The following statement was released earlier today (Feb 23), to all media, by a group calling themselves St George’s Stakeholders, with no names attached for publication…
A large group of St George’s business owners that came together to put on collective events and advocate for themselves have set their sights on improvements they feel need to be made to town infrastructure before the summer season.
Since 2020, the group has collaborated to host the very popular Shop n’ Stroll events and shopping contests, which received some support from The Corporation of St George (street closure), The Bermuda Tourism Authority (graphic design) and The Bermuda Economic Development Corporation (poster printing / shopping contest). However they maintain that there is far more that could have been done for the town, and have written their Members of Parliament, The Corporation of St George, The Bermuda Tourism Authority, The Bermuda Economic Development Corporation, The Department of Marine & Ports, The Minister of Transport, The Premier and Minister of Tourism to explain the challenges they’ve faced.
A spokesperson for the group said: “Over the last two (2) years, businesses around the world have faced unprecedented challenges. Here in St George’s, things have also been dire. During this time, not one entity has reached out to us for meetings, a forum, anything. It has been extremely disappointing for St George’s business owners to see that, instead of receiving support and being included in conversations about the strategic direction of the town, we’ve felt abandoned by infrastructure services and sometimes even received pushback on what we thought were simple requests.
“In 2021, we had a number of concerns.”
But two major issues were:
Large cruise ships arrived in Dockyard with zero ferry service to St George’s. When Viking Cruise LInes decided to cancel their St George’s calls, despite requests for ferry service from Hamilton or Dockyard, none was put in place. So tourists were in Bermuda, but St. George’s missed out on an entire season unnecessarily.
During the three weeks that we did have visitors from off of the Viking cruise ship, The Corporation of St George did not revert back to their regular policy of pedestrianising Water Street during the tourism season. There have been no closures of Water Street since summer 2019 unless initiated by the businesses (which requires payment/sponsorship), even though this was an important part of our tourism plan because it adds to the safety and charm of visiting St George’s.
As we look forward to the Summer 2022 season, we felt it imperative to be more vocal about our plans and concerns to hopefully raise awareness and receive the support we desperately need.”
A public ferry service, pedestrianising Water Street, and providing some entertainment are at the top of their list.
The spokesperson explained: “Ferries are the only way that hundreds of people can be transported to the town at a time. The negative impact of not having a ferry last summer cannot be overstated. We have received confirmation that the NCL tender will run this summer, which is excellent news! However, we must also have a St. George’s public ferry (either from Hamilton or Dockyard), as this would make it possible for hotel guests, residents, and passengers on other cruise lines to use this service.
“So far, we have heard that there is ‘a budget’ for the ferry (again, excellent news!), but haven’t received confirmation. Rather than wait for the schedule to come out in April, we wanted to loudly reiterate now that we must have a ferry and ideally, this would include at least something on the weekend – St. George’s has not had this for several years.”
“Signage in the town says that the street is closed from 10am-4pm on weekdays, but the group explains that this has not been the case for 2 years.
“For whatever reason, the current administration of The Corporation of St George has not been amenable to implementing their own policy, but the businesses of the town are adamant that it must happen this summer to ensure guest safety and create the desired atmosphere. Ideally the street closure could be extended into weekends as well, because that’s when residents come to the town and they enjoy that atmosphere as well. Businesses having to pay for the closures when it’s such an easy fix seems unnecessary.”
The group is also eager to work with anyone interested in hosting activities in the town. “Music, art, theatrical reenactments – we need the town to come alive and want to work with tourism stakeholders and artists to create a plan. We intend to apply for tourism investment funding and would love to connect with anyone interested in hosting activities in the town.
“Although these are the near-term priority, the group identified some other issues which they hope to see addressed.
“Although The Corporation of St George staff works hard to keep the town clean, some business owners and residents continue to place their bagged trash and boxes at central trash cans during times when there is no trash collection, including weekends when people are shopping. The Corporation recently put out a new trash policy but it doesn’t address this issue and although as mentioned, business owners and residents are to blame, we need some lidded trash cans, dumpsters, or something that at least keeps the trash out of sight and away from pests.”
The group also pointed out a number of boarded up and derelict buildings.
“There are strict historic preservation laws in place, yet somehow building owners are allowed to let their properties sit haphazardly boarded up or derelict, becoming safety hazards, eyesores and impacting our heritage status. We are hopeful that some action can be taken to engage with these building owners before the summer season, particularly those on York Street and near the Town Square.”
The spokesperson concluded: “We are mindful of the many social and economic challenges facing our island. And, we believe that, with the necessary support, St. George’s can be part of the solution by creating jobs, celebrating our history and culture, enhancing safety and strengthening the community. We are asking the powers that be to give our beautiful historic town, Bermuda’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, the support we need to have a vibrant and successful tourism season.”