Remarks Hubert A. Ingraham Prime Minister Official Opening Historic City of Nassau Straw Market
“A Celebration of Bahamian Imagination & Ingenuity”
I am especially grateful for the opportunity, along with my colleagues in Government, to play an instrumental role in the creation and reopening of the new Nassau Straw Market at the site where the previous market was destroyed by fire in 2001 when I was earlier in office.
With the official opening of the historic Straw Market, the transformation of Downtown and the City of Nassau is gathering pace.
Fittingly, today’s ceremony comes some weeks after celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of the official establishment of the City of Nassau. It was over 300 years ago in the late 17th century that Governor Nicholas Trott renamed Charles Town as Nassau, formally laying out the township for the first time.
Tragically, today’s opening comes within a few weeks of a fire which damaged the Pompey Museum dedicated to the history of slavery and Emancipation. The silver lining in this tragedy is that we are advised that the historic Vendue House can be restored. Just as we restored the Straw Market, we will restore Vendue House and the Pompey Museum.
We are a resilient people. We will not be daunted in our efforts to restore and revitalize historic Nassau inclusive of modern amenities and infrastructure which will make it one of the more attractive and viable cities in the Caribbean. So, despite the tragedies and setbacks, today’s ceremony is an occasion for celebration.
We celebrate not only the reopening of the new Straw Market; we celebrate the Bahamian imagination and ingenuity that designed and built this market, as well as the creative energies that will craft the straw and wood work, souvenirs and handicraft, and other products to be showcased to the world and sold here.
Today, I wish to speak to the future role that the new Market and the straw work and wood work industries may play in national and economic development broadly, as well as in tourism, arts and crafts, light manufacturing and related industries.
The landscape of the Market is not only physical. It also represents an important aspect of the Bahamian Imagination.
Our determination to restore the historic ambiance of Old Nassau to our Capital City influenced our decision to direct the architect involved in the design of the new Market to seek inspiration from the architectural flavour of the building that housed originally the Fish, Vegetable and Straw Market located on the site up to 1974.
Visitors to the Market will appreciate that it is open on all sides permitting excellent cross ventilation much as the old Market enjoyed through large windows. The openings are full door-sized and are outfitted with easy roll-down shutters to provide protection against the elements and security when the Market is closed.
The Market’s façade borrows from the earlier colonial design with large wrought iron gates which serve as the principal entryways to the facility from Bay Street and from Woodes Rogers Wharf. And, the structure offers office accommodation for administrators who will be stationed on site during operating hours.
A host of talents influenced the design of the new Straw Market. Patrick Rahming, a celebrated cultural icon steeped in the rich and diverse culture of The Bahamas, was engaged to design the new Market. His design captured the old town ethos of Nassau. Thank you, Pat.
I wish also to acknowledge the excellent work undertaken by the primary contractor for the Market, Cavalier Construction and all the various subcontractors.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
This grand edifice, inspired by our national and architectural history, and built to showcase traditional Bahamian crafts, is an investment in the future.
It is a centrepiece of my Government’s plans to:
– Make significant improvements to our tourism product;
– Assist in the rebirth of Downtown and the City of Nassau; and
– Help foster a renaissance in Bahamian arts and crafts.
Revitalizing Tourism and Rebirth of Downtown
& the City of Nassau
The experience of Bahamians and visitors will be greatly enhanced from the moment they arrive in New Providence, whether by air or sea.
We built and will continue to build the most modern Capital City in our region.
For air passengers this experience will begin at the transformed Lynden Pindling International Airport, from which they will travel along the impressive new four-lane Airport Gateway now under construction.
This new gateway highway will lead into a transformed Cable Beach and the Baha Mar mega resort, to the City of Nassau, to Atlantis on Paradise Island through the new road corridor to be named New Providence Highway which reconnects to West Bay Street at the new Saunders Beach Park.
We have named the new highway the New Providence Highway in the recognition that a new “New Providence” is emerging and taking shape from east to west and north to south with a revitalized City of Nassau at its centre.
Increasing numbers of cruise passengers are already arriving at the recently dredged Nassau Harbour, and they will experience even greater Bahamian hospitality at a refurbished Welcome Centre at Prince George Dock where necessary renovations will soon begin at Festival Place and its environs.
I welcome the members of the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association who are here this evening and thank them for their support.
The relocation of all cargo shipping from downtown Nassau in the coming months will make way for the further enhancement of the environs at and near the Prince George Dock and Wharf, and overtime, along the entire span of East Bay Street all the way to the Paradise Island Bridge. Part and parcel of this will be support for private sector initiatives to develop the waterfront with new shops, restaurants and residential units. This will eventually transform Nassau Harbour into the iconic waterfront many remember as we move to restore it to its earlier charm and beauty, with the enhanced functionality of a modern cruise port facility.
The removal of the temporary market site has permitted the repaving of Navy Lion Road and Woodes Rogers Drive. The clearing of the debris left from the recent fire at that site is now completed. The Downtown Redevelopment Committee is eager to begin the development of Pompey Park at the western entryway to our city. A contract for the construction of infrastructure for the park was scheduled to be signed today and construction is scheduled to commence during the first week of the New Year. This new green space will further enhance the environmental, recreational, artistic and commercial revitalization of the City of Nassau.
I have been assured by the owner of the Seamen’s Chapel which was also damaged by the recent fire which severely damaged Vendue House, that it will be restored to its original state in consultation with the Downtown Redevelopment Committee. Seamen’s Chapel and Vendue House are prime examples of the historic buildings which we seek to protect and restore in our Capital City.
The redevelopment of historic public buildings and Government offices and facilities began with the restoration and upgrade of the Hansard Building and the nearly completed refurbishment of the Houses of Parliament. Extensive remodelling continues on the former Ansbacher House which is a new Judicial Building.
Already we have completed the replacement of water mains and sewerage pipes along Bay Street from King Street in the west up to Elizabeth Avenue in the heart of the city. Repaving is near completion along Bay Street and corresponding side streets.
In the New Year, portions of Charlotte Street and Navy Lion Road will be pedestrianized and new attractive sidewalks will be installed along Bay Street between George St. and Rawson Square.
Areas near Rawson Square and Parliament Square will be redeveloped with a flavour and richness evocative of our history. Public and visitor safety will continue to be enhanced with the expansion of CCTV.
Renaissance in Bahamian Arts & Crafts
Ladies and Gentlemen:
The rebirth of our city centre is accompanied by a renaissance unfolding in Bahamian arts and crafts and in the creative economy in general.
The Bahamian Straw craft industry has served, over the years, as an important means of livelihood for families and communities throughout the length and breadth of The Bahamas. Indeed, during tough economic times, the bounty from our islands – like Andros, Long Island, Exuma, Current Island and the South Eastern islands – produced the “top” which is the key raw material for our straw craft.
The local value added runs through many levels of our society – from those who reap the “top”, to those who roll it and ship it to you here in Nassau, and still others who produce finished products for sale; then you, attach additional value by sewing it, decorating and finishing your creations.
Indeed, our straw industry is an excellent example of a locally produced product whose ingredients come from the land and whose manufacture and retail is done entirely by Bahamians. The dollars you earn flows back into our Family Islands communities for the purchase of more raw materials. Since you spend very little on imports to create these authentic Bahamian straw goods, virtually every dollar earned stays in The Bahamas.
We are pleased with the increased level of production at the Family island level. Examples abound throughout the length and breadth of The Bahamas as virtually every Family Island now produces a dazzling array of crafts, souvenirs, native jewellery, straw work and other products of Bahamian ingenuity and artistry.
As a result of the instruction offered by BAIC and BTVI many hundreds of Bahamians have received training in the production, marketing and sales of goods such as earrings, necklaces and cufflinks, handbags, placemats and coasters, and an impressive variety of souvenirs.
To showcase our extraordinary Bahamian talent in straw work, woodwork, and various crafts, to foster new economic opportunities and creative avenues for entrepreneurs and artisans, and to deepen the Bahamian content of our tourism sector, my Government has created or assisted in the development of multiple attractive venues for the display of Bahamian creativity.
Your new Straw Market is however, the flagship venue for the display of Bahamian crafts.
A New Day
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Today represents a new day for our straw and crafts industries. It is a day to seize the future.
In order to seize this future we must commit ourselves to significantly increasing the quantity of goods produced as well as the quality and sustainability of these goods, and the timeliness with which they are available to consumers.
We will have to “up our game” and be innovative in designing, creating and bringing to market products that will have to compete in the global market under the label, Made in The Bahamas.
Independent craftspeople will need to collaborate in producing the volume of goods available to our millions of annual visitors as well as to an online market of previous visitors to The Bahamas, and potentially millions more.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
The creation of a Straw Market Authority with clear and transparent guidelines for its operation is about setting high expectations and quality standards. The guidelines and standards we are instituting are used in public-sponsored arts and crafts centres around the world. They represent traditional Bahamian values and standards.
We are using 21st century technologies, modern best practices and innovative thinking to showcase to a global market, traditional Bahamian crafts, ingenuity and imagination.
Straw vendors are an essential part of our tourism experience. This experience includes our world-famous sun, sea and sand. It must also include public open spaces and national parks; airports and harbours, roads and utilities; shopkeepers, hair braiders, taxi drivers, hotel workers and artisans including straw and other craft women and men. And, our tourism product must include historic places of interests – our forts and other landmarks like the Queen’s Staircase (66 Stairs), the Water Tower and Black Beard’s Tower; our public buildings, museums, and art galleries.
Ours is a service economy. This is how we make a living. Services, whether in tourism, financial or maritime services, help to pay our mortgages and buy groceries. So, when we say that “It’s Better in The Bahamas”, we must ensure that we say what we mean, and mean what we are saying.
So I say to all our straw vendors, our craft vendors and wood carvers: Welcome to your new home. Take care of it – very good care.
Because the structure is new, you may discover that a few kinks still have to be ironed out. These are being taken care of. You should bring your concerns to the attention of the management of the Market in a timely fashion.
Because of the significant investment the country has made in this beautiful new Market, the Bahamian people will expect much of you; and so you must ensure that the maintenance and upkeep of this facility built on some of the choicest land in the country is and is uncompromised.
I suggest that you seek to settle differences between yourselves quickly and amicably, that you greet your guests pleasantly and that you keep your surroundings neat and clean.
Last week when you moved into these new premises and the clean-up of the temporary tent site was being undertaken, some in the media chose to highlight the debris left behind by some of you. You got a ‘black eye’ on that score. And so did The Bahamas.
That was what was. Now look and see what is! The area has been cleared and the road repaved. Some improved landscaping will follow. The place is very different now. Let’s work together to keep it that way.
You are now in new premises. You are compliant with the law: You have paid your NIB contributions and are holders of Business Licences. I regard you as bonafide and respected independent entrepreneurs and so does the Government. I am proud of you. Be proud of yourselves.
You must ensure that when the millions of cruise ship passengers and land-based tourists come into this new Market they will compare it favourably with markets in the Caribbean, Mexico, Latin America and other markets around the world.
Let them say that this new Straw Market in Nassau is the best in terms of the quality and creativity of products, hospitality and service, cleanliness and good order.
To help facilitate the opening of this historic facility, I asked Mr. Hubert Chipman to serve as the first Chairman of the Straw Market Authority. And, he graciously accepted.
I think that you have determined that Hubert is a good choice. He will not be with you for a long time. His job is to open the Market, to put systems in place such as those related to management, security, waste collection and disposal, electrical service, and fire prevention. Once such systems and structures are in place another Chair will be appointed so that Chippie can take on another important assignment which awaits him.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I encourage Bahamians and residents to support our straw vendors and craftspeople by shopping at the new Market for products for personal use and as gifts for friends and relatives here at home and abroad. As Christmas is near, we should all consider gifts from the Market as presents.
Indeed, it is my hope that every Bahamian will recommend a visit to this market to every friend or colleague visiting from abroad with the advice that the Nassau Straw Market is a ‘must see’ place and one where beautifully crafted Bahamian made souvenirs may be had.
I also hope and expect that every cruise director visiting our city will advise passengers to include the Nassau Straw Market on their list of ‘must do’ while in the port of Nassau.
Every generation of Bahamians has a national summons to preserve the essence and, yes, the magic of traditional and historic Nassau while modernizing its infrastructure, amenities and basic utilities.
Bahamians carry a love for Nassau in their hearts, and in our mind’s eye and imagination we have a vision of what we want a modern City of Nassau to feel and look like.
A part of this love of Nassau and the magic of this City has been the Straw Market, the sights and sounds of which resonate in Bahamian history and the memories of generations.
Those sights include the beauty of Bahamian-made handicraft and those sounds include the bustling vibrancy which makes for the excitement of markets around the world, albeit with the many accents of The Bahamas.
Those sights and sounds now have a permanent new home which will showcase and announce to the world the essence of Bahamian hospitality, imagination and ingenuity, and why we as Bahamians feel that we have so much to share with the world in terms of our talents and cultural treasures.
Today we reopen the historic downtown Straw Market as an opportunity and as a prelude to again showcase to the world that The Bahamas keeps on getting better and better: Better for Bahamians and better for the millions of visitors who come to appreciate why Bahamians love so much, this land, that we are privileged to call, home.
It is now my great honour to declare the historic City of Nassau Straw Market officially opened.