What's Big, Green and Ambitious?
Grenada's Port Louis Project
Okay, full disclosure: Compass's editor, along with five other regional journalists, was invited on an all-expense-paid visit to Grenada on October 10th and 11th by Peter de Savary, an entrepreneur who has been instrumental in developing top-end clubs, resorts and real estate ventures around the world. (Think Skibo Castle in Scotland, where Madonna got married.) This media trip was part of de Savary's effort to promote his new investments in Grenada - and Grenada itself as a destination - both regionally and internationally. Peter de Savary, or "PDS" as his staff all call him, has already invited over 50 journalists to Grenada from publications including British Airways' in-flight magazine High Life, The Times of London, the Guardian (UK), All at Sea and Boat International. Our group included freelance journalist Tony Fraser from Trinidad, who is a correspondent for BBC Caribbean, the Associated Press and the Trinidad Express; veteran reporter Trevor Yearwood and photographer Sandy Pitt from the Nation newspaper of Barbados; and reporter-presenter Keriann Lee and cameraman Raymond Lawson from Television Jamaica. As we were leaving, we met the next group of visiting international journalists, which included the Moscow desk editor of Robb Report. If the Revolution and Ivan didn't put Grenada on the map, PDS is determined to.
Compass's main interest, of course, was PDS's marina project which is transforming St. George's Lagoon. The EC$1.5 billion Port Louis Grenada will include a marina with up to 350 slips and facilities for yachts up to 100 metres, two hotels, 37 lots for villas and 22 hillside apartments. Plans also call for a West Indian-style marina village ("We don't want to give people Florida in the Caribbean"), with shops ranging from designer goods to local handicrafts, which will be open to all; only the private residential area will be gated. A Customs and Immigration office will be on site. Port Louis has obtained a 99-year lease from the Grenada government on water rights in the Lagoon.
Knowing that people would say "you were bought!" if we published glowing reports after being wined and dined, we tried to find fault during our visit. It wasn't easy.
Cruisers, especially those on a budget, have lamented the loss of free anchorage in the Lagoon (anchoring was prohibited during dredging this summer, and a complete build-out of both dock phases in the plans would virtually fill the Lagoon), so we raised the issue. PDS fired back, "I strongly object to those who pump sewage and detergent into the Lagoon. I have no sympathy for freeloaders, but anyone is welcome to pay the normal fee at the dock where every berth will have a pump-out." Marina plans include a small waste-treatment plant, which will feed into the existing municipal sewage system, and assistance has been offered to the government to help prevent sewage and other contaminated run-off from the surrounding land entering the Lagoon.
The Port Louis people have already removed "hundreds of tons" of derelict vessels, cars, the tail of a US military helicopter and other junk from in and around the Lagoon, and transported most of the contents of master metalworker Lincoln Ross's large scrapyard to another site. Although the Lagoon has been used as a de facto dump and sewer for years, PDS says, "Give me another nine or ten months - it's not beyond repair." Marina Manager Danny Donelan adds that the marina is aiming for "Eco Marina" standards [see www.leeward.com/eco_marina.cfm].
What of socio-economic issues? Since the demise of Grenada Yacht Services, a marina which had its heyday in the Lagoon in the 1960s and '70s, yachtspeople anchoring in the Lagoon have interacted with locals and contributed to the support of many businesses along the shoreline. What impact will the new marina have on the neighborhood and its existing businesses?
Jonathan Fisher, manager of the Island Water World chandlery on Lagoon Road, says he sees Port Louis as a step forward for Grenada's yachting infrastructure and feels that "competition is healthy." Charter yacht owner/operator Mosden Cumberbatch, who grew up in the neighborhood, tells Compass, "There are always people who object to change, but I know a lot of guys from here working in Tortola or Fort Lauderdale on yachts who would want to come home, and this can be their chance." And although he notes that more public consultation on projects of this scope is always welcome, he is satisfied with the docking facility across the Lagoon that PDS has proposed for the locally owned charter and fishing boats that will be displaced from their former moorings. (The Grenada Yacht Club and the small locally owned docks on the east side of the Lagoon will not be affected by the marina development.)
It is estimated that the new marina will create some 50 jobs. Key posts such as Marina Manager (Danny Donelan) and Dockmaster (Junior Cuffie) have already been filled by Grenadians. The marina's PR team of Francine Stewart and Barry Collymore are also Grenadians.
What about safety and security in the area? Boats at anchor in the Lagoon have been targets of theft, off and on, for decades. And the old GYS site and its environs ("Ballast Ground") had become distinctly unsavory of late - in September 2006, there was a drug-related assassination in the then-secluded area, steps from where the marina's Victory Bar now stands. Danny tells us that there are now plans for a 24/7 Lagoon security patrol.
Who is this PDS, then, and why has he chosen to invest in Grenada? The intense, high-energy 63-year-old tells us that, of English parentage, he spent his early boyhood in Venezuela and first came to Grenada with his family, on vacation in 1952. They stayed at the old Islander Hotel, which sat on the hilltop that is slated to be the centerpiece of Port Louis's residential and hotel area. "I learned to handle a boat in Grenada," he says. "It was here I fell in love with boats and the sea."
Grenada, he says, is an excellent location for a marina because, being below the hurricane belt, it can be enjoyed year round. Plus there are good air links, a stable government and "a tremendous level of cooperation and understanding". He adds that there are many things to do off the boat ("some places you just want to get on the boat and leave"), as well as excellent sailing conditions, various anchorages, good snorkeling and dinghy-accessible restaurants, for those who want to day-sail from the marina.
Ground was broken for the marina one year ago. Buildings erected so far, such as the Victory Bar & Grill which opened in April, are mostly of simple wooden construction with galvanized roofs. The Dutch construction company that built Grenada's new cruise ship terminal was hired to do the "heavy lifting", using dredging and other equipment conveniently already on-island. The company, Volker Stevin, employs local labor.
The entrance to the Lagoon is being dredged to 20 feet. At the time of our visit, in the previous five weeks alone, two and a half acres of "reclaimed" land had been created behind a concrete sea-wall where yachts will eventually tie up stern-to. A target date of December 1st has been set to be ready for up to 70 large boats which are planning to come here for the holidays.
"Boats have been my life," says PDS, who led the British team in its challenge for the America's Cup in 1983, aboard Victory. (It lost to Australia II in the heats.) "I understand what boatowners and crew want, and I think Port Louis is going to work for all of them."
Former Minister of Tourism, the Hon. Brenda Hood, told the visiting journalists that she feels it will work for Grenada, too: "We don't want mass tourism, we want upscale tourism that is year-round." And, rather than create a resented enclave for the elite, she said she feels that Port Louis will upgrade and enhance the St. George's area, especially if Grenadians feel they are part of it.
Prime Minister the Hon. Keith Mitchell told our group of journalists that Grenada's economy is still suffering the impacts of Hurricane Ivan in 2004: revenue from agriculture, tourism and taxes dried up; foreign aid was diverted to countries affected by the southeast Asian tsunami; and some infrastructure still needs repair. He says that Peter de Savary's extensive investments in Grenada are creating jobs, training opportunities, and awareness of Grenada as a destination in ways the government currently can't afford to do.
In his office with a bird's-eye view of the marina site, he told us, "There have been many marina proposals, but every time our hopes were raised, they were dashed. The proposals always lacked the necessary 'teeth' to make the project a reality." Glancing out the window, he added, "I, as a Grenadian, thought I would never see the Lagoon cleaned up in my lifetime."
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