EDITOR, The Tribune.
Fire fighters of the Grand Bahama Fire Services, the Grand Bahama Shipyard and Buckeye Bahamas averted an unmitigated disaster by quickly outing the fire blaze at the once popular International Bazaar. For that, Grand Bahamians are grateful. However, many residents in Grand Bahama wouldn't mind Freeport stakeholders making the decision to completely demolish the deteriorating edifice, which has become an embarrassing eyesore since 2004, the year the island was hit by Hurricanes Francis and Jeanne. Next to the International Bazaar are the dilapidated Royal Oasis buildings, which are also in urgent need of being demolished. Indeed, Freeport is inundated with old, dilapidated buildings that have been abandoned by their delinquent owners.
I went on TripAdvisor and read several unflattering reviews by American visitors of the International Bazaar, just to highlight how embarrassing the situation is for Freeport residents. The following are three of them:
"I don't recommend tourists visiting the International Bazaar as it is run down and seedy. There's very little there."
"This is so sad. Last time we were there, we had so much fun shopping and visiting the people. This time the Bazaar is all but closed down. The hurricanes have decimated this area, there is hardly anything open now. There is damage to almost all of the stores. I'm not sure it will recover. Very sad."
"I took the bus from Lighthouse Pointe for $1.50. That was the best part of the visit. It was pretty much deserted. I was the only one there besides the 5 or so vendors so I felt very uncomfortable although the vendors were very friendly."
The aforementioned reviews were written by guests from South Carolina, Ohio and Massachusetts. Despite being the industrial capital of The Bahamas, Grand Bahama still needs tourism to reach its full potential, like New Providence. Unfortunately, Buckeye Bahamas, Polymers International, Grand Bahama Shipyard, PharmaChem, Equinor South Riding Point, Freeport Container Port, Bradford Marine and Bahama Rock cannot absorb the estimated thousands of unemployed Bahamians on the island – many of whom once worked in the underwhelming tourism sector. In all things considered, the current dilapidated state of the International Bazaar is a symbolic representation of the state of tourism in Grand Bahama in general and Freeport in particular. Until tourism is fixed in Freeport, the unemployment rate will always be in the high double digits. This dire situation in Grand Bahama has led to a massive exodus of Grand Bahamians to other Family Islands and Nassau, and even the United States, Canada and the Turks and Caicos, in search of work. One of the above American reviewers expressed his misgivings about the International Bazaar being restored.
Nearly two decades since Francis and Jeanne, Grand Bahamians do not believe that the Royal Oasis or the Bazaar will be restored. I am often left with the belief that the reluctance of stakeholders to demolish the property is owing to them holding out hope that a breakthrough investment will materialise, restoring the property to its glory days. However, some 16 years after the hurricanes, that now seems like a pipe dream. Whatever restoration the International Bazaar would've undergone should've happened 14 or 15 years ago. The time has come for stakeholders to come to grips with reality and demolish the International Bazaar, which is one of the biggest eyesores in Freeport.
November 22, 2021.