By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Downtown Nassau Partnership's (DNP) co-chair says "this is the perfect time" to clean-up Bay Street, with owners of dilapidated and abandoned buildings put on notice they are running out of time.
Charles Klonaris told Tribune Business that the COVID-19 lockdown and associated restrictions, together with the shutdown of the cruise industry and other tourism segments, had given downtown Nassau stakeholders the chance to seize the moment and upgrade the city's appearance and amenities before commerce and visitors resumed.
Calling on all parties to "get on the same page", Mr Klonaris said the DNP and its members plan "to force the issue" of rundown and abandoned properties that blight much of East Bay Street and surrounding streets - especially the area east of Elizabeth Avenue - and undermine the city's attraction for both Bahamians and visitors.
He acknowledged, though, that no formal discussions have been held with the Government prior to last week's DNP statement, which called on it to use powers under chapter 200, section 10 of the Building Regulations Act that allow for action against buildings that are either deemed to be "dangerous" or "seriously detrimental to the amenities of the neighbourbhood".
The DNP believes many of the properties east of Elizabeth Avenue fall into that category. Besides the COVID-19 fall-out, Mr Klonaris argued that these buildings' demolition and/or upgrade has also been made more urgent by the new investments taking place in downtown Nassau.
Apart from the upcoming completion of The Pointe and its Margaritaville-branded resort, he pointed to the new cruise port, ongoing construction of the new US Embassy and the proposed redevelopment of the former Royal Victoria Hotel site on East Hill Street into the Central Bank's headquarters as developments that will help to revitalise the city of Nassau.
Agreeing that owners of dilapidated and abandoned properties are effectively running out of time, Mr Klonaris told Tribune Business: "We feel this is really the time to start cleaning up the city in terms of the cosmetics as well as trying to transform those unsavoury properties downtown. Either they fix them up or they demolish them.
"We're trying to push the Government because this is a really suitable time to do a clean up downtown. That's a critical component of the city's revitalisation. We don't want people to be doing when there's a dilapidated building next door.
"This is the time to get the city moving. There are a lot of positive things taking place. We don't see them now because of the pandemic, but we have Margaritatville, The Pointe, the US embassy and the Government moving to build a new Central Bank. There's a lot going on, and we want everything to come together during this pandemic," Mr Klonaris added.
"If we start seeing these dilapidated buildings being demolished and refurbished, it's a good sight. Psychologically it adds a lot to the city. This is the right time to do it. Little is going on, but we can do a lot. We think this is a good time to push the Government in this direction."
The DNP is essentially advocating that the Government switch to a 'get tough' approach with landlords and property owners in the downtown Nassau area, given that the provision of tax breaks and investment incentives to encourage the revamping of derelict buildings appears not to have worked.
Legislation such as the City of Nassau Revitalisation Act, which came into effect since 2008 under the last Ingraham administration and has been repeatedly renewed by successive governments, provides a menu of import duty and other tax breaks for businesses, landlords and owners seeking to restore, repair and upgrade buildings in the downtown area.
However, many observers will likely argue that the results - in terms of building clean-up - have not been sufficient to justify their wide-ranging provision even though they have been successfully exploited by the likes of Graycliff.
"Timing is important," Mr Klonaris added. "We don't want, when the city opens up, for people to be trying to demolish buildings or upgrade them. This is the time to do it when the city is shut down. It's the perfect time to start moving in this area. We don't know when the cruise ships are coming back.
"If you own property there's a responsibility for its upkeep. We cannot let them deteriorate in this area. It's critical everyone plays a part in the development of the city. Now is the time, and that's why we're moving quickly in this direction. We want everybody to be on the same page. This is out thinking, and we're going to force the issue."