Opinion: Blue Mall blues

POSTED: 02/15/12 1:58 PM

The Blue Mall announced some time ago with conviction that it was about to happen: the huge shopping mall in Cupecoy would have a grand opening on February 17. So this Friday would have been party-time, but as was to be expected, nothing is going to happen because the project is not ready yet.

The Blue Mall seems to be going the same disastrous way as the new government administration building. Postponement after postponement marks the way of these projects towards their fate.

While the Venezuelan developer expects brisk business in what it calls “the wealthiest community on St. Maarten, criticism of the Blue Mall and other projects like the Dutch Village at the port is increasing on the political level.

That’s a bit weird of course, because the building permit for the Blue Mall was granted once upon a time, so the developer and the marketing company have a right to be where they are. In 2009 our Labor Commissioner Hyacinth Richardson even offered some encouragement by announcing that the government would support the project in case it needed to import foreign labor.

Whether the mall will become successful or not is not the issue here. Politicians have started to worry about the effect projects of this nature will have on the shopping center in Philipsburg. Of course, some of these politicians have business interests themselves in the center, but leaving that aside, they still may have a valid point.

Already now Front Street is a disaster zone after dark, and when large projects in remote locations start sucking the economic life out of the city, that disaster could grow to highly undesirable proportions.

If on top the future Dutch Village starts to take business away from Front street the consequences are predictable. Empty stores quickly followed by decay – a bit like Marigot but then worse.

There is not much politicians are able to do against this development, short of pulling the plug on the Blue Mall (for instance by frustrating applications for work permits) and by refusing a planning permit for the Dutch Village.

All these things won’t happen of course. This means that already now politicians and the business community will have to start thinking about ways to save the city center. That requires creativity and up to now that has not been the strong point of retailers who rely in part on the trade in counterfeit products.

While the Blue Mall will go for high end, it also has its limitations. The location seems to be a handicap: it’s a long trek for cruise tourists and the timeshare owners who live in the neighborhood are usually people who already have everything.

The city will therefore have to focus on specialty stores that offer unique products at fair prices. They don’t have to be cheap, mind you, but they will have to offer interesting products for the right price. Stuff you won’t find in the large malls. That will keep the center a viable alternative for the big projects in the port and in Cupecoy.

In the meantime, we are awaiting with interest the real opening of the Blue Mall. There is no new date yet, so it seems that the project still has plenty of hurdles to overcome. But when the mall finally opens its doors for the public, it will become evident soon enough whether this is really a threat to downtown store owners.


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