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Breaking News:

Freeport has become the Detroit of The Bahamas


Published: Aug 01, 2017

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Dear Editor,

 

In 2011 I wrote in The Freeport News that Freeport should no longer be considered the second city of The Bahamas. While Exuma, Abaco, Bimini and, to a certain degree, New Providence are all experiencing economic booms, Grand Bahama in general and Freeport in particular continue to wallow in a chronic economic crisis that dates all the way back to September 11, 2001. This was the day 19 Islamic terrorists hijacked four airliners and flew two of them into the towers of the World Trade Center in New York, one into the Pentagon just outside Washington D.C., and one into a field in Pennsylvania.

The economy continued to plummet in 2004 after Hurricanes Francis and Jeanne slammed into Grand Bahama, leaving widespread devastation across the island. Unfortunately for approximately 1,300 Grand Bahamians who were employed at the Royal Oasis Resort and Casino, their place of employment was just one of the many casualties of the two major cyclones.

In 1993 a relative of mine once stated ominously that if the Princess Resort were to ever close down, Freeport would be finished. Grand Bahama has been in a precipitous decline since the Royal Oasis closed its doors 13 years ago. The Princess had been an economic catalyst to the island since the 1960s, when it was built through a joint venture between billionaire Daniel K. Ludwig and Grand Bahama Port Authority founder Wallace Groves.

The latter had signed the Hawksbill Creek Agreement on August 5, 1955. According to historians Michael Craton and Gail Saunders, the agreement concentrated on the plans of Groves to build a deepwater harbor on Hawksbill Creek as the focus of an industrial area. In addition to this, Groves was granted 50,000 acres of land and tax and other concessions. He was also given the right to administer, plan and develop the port area and to license persons and businesses (Michael Craton and Gail Saunders: “Islands in the Stream”).

During the 1960s, Freeport experienced phenomenal growth economically despite its many societal issues, stemming from the fact that native Bahamians were pushed into the background in lieu of the influx of foreigners who were attracted to Freeport. During this era, Freeport was given the appellation the Magic City.

The expectations of some Grand Bahamians were raised after it was revealed that Minister of State for Grand Bahama Senator Kwasi Thompson had met with the owners of the Royal Oasis, Harcourt Development, in order to express the Free National Movement government’s concerns regarding the rundown hotel property. The Royal Oasis along with the adjoining International Bazaar have become eyesores due to their dilapidated condition.

I understand that homeless persons are living in the Bazaar and in the hotel. In so many instances, Freeport mirrors Detroit. Like Freeport during the 1960s, Detroit, nicknamed the Motor City and Motown, also experienced phenomenal economic growth, which was fueled by the automobile and R&B music industries. General Motors, Ford Motor Company and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles U.S. are all headquartered in Detroit. However, due to competition, all three companies have experienced steep declines in car sales, which has led to massive layoffs and massive defections of Detroiters to other U.S. states.

Detroit’s population in 1950 was 1,850,000. In 2016, it was just 677,116. Freeport has also experienced massive depopulation over the past decade and a half. Many Freeporters are economic refugees who have fled Grand Bahama for greener pastures in search of employment. The matter of depopulation will continue unabated, especially with the closure of Breaker’s Cay at the Grand Lucayan Resort, and Memories Resort. One Port Lucaya Marketplace tenant informed The Tribune that he is leaving Grand Bahama for the Turks and Caicos due to the severe economic challenges facing the tenants of that shopping, entertainment and restaurant facility.

Like the Bazaar, Port Lucaya Marketplace is becoming a deserted ghost town. It is interesting that Detroit, like Freeport, is inundated with abandoned, dilapidated buildings. According to Business Insider, Detroit is the most distressed city in North America, with an unemployment rate of 6.6 percent. Freeport’s unemployment rate is high in the double digits. All throughout Detroit there are abandoned housing subdivisions. Detroit homeowners have abandoned their homes because they simply could not afford to meet their mortgage obligations.

Regarding Freeport, in addition to the rundown Royal Oasis and International Bazaar properties, there are the Xanadu and Casa Bahama properties, which are also rundown. On Lunar Boulevard, there are two abandoned, rundown apartment complexes, which are eyesores. Even the two huge apartments across the road from Pizza Hut on East Mall are in disrepair. Hudson Avenue, where the Methodist school is located, looks like a ghetto. In fact, that area looks worse than the ghetto communities of Garden Villas and Coral Gardens. On Pioneers Way the pink-colored business complex across the road from the Pro-Cathedral of Christ the King is rundown.

Downtown Freeport, which was once touted as being the hub of the city, is now nearly deserted, since the closure of City Market in 2011. Downtown Freeport has yet to recover since the departure of Winn Dixie in 2006 or thereabouts. Even the communities of East Coral Estates and Pioneers Loops are starting to look rundown.

Like Detroit, there are many abandoned homes throughout Freeport. The economy in Freeport is not dying. It is past dead. It is in a state of decomposition. There are four stages of decomposition: autolysis, bloat, active decay and skeletonization. Like Detroit, Freeport’s economy is somewhere between active decay and skeletonization. It is mindboggling that Freeport’s jobless rate is at least 10 percent higher than Detroit’s. We have become desensitized to this due to Freeport’s decades-old recession.

With the recent news that the Minnis government is considering partially nationalizing the Grand Lucayan Resort, Grand Bahamians are cautiously optimistic due to so many letdowns over the past 17 years.

One gets the notion that the managers of the city have given up due to the inordinate amount of litter strewn throughout Freeport’s landscape. Once heralded by Nassauvians and Family Islanders as a very clean city, Freeport is nowhere close to where it once was when it comes to being pristine.

Even if the Minnis government goes through with its tentative plans to partially nationalize the Grand Lucayan Resort, and even if the resort is purchased by the Wynn Group, the issue of landing and docking fees at the Grand Bahama International Airport and Freeport Harbour must be addressed once and for all.

Can Freeport return to its glory days? If economic revitalization is to be achieved, tough decisions will have to be made by the Minnis government. For what it’s worth, Freeport can longer continue along the path to oblivion like the Motor City.

 

– Kevin Evans

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