Like the phoenix in ancient mythology, historic Sam Lord’s Castle, a once majestic landmark which proudly stood out on the St Philip coastline, is about to rise from the ashes of abandonment through closure and then destruction by fire more than a decade ago.
A ground-breaking ceremony was held at the sprawling Long Bay site yesterday morning to mark the official start of the redevelopment project made possible through bilateral cooperation between the Governments of Barbados and the People’s Republic of China which is providing US$170 million in loan financing.
It is a welcome development and, with the scale of success being envisaged, offers Barbados the promise of a significant contribution to the national economy over the coming years. As we like to give credit where it is due, the Freundel Stuart Government must be applauded for making it happen.
The Sam Lord’s Castle redevelopment, however, stands in sharp contrast with the abandoned Four Season’s project at Paradise Beach, St Michael. The last time Government spoke about this multi-million dollar tourism development – which was quite a while ago – Barbadians were told it was close to being brought back on stream.
It did not happen but nothing else has been heard since then. We look forward – and believe so does the rest of Barbados — to receiving a full update from the Government sometime soon. The upscale Four Seasons development began as a private sector venture but was halted after it ran into financial trouble. Is Government looking at a solution in the same way it has in the case of Sam Lord’s Castle?
In its heyday as a luxury resort operated and managed by Marriott, the worldwide U.S. hotel chain, Sam Lord’s Castle was not only a leading player in the island’s tourism industry but also made a significant contribution to the rural economy of St Philip.
People from across the parish worked there in various capacities. Nearby shops did a roaring trade through the patronage of Sam Lord’s guests. Farmers also had a reliable buyer for their vegetables and other produce. The closure, therefore, was a hard blow for St Philip in particular. Residents have good reason, therefore, to be elated by the news of its rebirth.
Speaking at the ground-breaking ceremony, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, himself a son of St Philip, disclosed that the new Sam Lord’s, which will operate under the Wyndham hotel brand, would provide 1,000 permanent direct jobs after it is open to business in 2018, an additional 2,000 indirect jobs, and earn Barbados roughly US$70 million in foreign exchange annually.
He also said: “The people of St Philip will gain social and economic benefits from the project. Residents of the parish will be able to earn income as entrepreneurs, service and produce suppliers and employees. A number of farmers in the area will now have another market for their produce, and artistes and craftsmen will also reap similar benefit.”
Sam Lord’s Castle stands out in a unique way among Barbadian hotel properties because of its association with a fascinating story which is firmly entrenched in local folklore. As such, it is also a heritage tourism site. Legend has it that the 18th century castle was built from the proceeds of piracy. However, descendants of the original owner, Samuel Hall Lord, dispute it.
According to the legend, Hall used to place lanterns at night in coconut trees on the shore to trick passing ships that it was the port in Bridgetown. Those which fell into the trap would end up wrecked on the nearby reef and Hall and his men would go out and plunder the ships of their merchandise. The legend has it that Hall eventually was imprisoned in London for these alleged crimes.
Whether the story is true or not, it has the stuff that can form the basis of a really imaginative marketing strategy for the property that can capture the interest of a particular segment of the global tourism market which has a fascination with history and adventure.
For sure, there are visitors who would be attracted to vacation at the new 450-room Wyndham Barbados for no other reason than to be in the company of a colourful swashbuckling legend as Sam Lord has been portrayed by legend.
During the construction, to be undertaken by a Chinese building firm, 500 to 600 Barbadians will find employment. We hope this phase goes smoothly and look forward, with the rest of Barbados, to witnessing the opening of the brand new Sam Lord’s Castle resort in 2018.