Philipsburg Revitalization and Economic Development Plan

Dear Editor,

  There is much talk about the need to revitalize our economy and all hope for economic development is on the upcoming season that has a positive outlook. However, little is done in order to guarantee for the island to remain a sought-after destination. Tourism industry is highly profitable. Nevertheless, the focus in St. Maarten is mostly on heads in beds, restaurants, and night clubs. And not necessarily on quality entertainment and added value shopping opportunities.

  It is self-evident that destinations that offer various attractions draw more visitors than those that offer less or no form of entertainment and/or attractions. To truly benefit from the tourism industry that St. Maarten is experiencing we must capitalize on providing additional, valuable reasons for our guests to spend more money while here. As per an article in The Daily Herald of October 9, 2021, a resort in Anguilla is capitalizing on offering attractions to its guests that include two golf courses. The resort will also construct a family entertainment area that will include a waterpark, a lazy river, tropical parks, and a 500-seat live entertainment stadium, which will feature both local and international talent. We must also focus on attractions in order to remain on the destination demand list of vacation travelers.

  Government mentioned plans for paving of the road(s) in Philipsburg. This is necessary and most welcome. But let us not stop there and let us capitalize on making Front and Back Streets as attractive as possible. This means adding streetlamps that luminate, but also decorate the town with flowerpots hanging from the streetlamps. For additional lighting, strings of decorative lightbulbs can be placed over the streets in a crisscross design. Paving of the roads should be made smooth. This means that asphalt is a preference. However, for a diverse and attractive look, bricks can be placed where the side-ways meet the roads.

  Business in Philipsburg is mono and saturated. A temporary solution for the abandoned buildings on Front, and Back Streets is for the government to provide a facelift at minimal cost, which will be reimbursed to the government when an investor decides to utilize that unit. The present infrastructure of Philipsburg does not lend itself, nor is it suitable for shopping, or safe for night-time entertainment. The main reasons are saturation of this area by numerous stores offering a limited variety of products for sale, as well as the roads and sidewalks that leave visitors vulnerable to accidents. Not to mention the numerous empty store units that are deterrent, while the total aspect of Philipsburg paints an unsavory and unsafe picture.

  Throughout the 70s, 80s and early 90s, Philipsburg was bustling because of a balance in fun-filled spending opportunities and activities. High-end boutiques, the Guavaberry Emporium, and a healthy number of restaurants, happy-hour bars, pool bars, and discotheques built and maintained the day- and night-time economic development particularly on Front Street. Today, saturation, lack of variety, early store closures, and unattractive infrastructure, are the principal choke holders of Philipsburg commercial center.

  Converting Philipsburg’s present commercial composition to a mechanism system where a supplemental variety of businesses complement each other is key to revitalization of Philipsburg. The conversion of Philipsburg into an attraction center will provide fun-filled options for locals and visitors alike. But more importantly, the careful and successful transformation to a new and revitalized business model provides additional foreign capital income, which translates into sustainable income for businesses, and new job opportunities.

  Attractions for Philipsburg must include free and paid attractions. Free attractions can include marching drum bands, Chinese dragon dance, Indian dance performances, and Limbo dancing performances, and opportunities on Front Street and on the Boardwalk. These attractions represent the nations living on, and symbolically sharing St. Maarten. Also included in the free attractions are a large Dutch shoe (Klomp) and a windmill for picture opportunities.

  The main picture opportunity is a life-size, hollowed out sculpture of One Tȇté Lohkay with the cut-out face for a picture opportunity. In her hands, One Tȇté Lohkay is holding a sign that says, “I am One Tȇté Lohkay – Freedom Fighter.”

  Proposals for paid attractions include a ferris wheel, a roller coaster that is partially submerged under the ocean in Philipsburg Harbour, and horse carriage rides. Ferris wheels are found in major capitals around the world, and they attract large crowds. Having a ferris wheel in Philipsburg will attract crowds from near and far. The ideal location for a ferris wheel would be downtown Philipsburg between the Boardwalk and Front Street. This feature attraction will give a tremendous facelift to Philipsburg and will be the center of attraction. Placing the ferris wheel in downtown Philipsburg will contribute enormously towards reviving this section of Philipsburg.

  Roller coasters are a famous form of paid attraction with immense profitability possibilities. Having the first partially submerged roller coaster in the world will place St. Maarten in the top-ranking tourist destinations of the world. Adding horse carriage rides as an attraction will help grant opportunity to taxi drivers wishing to diversify from their saturated market share.

  A proposal for the Philipsburg Revitalization and Economic Development Plan is sent to the Philipsburg Promotional Board for their consideration. The proposal composes day- and night-time entertainment, extended opening hours for retail stores, themed shopping and dining, bi-monthly open-air concerts, and performances, as well as paid and free activities and attractions. The proposal for the bi-monthly open-air concert is to honor the late Mr. Gregory Arrindell for his trendsetting work in this area. Given the support of other/additional attractions in Philipsburg, this project would have been successful.

  We must also consider rebranding our welcome monument. ITSXME is a monument that brings a new and unique face to the traditional I SXM monument. The proposed monument derives from a project titled Sint Maarten Awareness Program 2014, presented by Mr. Danny Hassell. The purpose of the project was for product development, and the concept was for identity awareness.

  It is my opinion that this concept is still relevant, and out-of-the-box thinking when compared with the traditional I SXM monument. Except for the name of the country that changes on the monument, the present form of the I SXM identity awareness concept is standard and found in many destinations. The ITSXME monument brings personality, creativity, and uniqueness to our identity awareness. A totally new and fresh look. According to Mr. Hassell, “The definition for ITSXME is, ‘We all are St. Maarten’ and serves as a logo/slogan for St. Maarten. A logo suitable for merchandising and nation-building.”

  It is my opinion that if diversification of business is introduced, Philipsburg can become bigger than Bourbon Street in French Quarter, New Orleans. Let us consider business diversification from, for example, an existing jewelry store to a bar with a mechanical bull, and introducing themes in restaurants, to mention some ideas.

  In order to successfully realize this, we must consider four cardinal points. 1. Front Street, Back Street, and downtown Cannegieter Street, road infrastructural repairs, 2. Philipsburg experience diversification, 3. Retail stores extended operating hours, and 4. Police presence. All these points are elaborated on in the proposal to the PPB.

  St. Maarten can be revitalized and brought back as a tourist destination of high demand. All it takes is creativity, and willingness to unbiasedly work together.

Louis R. Engel