There is a well-known adage attributed to Wayne Gretzky, which says: “A good hockey player plays where the puck is.  A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”

Of course it helps to have a record of where the puck has been in order to make an educated guess as to where it is likely to be next.

Most Developers follow the route of least resistance and build what is selling.  Those few who are forward thinking make decisions based on a review of the past and act in an attempt to predict the future trend.  In so doing, they become trendsetters.

Looking back, we have witnessed tourism related “development waves” over the past 30-plus years, as our beachfronts have developed into condominium clusters as well as a few new hotels and villas.  Development then moved inland and in order to compete with beachfront had to link with some themed sports such as golf, tennis and polo.  Even the beachfront was themed around a marina development.  This all provided communities catering to specific lifestyles.

Recognising the success of these themed developments and being aware of few new green field opportunities, one option currently presents itself as the best new way to expand both tourism and local development. The next wave must encompass a redevelopment theme and this will offer new and exciting possibilities.

The most likely areas to attract redevelopment are those linked to urban mixed-use opportunities. The time is ripe for Bridgetown, Speightstown, Holetown and Oistins to blossom.

They all share one important common attraction – they are all waterfront.  They also incorporate the greatest measures of Barbadian culture and historic architecture.  Of course, if lifestyle is factored into these towns, then numerous existing features promote the adage: “If you lived here you would be home now”.  This would allow persons to “live”, “work” and “play” on location.  Taking this to its ultimate level, under the heading of sustainability, it stands to reason that new development in Barbados must follow the route of so many other countries – “Urbanisation”.

Thomas Friedman in his book, Hot Flat & Crowded, published in 2008, stated an interesting statistic from the United Nations Fund (in 2007) which issued a report stating that in 2008 more than half of humanity would be living in cities and towns and the Associated Press reported that by 2030 the population in cities is expected to grow to 5 Billion and that smaller cities will absorb the bulk of urban growth.

Recognising that today 6.7 Billion people are sharing the planet but by mid-2050 this figure is estimated to go to 9 Billion, Friedman points out that most of this growth will be in countries least able to sustain it, which will fuel instability and extremism.

Why do we need to focus on world trends?  We only need to look at the current economic climate to recognize how linked we are.  Barbados is a net importing country and in many ways reflects global trends.  With one of the highest population densities, we have even more reason to develop our urban centres.  However we must focus on sustainability and include Heritage in taking full advantage of urban re-development.

Urban Re-development solves many challenges. It:

  • Reduces traffic
  • Revitalizes commerce
  • Utilizes our existing built environment through the restoration and adaptive reuse of urban centres. And more than anything it:
  • Creates a new dimension for Barbadians and tourists as places to live, work and play on a 24-hour basis.

One major gain that is impossible to measure in its entirety is the opportunity to save and capture the “heritage” dimension so important to the “Barbados Style”.

We have spoken for too long about a PierHead project in Bridgetown, a restored Speightstown and bringing life back to our cities.

The first real Town Project is underway in Holetown and offers the “live”, “work” and “play” theme.  Although not a re-development, it captures the essence of urban revitalization.

Limegrove will be a mixed-used development when it opens at the end of 2010.  It will be the first development to offer townhouses as a part of its varied “built” product.  These will be townhouses as they are really meant to be – in a Town.

Holetown is where our first settlers landed and the designs of Limegrove’s 12 commercial buildings borrow from the island’s vernacular architecture.  The benefits of urban redevelopment will be all spelt out at Limegrove.

A resident could live there, work there and play there without ever needing to use a vehicle.

The beach is nearby and the garden community will provide an atmosphere not normally found in a local Town.

Holetown may not offer the best example of redevelopment opportunities, however it already has a high level of adaptive re-use successes, utilizing some of the existing buildings within the Town.

Speightstown and Bridgetown offer the greatest opportunities for redevelopment.

The best examples of redevelopment in Speightstown are Archers Hall and Arlington House and the recent Town Square shopping plaza has achieved a charming effect in what was a derelict location.

The Noel Roach Building and the old Post Office are crying out for help, along with the opportunity to rescue the old Mannings’ lumberyard area and its “not so exciting” front street building.

The area adjacent to the bridge and the entire Goddings Alley together with Church Street and Sand Street all need to be redeveloped with some careful master planning controls.

Government has on hold plans for creating a newly paved main street, Queen Street, with special planting and lighting similar to St. Lawrence Gap.  This needs to get started.  Such infrastructural projects serve as catalysts for investors.

In Bridgetown, the Boardwalk around The Careenage has vastly enhanced the area.  The PierHead project must get started – This project on its own has the ability to kick-start the entire redevelopment of the town and especially to wake up development of the entire Carlisle Bay area.  It must get started!

If it had been implemented ten years ago, it would have been completed today.  The master plan was prepared some thirteen years ago.  The old buildings standing along the PierHead are begging to be rescued and the start-up funding required is totally affordable.

Our Parliament Buildings remain the focal point of our main city.  Hincks Street has, to some extent, been rescued but it lacks life; and an attempt to open up the waterside of Carlisle House into a public mini-park provides a taste of the huge redevelopment opportunity for the adjacent car park.  The careful redevelopment of the Old Spirit Bond is unfortunately lost – it is not visible from Broad Street and too close to the very busy Careenage Road for any traffic (foot or motor) to access easily.  The Old Empire Cinema’s restoration promise has now past its last reality check and must happen before the building deteriorates further.  There are Developers who would be interested in getting involved and the best approach would be a public/private sector partnership.

In Bridgetown, the areas of primary interest for redevelopment stretch along the waterfront from the Bridgetown Port to The Hilton.  Of course the idea of extending the port by creating an island remains a viable and significant project on its own.  Carlisle Bay Beach is by far the best expanse of beach on the island.  Anchored by the Hilton at one end and the PierHead at the other, this stretch has endless potential.

Government incentives exist under the Special Development Areas Act and its “action” arm, under the Barbados Tourism Investment Inc is capable of leading this effort.

Oistins has developed a niche “event led” revitalization program, fed by its Oistins Fish Festival.  Like Holetown, there are not many existing buildings offering potential for redevelopment but there is a huge opportunity to capture the fishing village theme in setting up some character areas with housing and bistros set back from the main street.  This still represents some form of redevelopment since it makes use of existing infrastructure and a themed attraction to expand a development opportunity.

Redevelopment, as it relates to the Special Development Areas Act, is nothing new and works best in these towns since there are significant buildings there already to work with.

Not all Caribbean Islands have built environments that offer such unique opportunities for redevelopment. There are, however, a few real examples of charming and existing redeveloped towns, or parts of towns, in some nearby islands. These include:

  • Puerto Rico – Old San Juan.
  • Cuba – The Government has started to restore some of the magnificent old buildings around the Havana waterfront.
  • Grenada – a project is currently underway to redevelop the entire waterfront in St. Georges.  This project will rebuild the waterfront using the natural setting and utilizing the existing buildings and an attempt is being made to use the vernacular architecture of the Island – similar to what is being done in Holetown, Barbados.
  • Antigua – has pockets of redevelopment that have demonstrated the charm that can only be achieved by converting old areas into productive use.  Redcliffe Quay is an attractive project that follows this example.
  • St. Lucia – has a wonderful waterfront and a scheme has been prepared for the Government, which controls a large area of the harbour.  Government intends to re-site their offices in order to give full access to a developer.

A plan should be drawn up for each of our towns with private/public committees put in place, similar to those previously existing, but with a very clear and detailed mandate following specific programs.

If our next focus on development is redevelopment then our towns offer the best opportunities.  They are crying out for implementation.  Their waterfront locations make them highly attractive.  Their existing stock of buildings present easy footprints to getting started and Government incentives already are in place.

Development as an economic process provides the fuel for growth but development should not be defined only as new build.  The charm and historical significance of towns has proven to be a major starting point for bringing life and success back to these areas.  Barbados needs to make use of its towns and investors need to put people there to live, work and play by redeveloping them.

About the Author

Sir Paul Altman
Sir Paul Altman - Managing Director, Altman Real Estate

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.