September 12, 2014
A leading businessman is supporting proposed foreign investment to redevelop downtown Nassau, arguing that Bay Street is a "disaster and dying" in its present state.
Speaking with Guardian Business, Superwash President and former president of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce Dionisio D'Aguilar warned that pride could interfere with much-needed renovation in the downtown area that would employ many Bahamians.
"Bahamians are not prepared to put up what is needed to get Bay Street to work... We can get proud and say that Bahamians should do it, but no Bahamians want to do it, so [downtown] will stay in the sorry state that it's in. Or you can negotiate a deal [with foreigners] that creates jobs for Bahamians," stated D'Aguilar.
Guardian Business sources earlier this week confirmed that Baha Mar's general contractor, China State Construction and Engineering Corporation (CSCEC), had presented an "impressive" master plan for the redevelopment of Downtown Nassau as a whole. The corporation is also currently a frontrunner to buy the British Colonial Hilton.
The proposed foreign involvement in renovating downtown has generated polarized responses from the business community. Several members of the Downtown Nassau Partnership (DNP), a joint venture of the private and public sectors advocating progressive redevelopment of the city, support the plan.
However, Shadow Minister for Finance Peter Turnquest warned against relying too heavily on foreign direct investment to address the area's needs, arguing that the government needs to focus on Bahamian entrepreneurship.
CSCEC additionally has an equity interest in Baha Mar and is widely believed to be a bidder for a contract under the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) request for proposal.
D'Aguilar agreed with remarks made by DNP Director Ed Fields, that the country needs to move past its "xenophobia".
"I agree that we have to get over this xenophobia of foreigners taking over everything. But if we can't put up the money, then why not? We have to do something about Bay Street.
"Bay Street is a disaster and it's just dying, and everybody's wondering why. If someone's prepared to come along and invest a lot of money and make it happen, then why not, who cares?" said D'Aguilar.
He cited Marina Village as a positive example of what could be done with foreign-developed public spaces, and hoped that potential Chinese investment would provide the necessary catalyst for making downtown Nassau more attractive and commercially successful.
"You need a catalyst to make it happen and I don't know if we as Bahamians are prepared to do that... It's going to create jobs for Bahamians and at the end of the day I want my citizens to work," said D'Aguilar.
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