street and its Bahamian-owned businesses face being 'squeezed in the middle' as the 'poor relation' of Paradise Island and Cable Beach unless drastic reforms are undertaken.
A harbourfront boardwalk was on the 'drawing board' under the Christie administration, but the idea was never brought to fruition.
Mr D'Aguilar, as ever, could not resist a dig at the former government, arguing that its "grand", nine-figure plans for reviving downtown Nassau had "scared off" Bahamian and foreign investors because of the sheer scale of investment required.
"All these grand, visionary plans of the past government did not come to fruition," he told Tribune Business. "All the players downtown were overwhelmed by the amount of investment required to bring these plans to fruition. It scared them all off, and the last government did not see it as a priority. Nothing came of it."
Mr D'Aguilar said there were three components essential to downtown Nassau's revival. He identified these as residential options, creating a 'living city' by persons returning to live there; "adequate parking"; and improved restaurant and retail options.
"We need all three of them to revitalise the city," he added. "Right now you have very limited parking and no residential, so it becomes abandoned and deserted at night.
"We've got to create attractions for people to come downtown. We've got to create some situations to attract, to draw in foreign visitors and bring Bahamians back to downtown.
"The residential component is critical, and the property from East Street to Lucianos is probably where the residential component comes in. They will be more your young millennials looking for for experiences as opposed to going out to Seabreeze and living in the suburbs."
Mr D'Aguilar said the Government was initially targeting "the low hanging fruit", with the Downtown Nassau Partnership and Town Planning exploring what would incentivise Bay Street property owners to invest once again.
He added that establishing downtown Nassau as a Business Improvement District (BID), another option long contemplated, was among the choices being mulled.
"This is the heart of our city," Mr D'Aguilar told Tribune Business, "and this goes into how we deal with our port, how we deal with downtown Bay Street. This is very important economically.
"We need to look at how we're going to make money. If you look at the pressure to revitalise Bay Street, it's a mechanism to stimulate your economy in that area. We have three million-plus foreign visitors that come to that area every year, and if we plan to draw more expenditure out of them, we've got to make it a pleasant and exciting place for them to go."