Executive Insight Magazine had the pleasure of speaking with Joanna Cranfield, Business Development Manager for West End Development Corporation. When speaking to Joanna, it becomes quite clear that there is no mystery when it comes to WEDCO’s path forward, which lies in stark contrast to the mythical stories associated with the beautiful island of Bermuda and the infamous Bermuda triangle.
West End Development Corporation, more commonly referred to as WEDCO, was established in 1982 through an act of parliament to take the Royal Naval Dockyard to the next level. Upon the passing of the West End Development Corporation Act, the Government of Bermuda made an initial investment of more than $60million to the area, which was the beginning of its transformation from a once unused edifice into the island’s most visited tourist attraction and primary Cruise Ship port that is well-known and loved today. This achievement is even more impressive because the Corporation is both self-financed and self-regulated.
With 5 islands under their remit (Ireland Island North, Ireland Island South, Cross Island, Boaz Island, Watford Island) and over 220 acres of land to manage, WEDCO has employed a full-time team of 34 members specializing in a multitude of fields, such as electricals, plumbing, advertising, accounting, property management, and so on. This diverse team ensures that the day to day requirements of managing commercial, residential and semi-industrial tenants; a cruise ship port; property developments; maintenance; restorations; a destination; events and so much more are handled with professionalism in the most efficient manner possible. WEDCO’s proven track record for obtaining and retaining the best team members in the business is evidenced by Joanna’s 11 years with the Corporation where during her tenure, only a handful of colleagues have left. There are definitely not many businesses around the world who can boast this kind of track record, which further sets this Corporation apart.
Armed with the mission statement, “facilitating commerce, while preserving history and developing our vested lands sustainably”, WEDCO is able to keep the Royal Naval Dockyard progressing while ensuring the future of the area is both fruitful and sustainable for Bermuda – all while maintaining the respect that the area’s history deserves. This history is one of the area’s largest draws and its preservation is one of WEDCO’s most important functions. The British Royal Navy established the Royal Naval Dockyard after defeat in the American War of Independence left Britain without a secure operational base between Halifax, Nova Scotia and the West Indies. Bermuda was quickly identified as a strategic mid-Atlantic location where a secure anchorage for the Navy’s fleet and a dockyard, victualling yard and ordnance depot to maintain the ships could be developed.
The Royal Navy purchased 200 acres in the west end and began work in 1809 on the North American and West Indies Station. It was a huge project that involved large land reclamations and the labour of thousands of slaves and British convicts. It became a bustling, vibrant port with floating docks where ships were repaired for combat deployment, over 600 vessels were repaired and a strategic stop for German soldiers on their way to POW camps in Canada or Sea Patrols escorting people to and from the UK and Canada. The Royal Naval Dockyard remained an important strategic base for an astounding 139 years, inclusive of the first and Second World War.
The Royal Navy left the Dockyard in 1951, although the naval base was not officially closed until 1995. For the next two decades the area was largely abandoned, until the National Museum of Bermuda was opened in the fortress known as the Keep. The success of the Museum led the Government of Bermuda to pass the WEDCO act in hopes of the Corporation managing, restoring and transforming the area into a cultural tourism destination – a goal that has definitely been achieved.
In 1809 and onwards, the Royal Naval Dockyard became a major factor in Bermuda’s economy, employing on average more than 1,000 Bermudians at one time in the 19th Century, which accounted for more than 15% of Bermuda’s income. Joanna shares that today, in 2019, the Royal Naval Dockyard remains a major factor in Bermuda’s economy and employment market. The area hosts the majority of all small to mega sized Cruise Ships which account for approximately 90% of the island’s visiting guests.
Joanna states, “The growth and establishment of the Royal Naval Dockyard as a cultural and historical tourism hub has been amazing for the country’s economy; in addition to, allowing for the creation of numerous jobs for the island’s 67,000 inhabitants, both permanent and seasonal, and the thriving of many local businesses which are housed within the Dockyard.”
As the island remains a British Overseas Territory, it would be remiss not to mention its similarities in climate to the United Kingdom. Much like the UK, Bermuda has four beautifully different seasons throughout the year, with tourism peaking in the Spring, Summer and Fall Seasons for obvious reasons. However, Joanna goes on to talk passionately about developing the Winter Season further, “Bermuda’s winter sits at an average temperature ranging from 60 to 70 degrees, which is extremely comfortable, especially when compared to temperatures found in neighbouring climates. This allows us to provide guests trying to escape the frigid climates water sports for the more extreme adventurers, golf for those looking to relax, diving and underwater exploration for the ocean enthusiasts along with a host of cultural, historical and seasonally appropriate sporting experiences in the Winter.
When discussing the weather, it is not hard to stumble onto the topic of storms and hurricanes. The world watches while Bermuda, the Caribbean and the Eastern border of the United States are battered with life-altering weather year after year. However, the aftermath of this extreme weather in Bermuda is different to that of their neighbours. Joanna goes on, “WEDCO, and Bermuda as a whole, do not take this extreme weather lightly. We are infinitely proud of having the highest-level of building and construction codes which provides us, in combination with our environmental assets, a level of resiliency that may not be seen in other jurisdictions. As a country, we monitor the weather closely, especially during the hurricane prone months of June through November. Every Bermudian has a hurricane plan in place in case it is needed and WEDCO is no different”. With a proven 5-day plan, WEDCO is able to limit structural and property damage through most hurricanes, and Bermuda is proudly able to report an extremely low loss of life throughout their history of major weather events. Most Bermudians would agree, that preparation is paramount and that the island is definitely prepared.
“Most recently, Hurricane Humberto approached Bermuda as a category 3 and we are happy to share that the island sustained no loss of life and the Royal Naval Dockyard only sustained minimal and superficial damages, such as damage to exterior lighting, windows and doors. We are fortunate as we are physically and financially solely responsible for restorations to our mandated area after a hurricane has passed.”
“All hotels and guest accommodations will have hurricane plans in place to ensure that our visitors remain safe and entertained throughout major weather events.”
After discussing post hurricane restorations, Joanna goes on to share that since WEDCO’s inception in 1982, 90% of the historically listed buildings have been restored and the remaining 10% will be completed over the course of the next couple of years. These building restorations and upgrades have provided more usable inventory, which now boasts an almost 100% occupancy.
She states, “In addition to restoring our historical buildings, we are also developing the entire area to be at the forefront of the on-island green initiative and to be better placed for growth in the future for the entirety of Bermuda. We have recently completed some major projects that are definitely worth noting, like the upgrade of King’s Wharf to host a larger class of cruise ship. We invested heavily in solar panels this past year to the tune of roughly $1.6million, making this project currently the largest on island, with 3 separate systems producing a total of 500 kilowatts of power, which we consume entirely internally. In 2009, we developed a world-class Wastewater Treatment Facility, that takes waste from the visiting Cruise Ships, local businesses and our residential units and turns it into potable water, which we then use for flushing and irrigation. We invested in upgrading our Reverse Osmosis Plant, which converts saltwater into fresh water through a series of membranes that remove the salt. The original plant produced roughly 250,000 gallons of potable water per day and our upgrade now produces 500,000 gallons of potable water per day, which we use to supply water to residents, businesses, ships and our local Government for distribution. We have also upgraded all the Dockyard exterior lighting to LED. These are a few of our completed projects, but we are always looking for ways to lower our footprint and ensure the destinations sustainability.”
“Our skilled team in combination with our trusted relationship with our suppliers and business partners allow these large-scale developments to become a reality. These relationships are an integral ingredient to our continued success,”
Joanna goes on to explain that these developments and investments don’t stop here, “We’ve now pedestrianised a portion of the Royal Naval Dockyard as the growth of tourism continues. We are seeing a global trend towards the pedestrianisation of many tourism sites and ports for a multitude of reasons. For us, the safety of our guests is paramount. We believe that this investment into pedestrianisation will make the guest experience more enjoyable, definitely safer and will increase the ease of navigation. Again, it’s also good for the environment that there is a decrease in the number of vehicles operating throughout the area”.
“Which brings us to another strategic development that has positive environmental impacts – the introduction of electric vehicles to the island’s rental vehicle inventory. Previously, island guests were only able to rent scooters during their stay, but are now also able to rent electric mini-cars. “In the Royal Naval Dockyard, we are a part of this discussion and have embraced the addition with the creation of our electric vehicle recharge zone”, stated Joanna.
Moving forward, WEDCO will also place focus on converting the Cruise Ship guests, who stay for an average of 2 nights/3 days to an air travel guest who will stay on island longer. The plan includes the development of vacation rentals to the area, so guests are able to come back, relax and take the time to explore the area and the island more thoroughly. Staying in short term vacation rental units also provides more insight into how Bermudians live for a more authentic experience as opposed to staying in a hotel or on a Cruise Ship. Joanna shares, “Our plan has already begun, with the development of Prince Alfred Terrace. Originally built in the 1840s to house married officers working in the Dockyard, then transformed into Residential Units that fell into a state of disrepair by 2016. WEDCO invested roughly $4.5million into their restoration. The property now consists of 10 individual vacation rental units which launched mid-2018. Each of the units has three bedrooms, two bathrooms and superbly equipped modern kitchens, as well as private laundry facilities. Each unit offers an electric vehicle charge port, incredibly relaxing views of the Great Sound and access to the communal seaside dock and lounge, complete with barbecue pit and lovely lounge furniture. This investment offers our guests the unique experience of staying in a historically listed building, while benefitting from all the modern touches we have all become accustomed to.”
While keeping the end goal of creating a “Live, Work, Play” environment, it’s quite clear that this all-encompassing approach is one of the very reasons that make the Royal Naval Dockyard a fantastic place to not only visit, but invest in. With a rich history and innovative future ahead of them, WEDCO is an amazing Corporation to back in terms of clarity of vision. The Royal Naval Dockyard is truly a shining gem on the Western most point of the tiny island of Bermuda, with its rich history, vibrant culture, warm weather, friendly people and innovative vision. This is the exact place everyone should take the time to visit!