It has been several weeks since the unveiling of the Cruise ship "Pier Park" and it will take at least that long to understand the implications of such a project for the BVI. While I commend the Government´s effort to expand business opportunities, appeal to ship passengers, and revitalize Road Town, I also lament the potential loss of BVI´s cultural identity.
The "fanciful" concept is sadly lacking in the understanding of "sense of place" or "local population" to quote the developer´s own literature. The flavor of Main Street- lined with attractive small scale 19th and 20th houses with colorful shutters, hipped roofs- should figure more prominently in the design which would help promote and preserve local architecture and culture. Staged entertainment is not enough.
Besides the financial sector, BVI´s reputation is built on sailing, a relaxing and undemanding vacation, small harbours and visions of natural landscapes. So it boggles the mind to see a proposed 4-acre fantasy village which has nothing to do with the Caribbean.
Instead of taking cues from local heritage as a logical template for a waterfront extension, the Florida designers created a stew of details from Swiss Chalets, Bali, jolly old England, Miami and Southern California. A merry-go-round and "nostalgic" Ferris wheel- a ride usually associated with Autumn country fairs- is included in an amusement park dazzling both visitors and locals for the short-term before they lose interest.
This development may help the economy but what will we lose in the meantime dictated by an ex-Disney employee´s preconceived view of the Caribbean? Developer Hugh Darley is in the entertainment business creating "magic through story-telling" no matter how inaccurate, and in doing so, he ironically changes a unique beautiful island to a pre-conceived "brand" indicated by his cartoon-like watercolors.
What do the generic details really tell us about the destination let alone clarity of the project? Even the developer´s cruise port in Jamaica was dictated by the Jamaican National Heritage Trust, a project "heavily relying on Authenticity".
Let´s hope this project is NOT "married to the rest of Road Town" as it stands now. BVI has no cultural protection. Historical sites could get "shiny up" to the point history no longer can tell an accurate story. Is there an urban planner, preservationist or environmentalist on this project´s board? Have we heard anything about the EIA, density of the layout or traffic patterns? The Jamaicans even held a year-long series of public meetings. Why should we demand any less consideration?
Questions are only now surfacing around the lease agreement, buy-out option and other issues not even realized yet before the developer departs. This is not a "Free" project.
I only wish I had a better sense of the government´s financial savvy in the "art of the deal" when compared to these "professional" foreign partners- leaving speculation that this is not a good proposal.
In addition, will this also open Pandora´s box to high rise condos on the water front? These developers did it in St. Marteen, this government may want to do it here. We need to control our destiny. Instead, we are catering to the lowest common denominator with volume rather than quality. Do we need to sell our souls in the name of "progress"?
By Marilee Meyer