Invest St Lucia [ISL] officials say they are moving expeditiously to try and resolve the long-standing issue involving housing relocation for some residents living within the vicinity of a major hotel development at Sabwisha, Choiseul.
Residential property occupying lands adjacent to the Grand Hyatt Development is causing a hindrance to the progress of the project. However, the property facilitator – ISL has been having discussions with the occupants to provide them with adequate, optional housing allocations.
Though some residents have agreed to the relocation conditions, others are hesitant owing to their familiarity with the fishing habitat from which they eke out a livelihood.
“Two of the properties that will be relocated are on the Queen’s Chain, meaning they are closer to the sea. The other six are on the ridge …and the areas that we are relocating them to, is in La Fargue,” ISL Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Roderick Cherry told reporters at a press briefing, Monday.
“Obviously they will be in a different area, but we try to get an area within the Choiseul community so that the individuals that are part of a particular community will still be part of the community, although in a different location,” he added.
He said eight households are involved in the negotiations and that one of those persons involved in fishing showed some concerns about relocating “and being further from the sea than he was initially …but no one can stay on the Queen’s Chain at any point. So, there would be cause for some adjustment for the business of that particular gentleman.”
Questioned about the probability of any legal discourse to get the matter resolved, Cherry declared: “From our standpoint, we feel that what we have done and what we are doing is to ensure an orderly relocation of the individuals from the present location to a newer location.
“I do not see the need for any legal issues going forward …I feel that if we are able to continue the communication, continue the engagement and liaising with the families that are affected, I think we can have an orderly relocation,” Cherry said.
The hotel development is being touted as a ‘Flagship Chain Hotel’ that can bring about innumerable economic benefits to residents from the area, the wider community and the country.
ISL’s Marketing and Communications Manager – Shirlyn Elliodore explained that, last August, the Grand Hyatt Development project entered into a ‘management agreement’ with Terra Tour Services (TTS) Resorts Ltd.
The project is expected to deliver a 345-room luxury Grand Hyatt Hotel , with 50+ luxury suites, restaurants, spa fitness centre , 22,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and retail shops.
Project officials anticipate that the venture located in the Choiseul region will provide an increase in jobs, service providers, commodities and other areas related to the tourism sector.
Ellidore stated that economic benefits would include, “300 plus jobs during construction and another 300 plus jobs, permanent and part-time …and this would be a ‘flagship chain hotel’ on island”.
Additionally, said Ellidore, “there will be an increase in product offering in the south of the island, increase in tourist spending, increase in the purchase of food and beverage locally.”
She also said that a total in excess of 600 plus in-direct jobs will be created, and business linkages in the neighbouring area, “which means there will be a demand to provide services or additional services for guests coming in to that area…specialised education and training programmes both in hospitality and the Hyatt brand.”
Also, this project is expected to provide increased visibility for the destination “as this project will put St Lucia on the map …and they are also looking to target another niche market – the MICE Market, which is Meetings, Incentives from friends and Events.”
She explained, “That is an area that the tourism authority is also looking to expand.”
In terms of corporate and social responsibility, Elliodore noted: “In discussions with the developer, they have outlined or agreed to recruit as much as possible the local team …and to inculcate some of the Choiseul craft into the rooms.”
Cognizant of the fact that Choiseul is a large fishing community, she said, “They (developers) are looking to put programmes (in place) to support the fishermen, and other than just purchasing fish to put on a ‘Fishers Night’, where they can come and display their skills…and are open to liaising with authorities to see what other projects they can be part of and support and expand on their corporate social responsibility.”
Ellidore explained that government had acquired the land, specifically for tourism development, while ISL is facilitating the project.
Said the ISL official: “At the moment, you have informal occupants on the land …and in order to begin the project, the property has to be transferred free and clear within the overall purchase.”
She added, “Invest St Lucia has been given the responsibility to relocate the land occupiers, so the occupants are fearful and we have spoken to them. There has been a lot of misunderstanding and the relocation efforts that we have engaged in over the past year and a half (18 months), from January to May, 2021 we had interviewed the occupants …”
Ellidore said last November, ISL also measured the current structures; and then in January, this year, there was an identification of sites in La Fargue, Choiseul to relocate the occupants. And up to June, the ISL officials had made one or two visits to the proposed site.
The housing dimensions for the relocated houses will consist of; standard two-bedroom homes on 510 sq. feet and the ISL will match the dimensions on the property of the other occupants.
Ellidore explained that ISL will cover the costs of the homes and occupants will enter into a lease agreement for the lands “at very minimal costs” so they can have access to that land for future financial undertakings.
An ISL official stated that the relocation project is estimated at a cost of $900,000 for the eight homes; and the houses have been designed for each occupant equipped with running water, electricity and other amenities.
Meanwhile, Cherry stated that though November 30 is the deadline date for relocation, the date will be extended if the residents need more time.
The ISL boss asserted : “We have done our best to communicate with them… everyone has been told they will be given a house, and in all circumstances, it will be a much better situation than they have at the moment.”