By YOURI KEMP
A “COME back to Village Road” incentives package is needed to revive businesses that have been damaged by the year-long roadworks impacting that corridor and the surrounding area, an entrepreneur is arguing.
Michael Fields, president of Four Walls Squash and Social Club, told Tribune Business that incentives such as as real property tax breaks need to be extended to both businesses and homes in the area - including on side streets where infrastructure and premises were impacted due to traffic diversions.
“We have a meeting with the minister for economic affairs, Michael Halkitis, on January 16, but outside of that everything is still the same on Village Road. There is very little progress. They are still digging as recently as Sunday,” he added.
With no further communication on from the Government on when the roadworks will be completed, with the target date having shifted multiple times from the initial September 2022 to December, and now to the first week in February, Mr Fields voiced scepticism that the latest deadline will be met.
He said: “We’re going to talk to Mr Halkitis about some firm dates from the Ministry of Works because hopefully Mr (Alfred) Sears (minister for works and utilities) will be there as well. But also we want to talk about a concession plan.
“If the roads get shut down for a couple of weeks or a month, and they stick with the project, that’s fine. But when it’s a gross inconvenience, and really to a point where businesses have been shut down for a year, there has to be some compensation plan to stimulate businesses back in that area.”
“We also need matching grants that they give through the Small Business Development Centre (SBDC). These are things they already have in place. We’re also looking at a reduction in Bahamas Power and Light bills for businesses to get back on their feet,” Mr Fields continued.
“So we’re looking at some sort of tax concessions; maybe access to some sort of loan facility, some sort of grants for property owners, where they will be able to repair their buildings because everybody’s building is in shambles right now and also the driveways and so forth with all the heavy equipment gone. And also roads that have been detoured with people getting mud in their yards and stuff. We also want them to help promote customers to come back to Village Road.”
Village Road businesses previously said they were seeking VAT credits, plus Business Licence and real property tax waivers, to compensate for the damage inflicted by roadworks that they argued have caused consumers to avoid the area “like the plague”.
Some 15 companies signed their names to a letter authored by Mr Fields where it was suggested that the Government provide “refurbishment grants” for residents and business owners to repair damaged premises, vehicles and other facilities impacted by the project. It also called for Bahamas Power & Light (BPL) bill discounts, and “full sponsorship” of a collaborative marketing campaign to entice consumers back to the Village Road area.
Mr Fields told Tribune Business that Village Road needs to attract not only businesses that have been forced to leave the area, but also entice customers to come back and patronise businesses that have suffered for months.
“Some of these concessions need to be extended to the side streets because a lot of the detours went through the off-streets, and all of that heavy traffic and all of that heavy equipment left the roads in shambles, but certainly there should be some consideration to some of the streets that were affected by the detours,” he added.
It is not unheard of for the Government to provide tax breaks and other concessions for businesses impacted by long-running roadworks projects. The last Christie administration did so for the New Providence Road Improvement Project that impacted multiple businesses in numerous areas of the island more than one decade ago.
Acknowledging the roadworks’ importance, Mr Fields in his letter nevertheless said “an economic stimulus package” will be a vital tool in helping the area’s businesses to rebound in the New Year. “The sprawling construction and protracted delays have placed a crippling strain on local businesses, which employ hundreds of Bahamians,” he wrote.
“The Government has recognised the importance of business relief in the past, and the risks of unwieldy roadworks literally putting Bahamians out of business completely. The current losses come at a time when the ordinary cost of doing business continues to rise, on top of the fact that we have all just barely emerged from the full impact of the pandemic.
“Small businesses have recently faced increases in electricity costs, property taxes, wages and inflation. When the work is complete, businesses will also incur high costs to clean up our properties, repair damages, and re-engage customers.”
Mr Fields continued: “Between the open trenches, unpaved roads, detours, strained traffic management and dust, customers are avoiding Village Road like a plague. The original target for completion, which was September 2022, and even the revised date of November, would have allowed local businesses to benefit from the holiday bump that most rely upon.
“Each missed deadline has serious implications for businesses, and there is little belief that the latest end-of-month forecast for completion will be met given the lack of clear communication and the conditions on the ground. With no clear end in sight, our reserves are depleted, our business planning efforts have become futile, and we continue to experience tremendous losses.”
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