by Kareem Smith
It appears the once struggling entertainment hub of St Lawrence Gap is showing signs of life due to significant investment from the private sector. Now businesses are appealing for the support of the government on what they believe will be a long, challenging road to recovery.
Some business owners and managers said over the past four to five years, commerce in the gap had slumped, which many considered insurmountable. For this, they blamed the country’s economic challenges, lack of private investment and minimal support from government.
“For years, government in Barbados has always been asking for private initiatives and private investments to help drive the economy…It was really in the last couple of years, in the midst of economic downturn, that private business owners and proprietors took their own money and put it in these businesses,” said co-owner of popular nightclub and restaurant, McBrides, Peter Lauer.
He said millions of dollars had been spent refurbishing restaurants like Castaways, Café Sol, Seahorse and Primo along with numerous nightlife spots including The Cove and McBrides along with hotels and other accommodations.
However, he called for the type of governmental support, particularly in the area of marketing that has been extended to places like the Oistins Bay Garden.
“What we need right now is the attention and the support of governmental tourism bodies here in Barbados. They have to come on board now, because it hurts when you’re doing as much as you can, investing significant amounts of money and you cannot get much support [from government] after everybody was asking for that investment,” he said.
In addition, Lauer called for more assistance to tackle critical issues like cleanliness and security, especially for tourists.
“There’s a fine line between interaction with locals and just being harassed. There are some troublemakers, who need serious help and are not in the best mental state and it doesn’t help anybody if they hang out here, if they shout at people and get drunk on the street. That is something that a higher authority needs to address or deal with,” he said.
Lauer added that with a new focus on revitalization and diversity of offerings, businesses have forced the once popular spot into a new process of transition, the results of which will be slow but sure.
In addition, he said businesses recognized the need for a unified approach to the revitalization of the gap, presenting a range of new offerings at affordable prices.
“Last night [Thursday fortnight], we had just short of 350 people in McBrides. Out of those, 60 to 70 percent were locals,” he said.
“We started campaigning and we’ve started coming together. It has made an impact; what we need now is to take it to the next step, so now we are forming a ‘[St Lawrence] gap association’ to raise funds and take our efforts to the next level with an islandwide marketing campaign to get more people to come back into the gap.”
Many of his counterparts in the gap agreed. Robert King, Manager of Seahorse Restaurant told Barbados TODAY that the yields from this year’s tourist season had been a significant improvement over last year.
“You can see that the initiatives are slowly working, now that we’re in the height of the season, it’s definitely busy,” he said.
However, he said a number of little things, “like the time at which music has to be turned off,” has prevented improvement from taking place at a faster pace.
At Cocktail Kitchen, Restaurant Manager Jamaal Streek, however, said stakeholders needed to be patient with their expectations.
“This is a long term play for business in the gap, so you’re not going to see immediate results. This will take at least a year or two before we start seeing results.”
Streek added that he believed businesses should not wait on the help of government but should continue to work on the improvement of the gap on their own.
“I am hoping that five to ten years down the line, the gap will be busy and bustling all the time all year round. You want to have a good mix of locals and tourists. The gap has always been the place to go on the south coast. In the next ten years, I hope that is what it will be,” said Streek.