Re-Development Opportunities

Sandy Cove – Photo courtesy Altman Real Estate In the context of new development opportunities, it could be suggested that certain voids exist in the marketplace, these being: branded hotels, mid-rise urban residential units and high-end retail. These areas of opportunity may be best realized by redeveloping existing properties. Attractive selling prices and scarcity of […]

By Sir Paul Altman

November 12, 2009

Sandy Cove – Photo courtesy Altman Real Estate

In the context of new development opportunities, it could be suggested that certain voids exist in the marketplace, these being: branded hotels, mid-rise urban residential units and high-end retail. These areas of opportunity may be best realized by redeveloping existing properties. Attractive selling prices and scarcity of green sites now make redevelopment projects increasingly viable.

166 square miles (the size of our island), does not offer the comfort of making mistakes in planning and development which could mar our landscape. We must always remember that the natural beauty of Barbados is where we started, and that we have come a long way since our original subdivision into 11 parishes; all designated as agricultural districts with their plantations and villages fanning out from the capital town, Bridgetown, and our other coastal smaller towns.

Development was slow through the middle of the 20th century and has built up to its current pace by arithmetic progression since then.  This has led to our chaotic state of development which, in many cases, fails to meet what can best be described as “Best Practice.” Generally we have done well; our economy has surpassed most of our neighbours and we have earned the reputation of a world class destination offering most of the trappings associated with competing quality destinations. However, we are now in danger of offending our landscape and straining our environment unless we place a much more controlled process on further development. Many now ask the questions: Has development gone haywire? Are we making the best use of our scarce land resource? Do we need more square blocks of condominiums? Are developers squeezing more than they should out of projects by maximizing density rather than focusing on integrating and blending projects to fit their surroundings? Are developers recognizing the need for green space and the important role of landscaping?

On the assumption that tourism offers our economy the best opportunity for growth, the way forward has to provide for expansion in this area and this can best be achieved through redevelopment. It is natural for tired accommodation to be replaced by newer and higher quality accommodation; Barbados can achieve higher prices since it already has the reputation of offering an exclusive product and continued upgrading of built product is the best way of maximizing our total return. The Sandy Lane & Coral Reef hotels are going through major refurbishments this winter. These are perfect examples of taking products already considered high quality to even higher levels. Upgrading should be considered a redevelopment process.

We have seen redevelopment occur in areas where small uneconomical hotels have been replaced by modern condominium blocks, which have proven very lucrative to developers. Unlike hotels, condominiums provide modern accommodation options under private ownership and achieve all the objectives of hotels in terms of their contribution to the economy through employment, as well as rental accommodation. It is often forgotten how important this type of redevelopment is. Many wealthy owners of private condominiums can be seen as being the best marketing ambassadors for the island, while guaranteeing employment. Many of these condominiums are offered for rent as short-term accommodation and the description that best fits this type of product is “condotel.” Small hotels with high overheads are generally not economically feasible. Condominiums with operating costs shared among a number of owners are much more viable.

As new investors enter the market, competition becomes more evident through increased capital chasing fewer opportunities. All of a sudden, laws of supply and demand suggest that what once appeared to be prohibitively costly in terms of redevelopment becomes attractive. Enter new schemes worthy of consideration under the headings such as Urban Renewal, Mid Rise Residential, Mixed Use Communities, “Condotel” or Villa-Hotel branded, Retirement Villages surrounding abandoned factories or medical facilities or even at its ultimate conclusion, building an offshore island.

Of major importance is the preservation of heritage areas which must be carefully controlled. Barbadians and visitors have become more appreciative and educated in understanding heritage architecture and it is only left to the responsible authorities to ensure that heritage areas are redeveloped to their full potential, even if this requires enticement. Government has in place the Special Development Areas Act, and this needs further promotion to encourage people to apply for and to receive benefits under this act. In many ways the SDA speaks best to cautious redevelopment since all areas falling under the Act are Historic or Conservation areas.

If conservation areas are allowed to be redeveloped in an uncontrolled way, Barbados will lose one of our most valuable assets. It would be a disaster to allow the Garrison Historic area to be altered by the introduction of modern architecture. The streetscape of Speightstown has evolved into a “hodgepodge” of buildings many of which are alien to the Speightstown style and quality; although one building at the centre of the town has invited in fruit and vegetable vendors under controlled conditions, who sell from specially built trays for their use. This is an example of the character of the town being preserved through the retention of this most attractive and traditional streetscape. The restoration of Arlington House for use as a museum is a huge success and should be seen as a model for further redevelopment. Similarly, Archer’s Hall represents one of the most creative, adaptive reuse redevelopments of an existing old warehouse. All of this while the old Post Office and the old Noel Roach buildings are left to slowly crumble.

Holetown has become a central watering hole along the west coast, providing shopping and restaurant facilities along with other services. As the location of the island’s first settlement and because of its central setting, Holetown has the capacity to attract considerably more interest. Hopefully new development currently under way in the centre of the town will inspire adjacent redevelopment opportunities.

Bridgetown offers the greatest potential for redevelopment. It fails to meet the test of a thriving city as it shuts down before dark. A major redevelopment scheme, such as the proposed Pierhead project, could reinvent Bridgetown. Government has taken some measures to lead this effort through the creation of the boardwalk around the Careenage and the redevelopment of the Constitutional river area, starting from Independence Park.

As a mixed use community, it will be expanded through the reclamation of additional acreage aimed to accommodate a new hotel and condominiums, but the true challenge of a redeveloped Pierhead will come from the restoration of the old warehouse buildings which line the Careenage waterfront extending to the Screwdock where a museum and historic area will be located. This major project is poised to take off, in spite of its numerous delays.

Other areas which have gone a long way towards redevelopment, incorporating many positive change-of-use features, include Belleville, Collymore Rock, St. Lawrence and Maxwell. Hastings and the Rockley area towards Rendezvous have been transformed through redevelopment. The process continues.

Once the South coast has been regenerated, and this is happening at a quick pace, we may need to think outside the box. The most exciting opportunity which does not force redevelopment to maximize density where it does not fit, is the suggestion that we build an offshore island. This option has surfaced through the need to extend our deep-water harbour. Why not take advantage of this redeveloped and expanded facility to include additional land and create a truly world class island around it? Government has given their assurance that this concept would receive their backing. Such a mega project itself has the ability to restate development for the next 50 years.

Sir Paul Altman

Sir Paul Altman has been involved in the real estate profession for over thirty years. He is the Managing Director of Altman Real Estate, the Caribbean’s leading Real Estate Company, and Ambassador and Chairman of the Savills Caribbean Associates.