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Grand Bahama: Our Island, Our City, Our Home

At this event, exactly a year ago, Vice Chairman Sarah St. George closed her presentation with a referenced quote by Michael Eisner of the Walt Disney Corporation, in which he said, “Successful partnerships promote common sense, a common purpose, and strong ethics. Partners must value trust, keep egos in check, and put a premium on not just brains, but human decency. If we’re in an age where loss of integrity is an ever growing concern, then partnerships counter that”. A Harvard University study showed, there was one overriding cause of happiness…“sustained relationships over a long period of time. Passing wisdom on to future generations; being adaptable and able to bounce back from disappointments; and being comfortable with the way someone else views the world. To summarize: Working together is much better than working…alone”.

Where Madam Vice Chairman’s stimulating presentation ended, this one commences. Ladies & gentlemen, I submit to you that Grand Bahama’s successful resurgence and revitalization, is not solely hinged on the accomplishments, or not, of the Grand Bahama Port Authority, but rather requires the commitment, innovation and cooperation of all its stakeholders, public and private sectors, you and me: this is Our Island, Our City, Our Home. 

The Port Group Limited (PGL), through its joint venture land company – Devco, provides land to facilitate affordable housing programs, like the successes of Chesapeake and Lincoln Park; The Heritage Community, a Public Private Partnership initiative, has realized over 150 homes over the years, in a well planned and maintained community. 

DEVCO (A Private Sector Partnership)

As a condition of the MOU signed last year with the Government - Devco has undertaken a large scale master planning exercise. 

The master plan takes into account Devco’s entire land inventory and makes recommendations on where development should occur based on accessibility, level of infrastructure, water frontage and natural aesthetic. 

This land use plan has then been cross referenced with a market analysis, which highlights what type of development is appropriate for Grand Bahama, learning from regional precedent, as well as national successes and failures. 

It is the first time, in as many years, that a top down and bottom up approach has been applied in such a granular way to Devco’s inventory. The end product will be a development roadmap that should underpin the islands economy for the next two decades. We call it Project Unlock and we look forward to sharing our findings with the Government and business community later this year. (HSG – Devco)

Post the great recession of 2008, vacant property sales have been on a steady decline in the local market, conversely, the availability of distressed improved properties has increased. This is a direct consequence of a slowed economy, job losses and a contracting disposable income market. Devco remains sensitive to the conditions of the local economy and more importantly the unrealized dreams of many living under same. Where and when it can reasonably effect positive change in the lives of Bahamians, Devco stands ready to do so. 

The good times teach us a lot of lessons, and so do the bad times.

Therefore, in keeping with its self-imposed mandate and longstanding policy to always make land affordable for Bahamians and, to contribute to the revitalization of the economy, Devco is pleased to announce a comprehensive downward adjustment on its available inventory prices in the various subdivisions, respectively. This decision is a result of an independent land valuation and market trend analysis, which focused on sales that would have occurred over the last nine (9) years. We implore you to avail yourself of this opportunity now, because as prices can go down, they can also go up. 

But we are breaking the price barrier. 

(Today DevCo is introducing a new, innovative pricing mechanism across all of its inventory whereby the valuation of all lots are benchmarked to a local property index that is provided by an independent third party real estate expert, HG Christie. DevCo’s pricing model is now data driven and truly reflective of the sentiment in the market. By using inputs from recent transactions to set asking prices we have seen prices in some sub divisions marked down by up to 40%. The shareholders of DevCo felt that one time sales programmes were not enough to stimulate ongoing demand hence the incorporation of this index on an ongoing basis. I encourage all of you to come and see first hand the extraordinary opportunities to own real estate in Grand Bahama that DevCo can offer.) HSt.G

HCA History (How did this all begin?)

The history of the development of this island, specifically the ‘Port Area’, is well known to most, if not all of us. It certainly inures to the benefit of successive generations and new residents alike, to educate them to what successful partnerships can accomplish. The historical facts would show that this Public Private Partnership, known as the Hawksbill Creek Agreement (HCA), was signed three score and two years (62) ago, between the then Government of The Bahamas and The Grand Bahama Port Authority. The HCA has a term of ninety-nine (99) years and expires in 2054. The Agreement devolved upon the GBPA administrative, municipal and regulatory powers in conjunction with the responsibility for the promotion of development and maintenance of the two hundred and thirty (230) square miles – known as the  ‘Port Area’. The GBPA is funded from the revenue of license fees and service charges, which is a complete flow-through for maintenance of the city. It is a non-profit center of administration for Freeport and contributes an average ten million ($10M) per year to the local economy, with an all-Bahamian workforce. Similarly, the GBPA’s contributions, average, hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in donations; most recently GBPA donated $3M for the construction of the University of The Bahamas dorms here at its norther campus. 

Its municipal services encompass garbage collection and sewage disposal, water supply and distribution for the whole of Grand Bahama. It also includes road repairs, landscaping, city beautification, and general infrastructure maintenance. 

On a macro level, and as a result of infrastructure valued at $11 billion dollars collectively today, taxes and duties generated from viable living in Freeport and remitted to central Government annually, were estimated to range between $144M - $200M (inclusive of NIB and VAT), as assessed by KPMG; infrastructure that was funded by private equity.  

Grand Bahama (Port Area) Investment Incentives Act, 2016

While the extension of the concessions was long awaited and gratefully received, the consternation remains high among Freeport business owners and residents. We applaud the ‘spirit’ of the Act, however, there are teething problems with the ‘letter’ of the Act and its practical implications and application.  The GBPA recognizes that it would be remiss if it did not continue to represent to the Ministry, the functional challenges faced by Freeport’s stakeholders on a daily basis. 

So we  continue in talks with the Ministry for Grand Bahama on our licensees behalf, in a bid to ensure they all received renewed tax breaks “in like terms” as previously enjoyed under the Hawksbill Creek Agreement”- (Tribune). Similarly, we will continue to progress discussions with Government regarding investment facilitation, creating  “a one-stop-shop to manage all GBPA and governmental approvals with specific guidelines, and, where matters need to be referred to the central government, a period of no more than twenty-one (21) days be fixed for approval/determination…” – (Prime Minister Christie – 17.02.16 on HCARC’s Goal). The GBPA will continue to cultivate successful relationships for the improvement of our island community. 

Operation Restoration: Our Island, Our City, Our Home 

The community spirit and resilience of our island was once again tested by powers beyond the control of its residents. As in 2004, the inhabitants of Grand Bahama -and other islands of the Bahamas - experienced the brunt of a category 4 hurricane named Matthew on October 6, 2016. As in 2004, in the storm’s aftermath, the island had sustained millions of dollars in damages. As in 2004, the residents, the business and corporate community got up, stepped up, shook off the immediate aftershocks of the event, and began the process of restoring: Our Island, Our City, Our Home. 

Within hours after the ‘all clear’ notification, a clarion call was issued by the GBPA president, for all able bodied team members to assemble, as we sought to safely commence Operation Restoration, touching those most impacted or incapacitated by the storm. Every community, from the east to the west, was touched by this humanitarian campaign. To each one of us, this was a necessary and natural act. There is no need for me to indulge in details, other than to observe that in those weeks following, we saw the many needs of the affected victims and at times it became overwhelming; but we also saw a greater demonstration of compassion, kindness and love. In addition to the visitations, the restoration efforts also included weekly updates on the progress of the cleanup and our island’s return to normalcy. Eventually, within weeks of one of the most catastrophic storms to hit the island, in as many years, Grand Bahama was open for business…that’s resilience and partnership.

It was a public private partnership: We again, express our thanks and profound gratitude to our stakeholders, Emera through The Grand Bahama Power Company team, for their unrelenting commitment to power restoration during the aftermath of the storm. It was truly a mammoth task, which was executed in record time (40 days) and with a professional disposition. (A great achievement because without electricity, in today’s world, infrastructure does not function) We also praise the work and efforts of Sanitation Services in diligently committing to the cleaning up of our city and roadways, to allow the safe movement of our island’s residents. Similarly, we would be remiss if we did not recognize the exceptional level of service provided by the Grand Bahama Utility Company in maintaining the constant supply of water, just 24 hours after the all clear notification. This public acknowledgement and expression of gratitude would not be complete without recognizing the voice that kept us calm throughout the storm and after – that of Mr. Ricardo Lightbourne and the ZNS Radio News team. I am sure you all would agree that the up to the minute communication was critical in maintaining calm and providing vital information. Most certainly there are many others who I may have failed to mention at this time, but I would invite you, in a show of unity of thankfulness, to please put your hands together (yell if you want to), and applaud these wonderful human beings for making our lives easier during that difficult period.

(Again we express our profound gratitude to the IDB for providing the series of psycho-therapy seminars held in EMR, West End and Freeport. Similarly, much appreciation goes out to our local partners – The Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce and Ministry for Grand Bahama for their support and participation in that initiative, at such a crucial time. )

As in 2004, post hurricanes Frances and Jeanne, we as an island community recovered and rebuilt, and prepared for the next storm, while hoping it never came. Today, as a result of preparing for the unexpected, the GBPA is delighted to formally announce, right now, - five months post Matthew - the establishment of the “Grand Bahama Disaster Relief Foundation”.

The certificate of registration was received just this week and quite appropriately on time to be shared with you, our partners. The Foundation’s (GBDRF) primary purpose /objective is to provide charitable relief and assistance to the island of Grand Bahama and its residents in respect of a past or future catastrophic event (charter DD 30.11.16). The Foundation is intended to be transparent and funded from private donors, locally and internationally. It will be inclusive of Grand Bahama’s stakeholders, to the benefit of all residents. 

FDI 

We believe that we have positioned Freeport, through GBPA’s promotional arm, Invest Grand Bahama (IGB), as a contender among regional competitors for foreign investment. Evidence of this was realized in mid-2016, prior to hurricane Matthew, when GBPA entered Freeport into the Financial Time’s Global FTZ competition, and won top awards in 4 Categories:

Namely;: 

  • The Specialist Award for Best Expansions
  • Specialist Award for Best Educational Support & Training 
  • Specialist Award for Best Contribution to National Economic Diversification
  • Best Free Zone Overall for SMEs in Latin America & The Caribbean

The level of awareness has been created and continues to grow and the response we are now receiving from prospective investors is extremely encouraging. It is our view that Grand Bahama is now positioned as a legitimate player in the context of a globalized modern society. Over the past several years, we have secured tens of millions in new sustainable investments, resulting in hundreds of new jobs. Furthermore, we remain motivated by the new projects in the pipeline that will undoubtedly have a significant impact on Freeport and by extension, Grand Bahama’s economic fortunes. (DN – GBPA)

Conclusion…

Our outlook: 

We recognize that there is a lot more work to be done and people are still recovering. So I leave you with these words…

Sustained resilience:  We only fail, when we do not get up 

Fierce Perseverance: Plan your work, work your plan…

Creative Innovation: “Find solutions to your problems of today, to make them opportunities of the future.”

It is said that success is when opportunity meets preparation and we are certainly laying the foundation to achieve this. 

The HCA has survived the challenge of some of its expiring parts. It is for us now, as partners now, to build now on what has been accomplished, to improve on our product and services, to persevere in innovation and to break down barriers, for positive change and success. 

This is Our Island, Our City, Our Home…My Grand Bahama, your Grand Bahama, our Grand Bahama.

ABOUT GBPA


The Hawksbill Creek Agreement (HCA) gave GBPA responsibility for the development, administration and management, and provision of services within an area called the 'Port Area' (230 sq. miles). GBPA was mandated by this Agreement to build a deep water harbour, an industrial community and required infrastructure for the City.

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PRESIDENT'S MESSAGE


GBPA has achieved an astonishing amount since its inception in 1955.  When first created it was a Grand Bahamian business conglomerate charged not only with land and commercial development but also with all the regulatory and administrative functions of the Freeport/Lucaya.

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THE WAY FORWARD


Firstly, I wish to thank Joan Albury and the Counsellors for this platform enabling us to share with the Grand Bahama community, the outlook for our island! 2015 marks the 60th year of the birth of Freeport and the Hawksbill Creek Agreement; 60 years of a partnership between The Government of The Bahamas and The Grand Bahama Port Authority. I'm here to raise hopes for 2015 and to lay a few popular myths to rest - For those who don't know me, I am Sarah St George.

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