By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Government is exploring the potential acquisition of Freeport’s derelict International Bazaar site as the location for its proposed African-Caribbean products marketplace.
Ginger Moxey, minister for Grand Bahama, who touted the Marketplace’s creation earlier this year after she headed a trade and investment mission to West Africa, did not respond to Tribune Business messages and phone calls seeking comment but well-placed sources confirmed the Davis administration has expressed initial interest in purchasing the site.
Chris Paine, president of the International Bazaar Owners Association, when contacted by this newspaper confirmed there had been preliminary contact and meetings with the Government but no agreement was imminent.
He explained that the initial talks had sought to “familiarise the Government with the somewhat complicated ownership of the Bazaar” with no less than 13 separate entities involved, including the likes of the Bahamas Hotel, Catering and Allied Workers Union (BHCAWU), John Bull and the Chee-A-Tow family.
Declining to provide specifics, likely because talks with the Government are at an early stage, Mr Paine said of the initial meetings: “We have worked through some figures as it relates to square footage and common areas. Essentially, with 90 percent of the buildings vandalised or destroyed by fire, the only real value is in the land...
“Obviously, the redevelopment of this entire area would be an enormous benefit to the very heart of Freeport, bringing life and activity to what has been such a depressed area for so long. The Port Authority has been doing an excellent job in demolishing a number of the buildings which are considered a danger to the public, which I understand will continue in the coming months.
“I think any potential investor would want to start with a clean slate. We anticipate there will be more talks in the weeks ahead.” The International Bazaar, which has steadily deteriorated ever since the Royal Oasis resort that supplied a significant proportion of its customer base closed in 2004, suffered further recent blows as a result of two fires that further devastated what remained of many buildings.
Darrin Woods, the hotel union’s president, told Tribune Business he had been made aware of the Government’s potential interest by Mr Paine and said it would “be a blessing for us” to exit the BHCAWU’s ownership interest given the losses it has incurred over the years.
“I know there’s been some discussions involving Chris Paine, the Association’s president,” Mr Woods confirmed. “He and I are supposed to have a meeting when I go back to Grand Bahama. I was tied up in industrial agreement negotiations. I was calling him to arrange a meeting and find out where he was. Definitely we need to check into it. I’ll have to try and get some more information.”
Readily acknowledging the Bazaar’s derelict condition, the hotel union chief said of selling the property: “I’ll tell you one thing: It will be a blessing for us. It’s just sitting there, and has been for so many years. For us to get it off our hands and to have someone develop it....
“Because there are multiple owners they couldn’t agree on what the value of their property was. Everyone was talking about sentimental value, not actual value. Now it’s in a really bad way. It’s just sitting there. If someone develops it and does something with it, we’d be more than happy to be out to be honest. It wouldn’t compensate us for losses over the years, but something would be better than nothing.”
Mrs Moxey told the House of Assembly in June that the African-Caribbean Marketplace was among the projects she discussed when heading the trade and investment mission to Nigeria and Ghana. The visit also resulted in the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Government and Africa Export-Import Bank, which could potentially provide the project financing.
No specific location was identified for the Marketplace, but the International Bazaar site would provide a central spot in Freeport and offer a history compatible with the Government’s objectives. “The purpose of the MoU is to provide a broad framework for collaboration to harmonise efforts in Africa and The Bahamas, but specifically in Grand Bahama,” Mrs Moxey said.
She added that the MoU partnership will begin with the African-Caribbean Marketplace, or ‘International Marketplace’, to be located on Grand Bahama. “Not only will the marketplace promote and distribute African and Caribbean products, but it will also offer a taste of Africa and the Caribbean, making it an appealing tourist attraction,” Mrs Moxey added.
“In the marketplace, we envision seamless connectivity for trade between Africa and the Caribbean through the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), with the Caribbean as the sixth region, and the added advantage of a 230-square-mile free-trade zone offering tax concessions on Grand Bahama.”
Using Grand Bahama’s proximity to the US, the marketplace is expected to provide strategic opportunities for value-added manufacturing, transshipment, distribution and logistics. “This vision, however, goes beyond mere trade,” Mrs Moxey said.
“It represents the culmination of a world-class experience, showcasing the rich cultures of Africa and the Caribbean. The African-Caribbean Marketplace will become the home of ‘All things African and Caribbean’. It will feature a ‘Bahamas Bazaar’ representing each inhabited island of The Bahamas.
“With its conceptual design, including an amphitheatre, featuring a performance arts theatre, African and Caribbean-flavoured concessions and unique architecture reflecting the authenticity of our cultures, we aim to create a space that resonates with the spirit of Africa and the Caribbean.”