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Reinventing Nassau

Old sites get new life


As the competition heats up among tourism destinations, The Bahamas is making a strong effort to upgrade its "product."

Forts are being refurbished, new museums are planned and old ones updated, buildings are being declared "historic" (protecting them from haphazard modernization) and distinctive Bahamian homes and other structures are being restored to their former grandeur.

But that's just the beginning. The first steps are being taken to totally redesign downtown Nassau, especially Bay St and the harbour area, where fences, buildings and shipping concerns now hide one of the city's principal attractions: the waterfront.

A broad coalition of business people, hoteliers, realtors, architects, artists, straw vendors and officials from the Ministry of Tourism and other government departments has been formed into a task force to push this project.

What the task force envisions, says Trade and Industry Minister Leslie Miller, is a waterfront promenade "with restaurants and nightclubs along wharf areas and urban spaces where pedestrians could leisurely stroll, shop and dine..."

Dr Keith Tinker, executive director of the Antiquities, Monuments and Museums Corporation, admits the promenade is an ambitious project but says it is "entirely doable, because the level of interest is now very high."

Besides, Tinker says, there's more to the project than simply making Nassau a more desirable destination for travellers. It also involves the refurbishment of historic buildings and this, he stresses, is an important part of preserving and enhancing the nation's cultural identity.

The rejuvenated waterfront is expected to stretch from the British Colonial Hilton - the landmark hotel that anchors the western end of downtown Bay St - to Potter's Cay, the partly man-made island, mailboat dock and fish market under the exit bridge from Paradise Island.

Marketing history
In what may have been the first step in this reinvention of Nassau, Prime Minister Perry Christie opened Nassau's smart new Festival Place in March, a 30,000-sq-ft welcome centre for cruise passengers on Prince George Dock. The new building incorporates tour and information desks along with a post office, a communications centre and quarters for 47 vendors offering high-quality authentic Bahamian items, including hand made souvenirs, jewellery, art and straw goods.

Meanwhile, the straw market, now in temporary quarters, will be returned to its original location further east on Bay St, where it stood for many years before a disastrous fire destroyed it on Sept 4, 2001.

Miller unveiled plans for a stylish new building which will house up to 600 vendors. The straw market's present temporary quarters on Bay St, will be transformed into an area for carvers and other craftworkers.

Miller also announced that the government would seek tenders to redesign the smaller straw market on the Cable Beach strip, locating it within a shopping plaza that will include a "heroes museum," art galleries, restaurants and studio facilities for craftspeople.

Rejuvenating the forts
The facelift of Nassau includes make-overs of the three 18th century forts on New Providence: Fort Charlotte (completed 1787) on the escarpment overlooking the western entrance to Nassau Harbour, Fort Fincastle (1793), beside the Water Tower at the top of Elizabeth Ave, and Fort Montagu (1742), on the Montagu foreshore on East Bay St. You can easily find these historic forts on the Bahamas Trailblazer Maps, available free all over town.

At Fort Charlotte, the renovation is being conducted in three steps. The photographs, exhibitions and artefacts that describe the fort's history were all developed in phase one in early 2003. This phase also included installation of ramps for disabled visitors, handrails and new lighting within the fort as well as strengthening the drawbridge.

Phase 2 will see further structural improvements to the fort and to Fort Stanley and Fort D'Arcy, which are connected to Fort Charlotte, along with new vendor stalls outside the structure.

Recent research has shown that the Botanical Gardens, just to the west, was once the fort's victualling garden. This area will also be renovated in phase three.

Improved lighting, signage and exhibits will also be undertaken at forts Montagu and Fincastle and at the Battery, a cannon emplacement
on Potter's Cay.

Galleries & museums
Much of the responsibility for renovating Nassau falls to Tinker and George Mackey, chairman of the board of the Antiquities, Monuments and Museum Corporation.

Part of the work involves setting up historic districts, areas that have distinctive architectural designs, such as the buildings of downtown Nassau, and also those of Harbour Island (Eleuthera) and New Plymouth and Cherokee Sound (Abaco).

One of the most beautiful refurbishments is of Villa Doyle, a once privately owned manor dating back to the 1860s. Located on the corner of West and West Hill Sts in Nassau, Villa Doyle has been restored to its original grandeur and was to open in June 2003 as The Bahamas' new National Art Gallery.

Tinker and Mackey are setting up a network of museums in Nassau and throughout the Out Islands, which will incorporate many small and privately owned establishments, such as the Albert Lowe museum in a 150-year-old home on Green Turtle Cay, Abaco, and the Wyannie Malone Historical Museum in Hope Town, Abaco.

Tinker says these museums will continue to maintain their own identity and even their own management structure. But the national organization "can invest in the upkeep, and insure that the property adheres to certain guidelines that are set" and if there is some technical expertise that needs to be added in to the administration, then that will be done.

"This is something we would like to do in most of the islands, so that they can each have their cultural identity outlined, specific to the various islands," Tinker said.

The corporation plans to set up new museums in San Salvador, where Columbus made his famous landfall in the New World in 1492, and in George Town on Great Exuma, vesting the administration and upkeep within each community.

Crowning the network of museums will be a yet-to-be-announced national museum in Nassau, says Tinker, perhaps housed in Collins House on Shirley St - another landmark dwelling that recalls Nassau's gracious colonial past.


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