By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
ARAWAK Cay and Junkanoo Beach are set to receive an extensive overhaul, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said yesterday, revealing the plan is to feature a sky bridge and tax-free zoning as an incentive for Bahamian businesses.
While outlining the ambitious plans to convert the strip into what will be known as the Nassau Entertainment District, Dr Minnis gave no timelines for completion or how much taxpayer dollars would be needed for the undertaking. These details were not yet available as this plan is still in the infancy stage of development, The Tribune was told.
The Killarney MP also suggested only Bahamian businesses would be allowed to operate in this zone.
He further announced that beginning in the new budget cycle, household furniture, stoves and refrigerators will now be duty-free in Economic Empowerment Zones and new government subdivisions.
Dr Minnis said for all other Bahamians, household furniture will be reduced from 45 percent to 25 percent and home refrigerators and stoves will now be duty-free. Also, there will be no duty on these items in the Economic Empowerment Zones and new government subdivisions.
Soon to be newly designated as Economic Empowerment Zone areas are Fox Hill, Kemp Road, Saint Barnabas, Englerston and Gambier.
“We are proposing the redevelopment of the area from Fish Fry to Junkanoo Beach, Long Wharf,” Dr Minnis said as he wrapped up the 2019/2020 budget debate. “This new entertainment area for Nassau will result in scores of Bahamians going to the waterfront for entertainment and relaxation on a weekly basis.
“We will enhance and beautify the area for Junkanoo practises so the Saxons will still have their place, cookouts - so grandma and aunt can still have their cookouts, festivals and other events.
“Like Saunders Beach and Montagu Beach, we will enhance the beaches and swimming areas for Bahamians and visitors alike. The House will recall that it was the FNM that first developed Fish Fry, which has been extremely successful.
“I have listened to the minister of tourism very attentively and the minister pointed out that soon there will be approximately 20,000 visitors to our shores daily and therefore we must find ways to attract our cruise visitors to Junkanoo Beach, Fish Fry, the forts, Clifford Park and adjoining areas.
“So they must be able to visit those areas, meaning they must cross Bay Street, but we must find a way for them to do that in a very safe manner. We must find a way for at least a minimum of 2,000 visitors to visit these areas daily.
‘We must plan for a better future and move away from poor planning and irregular poorly erected shacks that we see popping up here, there and everywhere. We must plan.
“We now propose to expand the development of these areas into a major retail and entertainment centre.”
He said the new area will be zoned for major tax concessions for Bahamians and will be declared a tax-free zone like the inner city.
“We are still in planning stages and will hold stakeholder meetings with various groups including taxi drivers,” Dr Minnis said.
“What we are proposing will mean many millions more dollars for Bahamian business people.
“I note that there are plans in the works to transform Clifford Park into a Central Park New Providence so I am concerned about our guests moving along Bay Street and crossing Clifford Park and therefore to connect Clifford Park to the redeveloped water area we are proposing a sky bridge.”
Other elements of this plan include armed security and free Wi-Fi. Dr Minnis further stressed the need to establish a body to ensure the continued maintenance of the area.
He said the proposal is also part of an effort to get cruise ship staff into the city to boost revenue in the downtown area.
He said there will be consultations with taxi cab drivers and owners with a view to allowing them to own water taxis as a means of transportation to a water pier.
Dr Minnis told Parliament the government is planning to fund trips for taxi owners to parts of the Caribbean where water taxis are established and lucrative.