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Columns : Island Notes - Peter Barratt Last Updated: Feb 6, 2017 - 2:32:04 PM

Planning Freeport for the next 40 years
By Peter Barratt
Feb 14, 2014 - 9:50:03 AM

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This article was first drafted in 2007, only a few items have been updated. The report was recently shown to a former Chairman of the Port Authority who said that most of the points were already being discussed or were ‘in hand’. Please judge for yourself.


From 1955 to 1975, an interlude of a mere 20 years, Freeport grew out of a virgin pine forest to become the undisputed second city of the Bahamas. A check list of the milestones of these early years is too long to enumerate but suffice it say Wallace Groves and his associates developed a deep water harbour, a major international airport and a thriving fully serviced city of some 30,000 souls. They also made Grand Bahama a major tourist destination. This was achieved by careful planning for the most part initiated by Groves himself. After he retired the Planning Department was dissolved and remains non-existent to today.

If there is to be a resurgent Freeport there is a long list of items, both major and minor, that should be planned and executed by a newly instituted Planning Department. Though some of these matters are already under consideration it might be a good idea to review them again for discussion and action in the public arena. (It should be noted that the items, listed below, are in no particular order and the list is certainly not exhaustive):

  • Initiate the preparation of a ‘real’ Master Plan (not an updated generalized land use plan) for the entire island of Grand Bahama that is both imaginative and forward-thinking. Such a Master Plan might incorporate a new urban centre east of Freeport. And, though this will need considerable forward planning, there is a fantastic opportunity for the proposed ‘new city’ to be built in concert with a new cruise ship harbour.

  • A unique image might be forged for the future Freeport/Lucaya. For instance, it might promote itself as an eco-tourism venue, with six golf courses (some disbandened) it might advertise itself as a golfing mecca, a new offshore financial centre, a test site for new transport modes, an international entrepot, a premier cruise ship port, a Caribbean marine/industrial locus, a destination with a ‘real’ international bazaar (with more emphasis on Bahamian and Chinese quarters), a higher learning centre, an envigourated ‘tropical’ second home community, an airline ‘hub’, a focus location for medical research, the creation of a ‘fantasy island’ (or, indeed, all of the above!)

  • An architectural model and audio-visual presentations might be made of the proposed master-planned community which might be displayed at the airport, hotels, internationally indeed anywhere where it can be seen by visitors and potential investors.

  • But in diverting some urbanization to east of the Grand Lucayan Waterway it is important that great attention be given to preserving large swathes of land to preserve the underground aquifer, this may logically lead to creating protected ‘green-belts’ around all new development.

  • As a direct result of the provisions of the Master Plan I would hope that many new industries (especially those able to take advantage of our deep water harbour and other assets) would be encouraged to locate in Freeport. We should also bear in mind that the former Burmah Terminal at High Rock is also available to the island for marine, cruise ship or industrial use even though it will be independent of GBPA.

  • The Industrial Area of Freeport in particular is in desperate need of planning control by way of Code Enforcement followed by later beautification. A new, well-planned industrial park will encourage industry to locate in Freeport. And bear in mind, industrial buildings do not necessarily have to be an eyesore! The original idea of creating warehouse space for small industries should be re-visited.

  • The Port should mandate that all development must be sustainable and conserve, as far as possible, the natural environment, for this public cooperation will be necessary, initiated first by public education in newspapers and other media. I applaud the Port Authority for retaining an environmental officer.

  • A new booklet entitled the Architecture of Freeport/Lucaya’ might be published by the Port Authority that will apply to all new buildings, it will illustrate the suggested new architecture and streetscape, design of signage, landscaping, and so on.

  • At the same time, the Port should reconstitute the former ‘Building Appearance Committee’ to review all building plans with at least one qualified architect as a member to give it more credibility and make it more effective.

  • The Central Area of Freeport should be totally redeveloped (and especially the buildings fronting Churchill Square and Pioneers Way). This would open up the opportunity to consolidate the Port Authority offices westwards along Pioneers Way perhaps with a pedestrian bridge to link the present Port Headquarters with a new multi-use office/shopping complex. Cities are judged by their central commercial districts and downtown Freeport presently presents a forlorn picture.

  • In this regard Churchill Square might be opened up to ‘controlled’ traffic by removing some of the old 1960’s vintage buildings. Buildings not demolished should be upgraded. A Master Plan of the Central Area would show how change could be effected.

  • It follows, of course, that there should be adequate, easily accessible parking throughout the Central Area and convenient access to public transportation. Review the entire transportation system of the community and come up with some innovative ideas to improve movement (for instance, what about a future tram or light rail service for to serve the tourist and commercial areas? – or, at the very least consider reserving space for such future transit corridors).

  • An upgrade of the supermarket area is long overdue. (As mentioned before there be some merit in approaching Hutchison again with a view to their bringing a branch of their Hong Kong supermarket chain to Freeport?) The present aging supermarkets have fallen to a standard that is unacceptable.

  • A prestigious new bus station should be built in this area and operators should be encouraged to operate regular scheduled bus services with extended routes. Further development of public transport of all kinds should be encouraged.

  • Several new buildings suggest themselves as potential candidates for ‘iconic’ building status. Among them I would suggest the following: a consolidated GBPA headquarters (including a revitalized downtown), a new government centre near the present courthouse, a Junkanoo exposition centre and auditorium suitable for conventions, a new university, new hotels (especially niche market hostelries, and so on).

  • Enforce and amplify the existing (and largely ignored) Signage Byelaws – publicise the signage rules and be prepared to sue offenders if found in violation of the Byelaws. Study the idea of charging fees (on a sliding scale) for all signage applications.

  • Improvement of sea and air service to the island should also be studied and even subsidized if necessary (as in the Groves era).

  • Review the idea of creating a saltwater airport to seaport link .

  • Designate important tourist routes as ‘gateway’ roads that will receive special landscape attention. Tourists obtain an indelible opinion of Freeport as they drive from the Airport and Seaport to downtown and the hotels. Sunrise Highway from the harbour to the Grand Lucayan Waterway is in particular need of improvement. The recent decision to remove the rubber trees and plant palm trees has been a disaster. Shade and the visual conformity and screening that street planting affords has been lost.

  • On the matter of street planting anything is better than nothing of course but a few criteria might be observed: (1) on busy streets with sidewalks, shade trees are preferable to palm trees, (2) where the streetscape is ugly use low bushy planting to hide unsightly buildings fences etc, (3) where possible, always use local flora like mahogany, yellow elder (non-native exotics do not do well in hurricanes!), (4) use trees to create ‘enclosure’ and uniformity to the kinetic streetscape experience. (Removal of the ficus trees on the Mall was an unfortunate decision, avenues of the same trees in Miami now merit ‘heritage’ status!)

  • Introduce pedestrian trails and walkways, improve beaches and National Parks especially the Lucayan National Park; follow up on the idea of a visitor centre at the Park (in association with the Bahamas National Trust).

  • Continue to publicise Freeport overseas as a tourist destination where, as foreign billboard advertising states, ‘our extensive and secluded beaches stretch for miles’. In this regard control beach erosion, eliminate trash and flotsam and eradicate invasive flora. It is quite possible that if there is sufficient interest created at the Lucayan National Park visitors may extend their stay in Freeport by at least one extra day, (the hotels would be the main beneficiaries of this and might perhaps, be asked to provide financial assistance?)

  • Consider building a pedestrian suspension bridge over the mouth of Gold Rock Creek to enable people to walk the entire length of the Lucayan National Park beach.

  • Declare Gold Rock Creek estuary a conservation area and monitor encroachment by the film colony and others…(signs prohibiting motor boats in the creek and other nuisances should be installed).

  • Study the possibility of encouraging in future (with appropriate incentives) electric/hybrid vehicles in the Port Area, also the Port Authority should stay abreast of developments in the use of hydrogen and LNG for powering vehicles. (Bear in mind an island location would make an ideal test site for such experimental vehicles). See note on this subject later.

  • We should also keep abreast with developments in alternative energy sources. Solar and wind-driven turbines are obvious alternatives given the geography of the island. The channel between Grand Bahama and Abaco should be an appropriate site for a wind farm.

  • Desist from further development in the ‘Britannia’ area; this land should be reserved for a major development possibly along the lines of ‘Bahamia’ (reserve a right of way for the extension of Lunar Boulevard, which will involve negotiation with land owners in the area)

  • Review the Royal Oasis/International Bazaar complex from the point of view of future land use, building occupancy and also desirable traffic management in the area. A ‘resurrected’ Bazaar with authentic upscale merchandise from around the world would open an opportunity to get more cruise ship passengers to actually visit the island (besides a major drop in sea arrivals one study suggests that only 20% of cruise ship passengers actually venture into Freeport - which is a terrible commentary on our success in attracting visitors!) The Bazaar and renovated Casino might be promoted as the principal ‘on shore’ destination for cruise ship passengers.

  • Establish an effective and permanent working liaison with relevant government departments and especially the Freeport Town Council.

  • Introduce the public into the planning process.

  • Assist with the Urban Renewal Project and extend into an ‘Environmental Clean-Up’ campaign with a focus on all blighted areas, solicit help from other institutions and government departments. Freeport now (in over 50 years) sadly has several clearly identifiable slums. It was years ago the ‘ghetto’ was supposed to have been redeveloped!

  • It is very doubtful it could ever be realised given land tenure problems but an oceanfront drive from the harbour to Bahamia would bring untold economic betterment to the Pinders Point/Lewis Yard/Hunters communities, it would also improve the quality of the visual experience for visitors coming to Freeport from the harbour. It might be worth discussing with the local council and pertinent political representatives.

  • In our future planning consider a North Shore subdivision designed for well-to-do people who own seaplanes…also consider building an aero-subdivision airstrip for people who own private planes…
  • Review the policy regarding overhead power and telephone line distribution in residential and tourist commercial areas. Suggest more local distribution lines be underground especially in areas where there are no pine trees offering camouflage or to serve as wind-breaks. Though underground service is obviously more costly it reaps rewards in aesthetic appeal (and therefore land values) and provides uninterrupted service in time of hurricane and thus is deserving of very serious study.

  • Accept that Pinders Point, Eight Mile Rock and even the eastern settlements are part of ‘Greater Freeport’ and incorporate these communities into the planning process (as was envisaged in the Amendment Agreement). Aid in the rational development and expansion of these communities.

  • Resurrect the idea of a northern by-pass road to the Eight Mile Rock communities with a fast limited access link road to West End (perhaps as a joint project with Old Bahama Bay, Ginn and others); this might have the effect of bringing more traffic besides more business activity to the Freeport gateway. I could also act as a flood control barrier.

  • Review the ‘Eden’ project in the United Kingdom with an eye to producing a similar eco-exposition facility in Grand Bahama. Also look into the idea of theme parks – possibly with a piracy/bootlegging theme.

  • It is now time to consider changing land use control by covenant restrictions and introducing a Bahamian form of zoning control (it might be interesting to see how Nassau and the Turks Islands have addressed this problem).

  • Move quickly to resolve the untidy appearance of walls of various designs and chain link fences topped with barbed wire that line the important ‘gateway’ roads of Freeport. Much of the problem comes from the fact that the Port Authority does not enforce its own rules with regard to limited access from double fronted lots.

  • A traffic engineer would be able to answer this best, but I believe we should be using ‘mountable’ curbing on all 45mph roads, we should also desist from using concrete pyramids that can be counter-productive and dangerous to both driver and pedestrian on all but minor streets.

  • The roundabout at Midshipman should be redesigned to slow down northbound traffic. As a general rule only one vehicle at a time should be able to enter the roundabout.

  • A nice first impression of Freeport for visitors would be to have landscaping (hardy thatch palms and the like perhaps in large pots) on the ramp side at the airport, it should be very close to the building of course where it will not interfere with the activities on the ramp. It will also help soften the lines of a fairly undistinguished building.

  • A new Domestic/non-US terminal is urgently needed to replace the present temporary structure. Clearly it should link directly to the International Terminal.
  • Study the effects of the ‘seasonal’ tidal surge from the Little Bahama Bank and be prepared to at least give consideration to a ‘first line of defence’ to Queens Cove and the north shore adjacent to the airport to resist moderate tidal surges.

  • Consideration might be given to increasing required elevations above MHW for buildings in certain locations; and, in some circumstances, foundations should be specially designed to resist the undermining effects due to tidal surge, (‘redline’ critical areas like Queens Cove, Dover Sound, etc. where special conditions should apply).

  • Review the schematic house design prepared by Island Planning Consultants for future middle income housing in storm surge prone areas.

  • Continually update contingency plans for storm and other emergency preparedness, reinforce official shelter buildings (located on higher elevations since 20ft storm surges from the north and south shores have long been predicted by meteorologists), have a reliable generator-operated communication system and ensure buildings are able to resist wind forces higher than required by Code (currently only 135mph). Hurricane preparedness is critical for islands since there is little possibility of evacuation.

  • Require by Code that domestic and workplace buildings occupied on a 24 hour basis have a specially designed hurricane/tornado refuge space.
  • The Port should be prepared to take legal action if persons are found in violation of the Freeport Building Code since, if the Port does not show it is serious about violations, it is doubtful the new revised Code will have the desired effect. A Committee should be instituted to review and update the Code as necessary.

  • A new Freeport Development Code is also required (incorporating the old Town Planning Regulations), the new document should be readily understandable and not read as though it was drafted by a constitutional lawyer! (The Turks & Caicos have an excellent Development Code that was drafted under the auspices of the UN that was recently transcribed and shared by the author with the Port Authority).

  • Based on our recent experience of hurricanes, publish an updated list of do’s and don’ts for developers, ie do install integral working hurricane shutters, do not plant unsuitable exotics (like Norfolk pines and other exotics that are easily toppled in high winds, desist using pan tiles, etc), and require, by Code, all ancillary elements that can act as missiles (like garbage cans) be capable of being secured.

  • The reef opposite the Lucayan Beach has been almost totally destroyed and we can be fairly sure the human element is to blame. Before it is too late we should try to preserve what little is left of the reef by prohibiting anchorage and instead providing mooring buoys at the few good remaining reef sites (and if possible discouraging diving and intensive site visits).

  • In the long range planning of the Port Authority I believe sight should not be lost of the idea of being involved in the creation of the Grand Bahama/Abaco Causeway. The causeway may not be a matter of ‘if’ but more a matter of ‘when’ (and, as a first step, we might continue to study the possibility of exporting electrical power to Abaco). (And there are many other advantages that have been discussed in a separate study. Just one might be mentioned and that is that a physical connection between the islands might also save lives if, in time of cataclysmic storm, mass evacuations are found necessary).

  • In connection with the new Grand Bahama Highway bridge over the Grand Lucayan Waterway consider constructing a boat ramp and marine service station nearby. Incidentally there is an urgent need for more public boat ramps! A new bridge would pay for itself in the value it would create east of the Waterway.

  • The Port Authority might adopt a policy to maintain unused buildings like Blair House, Discovery House, Shannon Country Club, etc. for community purposes. It would be better that they were inhabited by financially disadvantaged people than just left to deteriorate!

  • Preserve the Hermitage (an old Baptist Church dating from 1902). This building is almost certainly the oldest structure in the Port Area and is urgently in need of preservation as a historic landmark.

  • Resurrect the idea of a Film Colony and make it into a visitor attraction (like Popeye Village in Malta)

  • The Port and City Council might give every encouragement to the establishment of museums, each genus of museum should be officially accredited so that there is little or no ‘overlap’ and special care must be given to ensure that they will be properly administered and maintained full time. Long experience shows that visitors to new places will seek out museums especially if they feature the local culture.

  • Resurrect the Grand Bahamarama folklore show which might incorporate a (twice weekly?) Junkanoo parade and museum.

  • Review the Our Lucaya hotel complex with a view to making it more functional and attractive to visitors. A separate study might look into the parking situation in the ‘Lucayan Strip’ (and surely we can come up with a better name!)

  • In association with the new cruise ship site the Port might consider creating a working lighthouse on the shallow portion of the reef opposite the Lucayan Beach/Rand Compound. Such a lighthouse would have both a positive practical and aesthetic purpose (and have the added function in serving as a picnic retreat). The lighthouse might be protected with a prefabricated concrete sea barrier that might be expanded to an artificial island. Care obviously would have to be taken to avoid ecological disturbance but this would not be difficult if the lighthouse was largely prefabricated (like Great Isaac Light built in the Victorian era). The lighthouse island must be carefully developed of course so as to create zero turbidity and other detrimental effects to the marine environment.
  • The Port Authority might commission aerial photography to be taken of the present development in Freeport to update planning base maps that can also be used so that 'Code Enforcement’ can be introduced; clearly identifiable vertical control monuments should be in place so builders and others can easily check building site elevations.

  • The Port might also take the initiative and build basic warehouse-style buildings for new industrial licensees. Many small licensees wish to avoid the inconvenience of going to an architect and then a contractor to build minimal structures, the same could probably apply to small neighbourhood shopping centres. The end result of this would be more acceptable architecture (in conformance with the architectural design booklet mentioned above) and fewer half-finished buildings.

  • A perennial idea worth revisiting might be to encourage the re-activation of the refinery now that there is a deficit in world-wide refining capacity. Hurricane Katrina might persuade some oil companies from putting further capacity in the Gulf Region. Once a refinery is re-established, symbiotic petro-chemical industries should be encouraged to locate plants in Freeport.

  • The Grand Bahama Sports Centre should capitalize on the world-class athletic prowess of Bahamians to provide more facilities so that national and international events might be staged in Freeport. A study should be made to make the facility media-friendly. Additional parking will almost certainly be necessary but this might be ‘shared’ with a neighbour that could use the parking space at different times from the GBSC (for example a church).

  • Revisit the idea of establishing an ‘international’ university in Freeport. (The Freeport community seeing the need once raised a million dollars of seed capital for such a project but the idea was discouraged by the government of the day). A few years ago there was a brief exploration into establishing a kind of international overseas campus in Freeport with the suggestion that the campus might be a private institution allowing selected accredited foreign universities to participate by providing students and faculty. Courses offered would be open to all enrolled students and obviously Bahamian students and faculty would also be encouraged to participate. (Some universities might use the facility as a summer school while others might like to have a adjunct in a sub-tropical location where they might be pursue marine studies, tropical medicine, etc)
  • Even some very minor actions might make Freeport both different and memorable for residents and visitors alike, for instance …

- Freeport might adopt distinctive street signs,

- use distinctive colours in our buildings,

- advance a more compatible architectural style for our buildings,

- arrange to have our roads bordered by colourful flowering trees, etc.

- another simple idea would be to reinstall the Ranfurly Circus signs (displaying the Ranfurly coat of arms) to make the Circus into a memorable even iconic focal point. A better fountain and permanent flagpoles should be installed as a minimum.

- install similar signs at Independence Circle, at the new East Mall roundabout and at the circle in front of the Court House, etc.

- also consideration might be given to the installation of historic markers at places like Pine Ridge, the ‘Pink House’, the Hermitage and so on, local people and tourists might find this both interesting and informative.

  • And, just a final thought, if we are really serious about encouraging people and businesses to locate in Freeport, might I suggest the Port Group open ‘sales/ information offices’ in Miami, New York and London (as previously) – and also in Nassau and possibly Hong Kong(!) Many people from South Florida are incredulous when told that only a hundred miles from Florida there is a place that is virtually tax free!

Peter Barratt
is an architect/town planner who was formerly in charge of the development of Freeport. He writes with first-hand knowledge of the Bahamas having first visited the country in 1960. Because of his long experience in the islands he has been able to record many interesting insights, observations and historic moments that readers should find intriguing.

He has published several books about the island nation: Grand Bahama, Freeport Notebook and Bahama Saga, (the latter a historical novel about the islands). He has also written a full colour work entitled: Angelic Verses and two other works are near publication: The Port at War and St Peter Was Never There

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his/her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of TheBahamasWeekly.com


Compiled by Peter Barratt, Island Planning Consultants, 28 August 2005. Updated 5 September 2007.

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