Planning Freeport for the next 40 years
By Peter Barratt
Feb 14, 2014 - 9:50:03 AM
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.
PLANNING FREEPORT FOR THE NEXT 40 YEARS
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
Establish an effective and permanent working
liaison with relevant government departments and especially the Freeport
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
Based on our recent experience of hurricanes,
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
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
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
Grand Bahamarama folklore show which might incorporate a
(twice weekly?) Junkanoo parade and museum.
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
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
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
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
Even some very minor actions might make Freeport
both different and memorable for residents and visitors alike, for
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.
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.
similar signs at Independence Circle, at the new East Mall roundabout and at the circle in front of the Court
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:
Freeport Notebook and
(the latter a historical novel about the islands). He has also written a full
colour work entitled:
and two other works are near publication:
Port at War and
St Peter Was Never There.
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
Compiled by Peter Barratt, Island Planning Consultants, 28
August 2005. Updated 5 September 2007.
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