A lack of skilled construction labor, private sector apathy and theft continue to mar Marsh Harbour’s redevelopment progress, one year after Hurricane Dorian’s Category 5 winds and massive storm surge flattened Abaco’s center of commerce.
Abaco Chamber of Commerce Director Krista Albury told Guardian Business yesterday that as the island enters the anniversary of the hurricane today, progress on Abaco has been steady but slow.
According to Albury, Abaconians have still seen no plan for Marsh Harbour, though whispers of a master plan lingered since before the end of 2019.
Albury said the majority of the retail spaces in Abaco’s city center are still unusable after the storm.
And while many people have wondered where the government is with the restoration efforts, Albury said she is looking to the private sector and owners of the prime real estate, which made Marsh Harbour the bustling, inviting place it once was.
“The government cannot force any building owner to open up their building for rentals, but we need those people who have profited off of having the prime real estate in the Marsh Harbour area to step up and restore those same properties, or decide what you’re going to do with them, so that those can be useful again,” she said.
“Maybe a coffee shop opens, or a nice spot on the water. When the main strip of Marsh Harbour cannot be used because people are not restoring their buildings, how is any other business supposed to move forward in that?
“I’m not sure what’s going on when it comes to either restoration or demolition efforts for those prime properties, but it’s still extremely hard for the business community to move forward when we have nowhere to actually set up an office or retail space.
“For every one plaza that is reopening, there’s another three that are gutted and have been so since September, with no forward moving progress.
“For the business community, for the Marsh Harbour area especially, to move forward, we need more efforts in restoring possible rental spaces for retail businesses.”
Albury said her qualms right now are with some players in the private sector whose properties once housed multiple businesses, but which are not yet being restored.
“You had 15 businesses inside of your building and those15 businesses still need a place to go and your building is still uninhabitable,” she said.
“Either get it back open for those people, or make it available for other people to go in there, or for someone else to purchase it or start putting restoration efforts in.”
Albury added that the island also needs more skilled labor to come in to restore the properties damaged by the hurricane.
She said a shortage of eateries and places to stay have also impeded the island’s progress, as well as COVID-19.
“We still need more skilled labor over here, so that we can bring other aspects of the job market back into play,” said Albury.
“Until they fix the restaurants, we can’t get the wait staff and the bartenders back to work; until they fix the offices we can’t have office staff come back to work; so, we need further enhancements for more skilled laborers to come over here to be able to assist with all of that.”
According to Albury, businesses and homes continue to be burglarized. She said the security situation on the island has become dire and has been so for “365 days”.