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Millions lost in Valentine’s Day fire

The buildings and properties involved in a devastating Valentine’s Day fire downtown were worth over$30 million by one estimate, and while the loss of historic buildings may be incalculable, the disaster may quicken the pace of the redevelopment of downtown Nassau.

The fire, which broke out yesterday morning, devastated the offices of the Betty K Agencies and swept through several of the buildings on the north side of East Bay Street and the

northern end of East Street.

Vaughan Roberts, managing director of the Downtown Nassau Partnership(DNP), toldGuardian Businessyesterday that the terrible loss may move redevelopment plans ahead.

“I’ve always said there is a sense of urgency around what we are intending to do with the revitalization of downtown, and although this is somewhat of a tragedy in terms of the loss of value, we hope that there is a silver lining behind this that causes the redevelopment to happen much sooner than the pace it has taken,”Roberts said.

Roberts estimated that the value of the buildings and property affected prior to the fire would have been around$10 million for the site of the Betty K Agencies, and the buildings and land on the East Street side he estimated would have carried about$15 to$20 million in value. He based his Betty K estimate on the asking price that he was aware of, as the property had been on the market for sale.

Some of the buildings ravaged by the fire, however, also had value as historic buildings in their own right and their loss is more than just economic. These were less tangible aspects which would have enhanced or help define the character of Downtown Nassau in the redevelopment process. Charles Klonaris, DNP director and co-chair of the redevelopment project, spoke toGuardian Businessfrom downtown while the fire was still raging yesterday.

“It is a loss in terms of some of the historic buildings that are on fire right now,”Klonaris said. He cited the example of the offices of the Betty K, which he said were both historic and”had a lot of charm visually.”With the fire, the entire”scope and vision”of how the area could be redeveloped had changed, according to Klonaris.

“We’ll have to look at the whole block when the fire is under control to see what can be salvaged or how this area can be redeveloped,”Klonaris said.

The area East of East Street was part of 40 acres along the waterfront which were to go through a complete redevelopment, according to Roberts.

“I think the opportunity for people to see the waterfront is going to be quite powerful,”Roberts said.”Now people can see the potential we’ve been talking about for a long time along the waterfront and how we’ve turned our backs as a city to[it].”

Commercial shipping into that area was scheduled to move to Arawak Cay this year, so some preparation for relocation would have been in place already. But Roberts cautioned that the site could still have a negative impact if it was not cleared as quickly as was practicable.

“I certainly think from the government’s perspective, and from the community and tourism perspectives, you want to clear up that site very quickly so that it isn’t an eyesore in the heart of town,”Roberts said, adding that the site was’quite visible’from the cruise ships. Roberts said although the property affected was privately owned, he believed the government could use its influence with property owners to”make the right decisions to clear the site very quickly.”

Roberts said that from his position he would advocate to have the site cleared once insurance adjustors, the fire department, and any other such investigators had finished their requisite inspections. He pointed out that the property may find several uses as a part of an’interim’plan,”pending the overall redevelopment of the area.”Roberts said the downtown area needed temporary parking, landscaped public spaces, seating areas, and recreation, which the space may provide in the short term.

“In terms of long term, perhaps it is perceived as a bit of a catalyst for the longer term redevelopment, because to the extent the buildings are no longer there and the Betty K is no longer operating, then obviously there’s an opportunity for some more serious plans with the redevelopment,”Roberts said.

Betty K Agencies released a statement yesterday saying that their staff would continue to be employed, new contact numbers would be publicized”shortly”, and the relocation of its offices and freight services would happen within the next few days.

Besides the obvious impact to the businesses directly affected by the fire, many of the businesses across the street suffered losses as pedestrian traffic in the area had been blocked. Alex Limitis, owner of the Fashion Centre, a store on Bay Street across from the site of the blaze, said that the impact on that day’s business was significant. Through the windows to his store, red and white ladies apparel were visible.

“We were expecting a very busy day today(yesterday),”Limitis said.”It’s Valentines.”He did not comment on how much business he thought would be lost, and said that up to that point he could not be certain when the store would be able to reopen.

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