ST JOHN’S, Antigua – Many months of public silence on a Beaches Resort for Long Bay ended yesterday when Minister of Finance Harold Lovell told Parliament that hotel mogul Gordon “Butch” Stewart is now pledging an entirely new tourist getaway.
Originally, the Jamaican founder of the Sandals Resorts brand proposed to spend US $100 million to add on to the existing property, but Lovell told Parliament that the 400-room facility will be built from scratch.
The latest update on the proposals has come months after Stewart was said to be contemplating whether to proceed since just the mention of a development at Long Bay gave rise to picketing and suspicions that a much loved piece of public coastline would be walled in and tagged “for guests only.”
Yesterday, Member of Parliament for the area Robin Yearwood was no less wary, especially after he heard Lovell say that government would acquire an acre of private land and add it to 2.5 acres already owned by government to help maintain access and to erect structures to make beach visits by the public much more enjoyable – something he referred to as “a modern beach park” which would provide “ample space” for the people who currently vend there and as having more space than currently exists for parking.
“What he’s saying going’ cost millions. Where the government going get the millions from? Is it the developers going to develop it, and they’re going to have these type of things on the beach? What are they going to do: charge you to go on the beach, charge you to use these things? No, we didn’t hear that. We heard the pretty thing about building, about buildings, about development, but the government has no money. How can the government go and develop that?” asked the MP.
Yearwood added, however, that he would support the project if the family-targeted resort were confined to land currently owned by Stewart as that would meet the criterion Yearwood set since beach vendors stationed at Long Bay first raised objections in June.
The MP for St Phillip North told OBSERVER Radio that he would only support such a project at Long Bay, which is heavily favoured as a public picnic spot, if locals and tourists will continue sharing the beach.
“And that’s all we’re saying. We must (be) able to continue with our enjoyment, our relaxation. We are prepared to share the beach. There’re cruise ship tourists who go on the beach every week that there is a cruise ship in port. They’re on the beach. We have no argument with that. We have to share. It’s our economy, we have to share, but we don’t stop them, (and) they don’t stop us from enjoying our beach,” he said.
Yearwood was also concerned that no one has yet seen a drawing to show the overall development plan.
Lovell answered that question months ago by saying that Stewart hadn’t yet presented any such plan to government, and yesterday this was how he worded his update: “This project could have started in October, but he (Stewart) said look he’s willing to do the project. He has asked his architect to proceed with the drawings and to do what is necessary. However, he’s not going to do a project where people are going to be blocking roads, saying go back where you come from. He’s not gonna do it.”
Before ending that portion of his budget speech, Lovell left up to the entire country the responsibility for taking advantage of or losing out on the Beaches Resort opportunity saying, “This is in the hands of the people of Antigua & Barbuda. If we want it, the project is there. There will be 400 jobs for the construction sector. Carpenters can get work. Masons can get work. Plumbers can get work. The jobs will be there. There’s no doubt about it. They will be there, and when the project is finished, they would be able to employ up to 1,000 people.
“The standards that the Beaches Brand has everybody should know. They cleaned up almost all the awards at the recent international tourism awards, competing with Singapore; competing with Philippines; competing with Maldives – internationally. They were able to clean up. It’s a world class product.”