Over the past week, we saw another step in the process of making the proposed Hyatt hotel in Bridgetown’s city centre a reality.
The developers hosted a town hall meeting where Barbadians got a chance to air their concerns about the project.
Frankly, the concept design shown, with one block of 18 floors and four floating cabanas in the centre of Carlisle Bay would not be out of place in Bali, Seychelles or the Canary Islands.
And there lies a central issue with this ambitious project. While we welcome the idea of a hotel in Bridgetown, something our capital city has not seen since the end of the 19th century when hotel owners began to gravitate towards the south coast, does this one really fit in with what our capital city has become?
This structure does not fit into the traditional look and feel of the Historic Bridgetown area unless we are seeking to overhaul its entire look and feel with this structure leading the way.
When the Tom Adams Financial Centre was completed in 1986, its ten storeys generated much controversy. The British engineer and architect, Miles Rothwell, actually presented an alternative design that could serve the same purpose with six floors. Back then, it was also conventional wisdom that buildings in Barbados be capped at ten storeys. Who changed this informal rule?
A smaller structure that pays homage to the traditional architecture of the city might be much more practical and more appealing to visitors as well.
The floating cabanas may be visually stunning, but will they be able to withstand the storm surge generated by a severe weather system?
There is also the question of the water, sewerage and electrical needs of such a large coastal property.
The developers stated that the hotel will be connected to the Bridgetown Sewage Treatment Plant and signalled its intention to make a contribution to its expansion.
This seems to us only fair since the water treatment plant at Lakes Folly has had its fair share of problems for a very long time now.
Ideally, a structure of this magnitude should carry its own sewage treatment system, supply its own water supply and generate its own electricity so it does not put any further pressure on ageing and already heavily subscribed networks that, as the recent energy and water outages have shown, cannot keep up with everyday demand.
But then again, were Hyatt to set up its own wastewater treatment plant, power station – presumably using photovoltaic panels or other renewable energy sources – and pumping station, where would they put such facilities given the limited land space?
Parking will also be a challenge, with the developers saying there will be parking for 100 cars on the site – not nearly enough for a building of this magnitude. One commentator has suggested demolishing the old National Insurance Building on Fairchild Street for parking space, and that might be a practical solution that could benefit not only the hotel but other commuters to The City as well.
Another source of concern is the number of businesses operating in that part of Bridgetown, and residents in nearby Wellington Street and the London Bourne Towers. Will the businesses, some of which have been in the area for generations, receive compensation if they are forced to move?
And while the investors and politicians have promised the residents jobs during construction and when the hotel opens, what about the discomfort and inconvenience it will cause them in the interim? Will they be forced to relocate if the investors decide they want to use the land to expand the facilities if it starts to generate the revenue it is anticipated to bring to the island?
This is where our tourism marketing agencies and the owners of the Hyatt brand come in. Once this project is finished, we will have 380 more rooms, plus 40 condominiums, to keep filled on a year-round basis.
We need to know how will we go about attaining occupancy since we now expect that the stalled Beaches and Sam Lord’s Castle projects, others planned for the other side of Bridgetown and the new property on the Caribbee site in Hastings will be up and running by then. That means we have to attract more visitors from different income brackets, and once they get here, find new and innovative ways to keep them occupied.
We hope that this project gets off the ground successfully, but in a way that pays homage to the heritage of four centuries and represents a realistic and viable addition to the hotel plant and tourism product.
What we cannot abide is an outrageously expensive white elephant that may never live up to its original promise or worse yet, never be completed after causing significant disruption in one of the most congested parts of this island.