St. Maarten allots $65M for tourism improvements

PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten -- St. Maarten plans to invest $65 million to upgrade its tourism infrastructure within the next two years, according to Theo Heyliger, commissioner of tourism.

The move will "significantly enhance our tourism product," Heyliger said.

Enhancements include building the new Great Bay Port; opening the Waterside Complex; upgrading the road, taxi and bus systems; building a boardwalk, and cleaning up the shopping areas along Front Street here.

The new pier at Great Bay Port, just outside Philipsburg, will be able to accommodate up to four cruise ships at a time, including two megavessels.

Heyliger said he hopes to welcome the first cruise ship at the facility by July 15.

Most cruise ships calling in St. Maarten now anchor in Great Bay, and passengers are tendered to shore.

The second phase of the pier project is a welcome terminal, scheduled for completion in August.

The two-story facility will include conference, banquet and office space; information booths; ATM machines; a post office; restaurants, and stores.

The Waterside Complex, a $40 million shopping and entertainment facility on the new pier, is expected to open in December 2001.

The complex will have duty-free shops, a Caribbean open-air market, restaurants, bars and live music venues.

Also at the pier will be a tour bus and taxi terminal, a food court, a water park, a pedestrian promenade and a small pier for tender boats and water taxis.

More than $4.1 million is earmarked for the upgrade of taxi and bus facilities at the harbor and another $1.1 million for the new Juancho Yrausquin Boulevard to handle traffic in the Philipsburg area.

The new $9 million boardwalk will stretch from Bobby's Marina on the east end of Great Bay Beach to the west end of Front Street.

Construction is scheduled to begin in June, with completion set for September.

The plan calls for entertainment and street fairs along Front Street, the main shopping promenade in town.

Overall, upgrades to the tourism infrastructure are expected to create 500 jobs and a significant source of revenue for the island.

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