Jeff Berger: “Plan is invitation to gridlock” Convention Center-plan meets severe criticism

POSTED: 01/21/13 1:11 PM

St. Maarten – Economic Affairs and Tourism Minister Romeo Pantophlet’s announcement that he wants four new 5-stars hotels on the island and a convention center at the harbor has met with disbelief, criticism and sarcasm from Jeff Berger, the editor of the online St. Maarten Weekly News newsletter; this publication is part of and targets timeshare owners and other visitors from the United States.
“To attract sports conventions for the convention center he wants a drag strip and a cricket stadium. All of this strikes us as quite bizarre,” Berger’s states in his reaction. “First, the harbor caters to day tourists and because of security, it’s almost impossible for anyone who isn’t a cruise passenger to get into the harbor complex. Putting a convention center there seems to us to be an invitation to gridlock especially when more than 10,000 passengers are sometimes passing through.”

Berger furthermore notes that a drag racing strip and a cricket stadium “aren’t the least bit sufficient to lure sport tourism to St. Maarten. There is just not that big a market to make sports tourism successful.”
Berger also is of the opinion that “trying to run a standard convention center in St. Maarten is problematic.” His main argument for this point of view is the price of airline tickets visitors will have to pay to get to Pantophlet’s convention center: “Unless convention planners are chartering several planes, the cost of air is very high. And summer, when fares are lower, is not a time when conventions are held since prospective convention attendees vacation then. September is out because of hurricanes.”

Berger also field a more fundamental argument that runs deeper that the criticism of the plans themselves. St. Maarten has a history of building today and thinking about infrastructure tomorrow.”
As an example of “notable island planning disasters” Berger mentions the mega yacht facilities in Simpson Bay. “This has led to gigantic traffic headaches. The causeway may help, but its main effect will be moving traffic jams to Cole Bay, not dissolving them.”
Apart from that, Berger wrote, the island does not have any real mass transit infrastructure. “Its parking is grossly inadequate, and it has allowed unfettered building without regard to traffic, parking, environment, etc. It still seems to be doing exactly what it has been doing for years.”

Berger also notes that no apparent research has been done for the convention center. “Research into these ideas seems sorely lacking. “Where will the convention center go? Who will it attract? How will traffic impacts be mitigated? Questions first, deliberation second, planning third. Building a convention center without first knowing who/why/how/where etc. won’t work.”

Berger also has his doubts about the upscale tourists St. Maarten wants to attract. They may very well not come, he wrote: “The fairly upscale Westin has not been the overwhelming success that the island expected. What’s more, upscale tourists expect real infrastructure which doesn’t exist in SXM beyond the airport. What’s here for them? Beaches are not protected from developers (witness the destruction of public access and overdevelopment at Cupecoy and Dawn Beach), and then there’s the legendary inferred lack of empathy for timeshare owners on the part of the Dutch side government.”

Berger, who was nominated in December for outstanding journalism at the SHTA’s Crystal Pineapple Awards, describes the silent disaster that is taking place in the timeshare-industry in vivid language and he blames the government for it. “Well-heeled timeshare owners by the tens of thousands have sold their units for a fraction of their buying price to lower-demographic buyers who dine in their rooms and buy nothing. The economy on St. Maarten would have slid backwards even without the global recession, something we warned about for years but nobody listened. Timeshare owners are still important to St, Maarten but now their effect is increasingly a drag on the market. Government inaction is the reason.”

Berger concludes his critical article with a little piece of advice: “Make the product attractive first and support it with infrastructure. Let’s not build hotels without first doing the work necessary to ensure their success. And when you have loyal visitors like timeshare owners, coddle them and keep them happy. Ignoring them is dangerous as the island now, sadly, knows too well.”

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Comments (1)


  1. Jack Rinaldi says:

    Maho is the closest product the Island has to a convention center….. government may consider financially expanding their facility.

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