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Editorial & Column
Whats The Rush Now?
By FRANCISCO JAVIER CIMADEVILLA
January 15, 2004
Quick question. How do you feel about the Calderon administrations handling of Puerto Ricos economy? Really. How do you rate the administrations economic development efforts? After four Pridco chiefs, four Tourism Co. executive directors, three Ports Authority bosses, two Planning Board presidents, and two Economic Development & Commerce secretariesall in just three yearswould you, the private sector, trust the current new teams ability to forge and implement a vision of Puerto Ricos economic development?
Yet, these are the people who will be making decisions on what could very well turn out to be the most significant economic development project for Puerto Rico for the next several generations. With a three-year track record that has left us with construction paralysis, dwindling manufacturing promotions, tourism stagnation, rising unemployment, higher taxes, permitting bottleneck, delays in major infrastructure projects already in progress, the Ondeo and Section 956 fiascos...would you, the private sector, entrust the current administration with the planning, design, and implementation of an economic redevelopment plan for Naval Station Roosevelt Roads (NSRR) after the Navy leaves for good two months from now?
There are many things wrong with the way the administration is going about it. Chief among them is the fact that it has taken complete control over the project, shunning any significant input from the private sector. In the States, when the armed forces turn over to civilian use a former military facility, a local redevelopment authority (LRA), comprised mostly of private-sector representatives, is given the task of designing and implementing a redevelopment plan for the facility.
Here the current administration has appointed itself to be the LRA for the NSRR. The LRA is made up of all these new Calderon administration agency heads, including the heads of Economic Development & Commerce, Tourism, Ports, and the Planning Board, in addition to the secretary of Natural & Environmental Resources and the Resident Commissioner. The other three members are Ceibas mayor, one community leader, and one business representative. The Navys announcement that it would be shutting down NSRR opened up a possibility that neither the Rossello administration nor the Calderon administration had ever contemplateda truly world-class transshipment port in Roosevelt Roads, an infinitely better location than the Guayanilla or Ponce alternatives that had been considered. But for reasons that really deserve an explanation, the current administration is so stubbornly committed to Ponceeven though not much has been done there yetthat it announced, even before any economic or feasibility studies were conducted, that it would be developing Roosevelt Roads mostly for tourism.
With that in mind, it then asked real-estate development consulting & brokerage firm CB Richard Ellis, which is already under contract to develop the transshipment port and the land in Ponce, to elaborate a preliminary plan. What do you think CB Richard Ellis was going to come up with? If the administration that has the firm under hire had already said it would continue to develop the transshipment port in Ponce and that it intended to develop Roosevelt Roads for tourism, what chances do you think there were that the firm would come up with anything but that as its plan for development at NSRR?
In short, does the proposed plan represent the best economic development use for NSRR? Wheres the input from the Chamber of Commerce, the Manufacturers Association, the United Retailers Association, the Hotel & Tourism Association, Food Marketing & Distribution Industry Association, and the Bankers Association?
Regardless of the outcome of the November elections, come January 2005, there will be a new administration in office. The outgoing administration should deal fairly with the issue of NSRRs redevelopment and shouldnt make any binding commitments until a master plan with full input from the private sector garners consensus among every sector. Otherwise, we will end up with another Ramey: a missed opportunity at true long-term economic development.
This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.