Column: Sir John Swan On Proposed SDO

April 20, 2023

[Opinion column written by Sir John Swan]

The recent unveiling of the plans for the Fairmont Southampton redevelopment by Gencom has caused some concern in the community. I have no personal interest in the project but as a real estate developer and businessperson, I would like to share my opinion on how I believe the redevelopment would be an asset to Bermuda and in particular to its people.

This redevelopment is nothing new to Bermuda. We have seen other properties developed before and when tastefully done they are of benefit to all. These include Belmont Hills, St. Regis, the waterside apartments at Tucker’s Point, Azure and even Loughlands units in Paget.

The redevelopment in part represents a chance for Bermuda to become a world-class destination.

Sir John Swan Bermuda February 2019

Changes in the world economy have allowed Bermuda to be at the forefront of technology driven business. The main ability required for this type of business is financial capital and innovative entrepreneurs. Residential and commercial space is now at a premium and represents the single biggest obstacle in attracting new business. Bermuda has experienced this phenomenon before when the [re]insurance industry blossomed in Bermuda in previous decades. This redevelopment would afford units which are desperately needed to accommodate both our visitors and residents alike.

Our green spaces are integral to the charm of Bermuda, and it is right to ensure development is carefully controlled. The developers are allowing for 62 acres of the property to remain green space while enhancing the property with beautiful landscaping which is a responsibility of the Department of Planning.

People are concerned with the impact on the scenery of the location, but we must ask ourselves what do we really want? Do we want a newly renovated hotel with brand new residential units that look beautiful as you drive by or do want a hotel that will fall into disarray like Club Med and Elbow Beach and become an eyesore in a prominent location? Complaining that no one has done anything about it and keeping our fingers crossed that someone many, many years down the line comes to its rescue is wishful thinking.

There are other opportunities that the development brings to the community. First and foremost, the reopening of the hotel will allow for employment for Bermudians as primary or supplemental income. There are also employment opportunities for the residential units as they will require ongoing maintenance by local tradespersons. If Bermuda is unable to accommodate more visitors, airlines will cut back further on their flights. More hotel beds increase the likelihood of more airlift. More airlifts for tourists coming from various destinations increases the airlift for international business which represents over 80% of our GDP. Also, this has a knock-on effect in which more visitors then reduce the payment made for the minimum revenue guarantee to Skyport. These residential units would also contribute more revenue for the Government by way of land tax.

We have a unique opportunity with a developer who is willing to invest money into a property that has failed. The price of construction in Bermuda is extremely high. The hotel redevelopment will occur first and the residential units’ sales would afford them the chance of getting some return on their investment. They will also be guided by what the Department of Planning allows them to develop, it is not as if they have free reign to develop the site as they please. If we continue to throw objections at the project the developers may just decide to not move forward with the project and then when will the site be developed? Not in our lifetimes. This also sends a message to other investors that they and their money may not be wanted in Bermuda.

The only thing that seems to be growing regarding our economy is our debt. If we are being honest with ourselves, Bermudians have invested very little into our economy. International business and other foreign investors have made Bermuda what it is. We have, however, directly benefitted from the opportunities that have been afforded to us. To grow the economy, we need critical mass and how will we get there if we cannot provide a destination and accommodation for people who want to invest their dollars in our community?

Our national debt is our national disgrace, and we cannot leave that legacy for our children. We have an obligation to all Bermudians and their future generations to afford them the opportunities we have all enjoyed in recent years. A knee jerk objection to any form of change is not what we need right now. If we choose to stand still progress will just pass us by and move on to the next destination.

We keep saying that we need more housing; more housing is proposed in the development. We need more hotel beds; more hotel beds are proposed in the development. We need more jobs and money; this development will provide more jobs and money. Right now, we just need to make up our minds.

- Sir John Swan

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Comments (4)

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  1. Ringmaster says:

    These residential units would also contribute more revenue for the Government by way of land tax.

    We keep saying that we need more housing; more housing is proposed in the development.

    Sir John is mistaken on both. The concessions given include a land tax break, so no tax revenue for 15 years. Why is that fair to Bermudians? The houses are not aimed at Bermudians, who 80% according to the Premier make less than $96,000 a year. They will not be less than %2.5mn each to match the EIC requirement. Just like houses at Tuckers Point which are more than that.
    The deal is so bad it would be better for Bermuda as a whole to have Gencom give up, and leave the hotel as is.

  2. Dejavu says:

    Doesn’t he own multiple giant buildings lol? His generation is what destroyed bermuda. Why are we looking to a 90yr old for answers? My advice to all young people leave bermuda asap because there’s literally nothing anymore

  3. Fisherman says:

    Who in Betty Crocker’s world can afford, other than the rich, can afford the rents going to be charged for units. So many properties proposed buildings some ground broken and nothing done but arguing as to who said and who did not do. Others equipment and other remains on site..Bermuda is a ghost town of broken promises.

  4. A 30 Year Old Bermudian says:

    The comments made thus far speaks to the entire crux of the article written – there are complaints and efforts made to poke at everything this man has said instead of switching perspectives for a second.

    You are correct in that the housing is not aimed for Bermudians and that is because WE as a country and people do not invest back into our country (let alone maintain ANYTHING we have or are given) and we are – whether you want to admit it or not – heavily reliant on international business and it’s employees here.

    I stand here as a 30 year old professional female, THANKFUL for ‘this 90 year old’ taking the time to pipe up and share his perspective. I can only imagine that the chatter and wrongful assumptions and misinformation encouraged him to speak up and look to do what he does best – attempt to EDUCATE the Bermudians on why certain projects, initiatives and decisions made will benefit us in the long run.

    I have long recognized how far in debt we are as a country, and am aware of the work that is clearly cut out for myself, my generation and the generation to come in order to make any attempt of saving us. We have to do whatever it takes to get there – it’s just that simple.

    …and to @DejaVu, yes, Mr. Swan does own many buildings where many international business RENT from him – a smart move on his part.

    …and to my peers who may be reading this, leaving the island has not proven to be any better anywhere else. “It is not the critic who counts, it is the man in the arena…”