By Malcolm Strachan
THE waters around Atlantis seem far from peaceful these days.
Usually, things seem a little more serene at a resort that styles itself as the paradise that shares the island name it stands on – but lately the management seems to be increasingly embroiled in fights, some of their own choosing, some that show up at the door.
For the first, there was what appeared to be an artificially stimulated outrage amongst a small minority.
That first volley came over the neighbouring Royal Caribbean plans for a beach club resort, which was approved with Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis saying that ground was going to be broken “almost immediately”. That was in March – and the reaction to the announcement, from Atlantis, was strong. For Atlantis’ part, they said wait, hold on a minute, we have a long list of questions that no one has ever bothered to answer – and further concerns over where the environmental approvals were for the project seems to have led to that “almost immediate” being stalled while administrative hoops are jumped through.
From Atlantis’ perspective, it made sense to call timeout on the development of a substantial project right on their doorstep - a development that will naturally pull away from the thousands of guests who would visit their property on an annual basis.
The spinoff from that first fight led to the second. Atlantis sent out a letter to employees saying what they could do to speak up on the issue. That was far from a clever move, and the unions at Altantis treated it with the scorn it deserved, suggesting if Atlantis officials wanted to march in protest then maybe the union members would follow suit. Maybe. Atlantis president Audrey Oswell has not been seen at the end of the PI bridge with a placard in her hands as yet.
The second fight was not with the unions, though – but when the Department of Labour decided that Atlantis was putting undue pressure on its staff and marched in with questionnaires because workers apparently felt “pressured and intimidated” to stand against the RCI proposal.
How those workers who felt pressured managed to go straight to the Labour board without mentioning their concerns to the unions remains a mystery. Were there real complaints, or were some staff members encouraged to complain so the Department of Labour could march in?
It was outrageous that the Labour board should decide to get so involved in the matter, and the very kind of bureaucratic intervention that holds back business across the board.
Two fights, and then they go and shoot themselves in the foot.
When Atlantis weighed in against the Wendy’s franchise holder and the plan to turn the old Scotiabank branch into a fast food restaurant, it looked far more like the company was trying to keep people buying their burgers and fries on property rather than across the road.
Atlantis claims that planning restrictions stop the site being turned into a restaurant location – but that feels more like using the regulations as an excuse for the objection rather than the objection itself.
More pointedly, Atlantis has said such a business would not be in keeping with Paradise Island. One Atlantis executive even said that they don’t think it fits in with “the ethos, the aesthetics of what we aspire for Paradise Island”, adding: “We really don’t see how a Wendy’s or Marco’s Pizza fits at that location on PI.”
Well, for one thing, Atlantis cannot just dictate what other businesses should or should not be on Paradise Island. Other businesses get to do what they want as long as they fit in with the rules.
And then look at this, another fast food restaurant chain, Shake Shack, announced in October that it is coming to Atlantis, and from what we’re told, this burger joint will be across the street from the proposed Wendy’s restaurant.
So is Atlantis really objecting to the quality, or the competition?
Now I’m not a travelling gourmet like some of you readers, so I had to go look up what Shake Shack serves. A quick Google shows me plenty of burgers, chicken bites, as well as what they call a Truffle Menu and a bourbon bacon cheddar menu. Still, burgers, fries, shakes … you get the idea.
This feels like Atlantis throwing its weight around to nudge out another business. Ms Oswell said that Shake Shack “shares many of our core values, including leading with hospitality, creating uplifting experiences for guests, and a commitment to quality service and ingredients.”
Indeed, she went on to call Shake Shack “a pinnacle part of our dining collection”.
Every word of that statement seems to read as an insult to the franchise holder of Wendy’s and Marco’s.
Just across the road from the old Scotiabank there also used to be a Johnny Rockets restaurant – serving burgers, fries, hot dogs, all those kind of things too. So how out of place would such a restaurant be?
And regardless if it is, what place is it of Atlantis to object to whether a new neighbour is elevated enough to enjoy their neighbourhood?
The argument about covenants is one thing – but if Atlantis was confident enough in the strength of that complaint then it wouldn’t need to bring up anything about whether Wendy’s or Marco’s would be an appropriate fit.
As for those covenants, well even if they still applied, and there’s plenty of reason to think they do not and it is perfectly valid to change the use, it’s a different world now. Bank branches are steadily closing down. No one is going to expand their bank into that space. Is it to be left to decay? That won’t help anyone either.
So a business has identified an opportunity, and now it’s up to them to make a success of it or not. There are plenty of other food outlets in the area, so it’s not as if the smell of food would be inappropriate there, and apparently it isn’t even planned to be a drive-through, so there’s no radical difference from other food spots.
Atlantis is sending out the wrong message here – to the extent that it makes me doubt their case against RCI’s plan for Paradise Island. Initially I thought there was the possibility for some objection, but if this is how they are responding to what seems legitimate competition, maybe I need to give that a second thought.
When Atlantis is making such statements, perhaps it ought to bear in mind more closely how they will be received.