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Island’s only ‘castle’ gutted by fire
A piece of Barbadian history last night went up in flames.
Sam Lord’s Castle, the historic hotel property acquired by CLICO from previous owner Thomas Grant, was gutted by a fire which set the St. Phillip sky ablaze yesterday evening. The flames, which first appeared in the roof during the late afternoon, soon became a raging fire that engulfed the building as the evening progressed.
Acting Fire Chief Lloydson Phillips told the Barbados Advocate that his department received reports of the fire at 5:41 p.m. and responded immediately. The scene was attended by five senior officers, 18 junior officers and five fire trucks. However, it was of little use as the main building was already overwhelmed by the bright orange flames.
“The whole building was engulfed,” said acting Division Officer, Tyrone Trotman. However, firefighters made efforts to contain the fire to the building, which was surrounded by thick vegetation.
“We are using a combined attack – aerial ladder platform and ground attack by the hoselines,” explained Trotman.
He was however unable to give an estimate of how long it would take to extinguish the fire, which was still burning as 7 p.m. approached.
President of CLICO (Barbados) Holdings, Terrence Thornhill, described the event as “terribly and extremely sad”, given the plans the company had for restoring the resort.
Former chairman and director CLICO, Leroy Parris, told this newspaper he was “disappointed” at the news of the fire. He also commented that it was a shame for such a historic building to have been lost in such a manner.
Former owner, Thomas Grant, told reporters at the scene that it was “heartbreaking” to watch the demise of the Regency mansion, built in 1820.
“It’s just a really hurtful situation this afternoon. To see a property like this which is so historic… and it’s just gone up in flames.”
His sentiments were echoed by several of the many onlookers at the scene, who commented on how moved they were to see such a Barbadian icon being destroyed by fire. As they watched, parts of the building collapsed, sending ash, small flames and plumes of dark smoke into the night sky. One gentleman commented, “It’s really a shame. It shouldn’t have come to this. That’s a piece of Barbadian history being lost right there.”
In CLICO’s 2007 Chairman's Report and Annual Report, then chairman Leroy Parris stated, “Our acquisition of Sam Lord’s Castle is a courageous act and one born of the firm conviction that we must play a direct role in advancing this industry [tourism]. Our investment in the Sam Lord’s Castle hotel project will exceed US $200 million and will play a major role in the revitalisation of the South East corridor of Barbados.”
Then in a January 27, 2009 press conference, CLICO officials announced that construction on a planned $300 million hotel and condominium project at Sam Lord’s Castle by CLICO Holdings Barbados Ltd. was expected to begin in the second quarter of 2009. In addition, President Thornhill said the company was in discussion with a flagship hotel brand to partner on the project, and these negotiations were close to conclusion.
Just three days later, however, the financial stability of CLICO (Barbados) came under intense scrutiny when news broke that a Memorandum of Understanding was agreed on between its parent company C.L. Financial, the Trinidad Government and the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago to assist CLICO (Trinidad) with certain challenges.
Yesterday, Thornhill confirmed that those troubles with the parent company had prevented CLICO (Barbados) from moving ahead with their redevelopment plans at Sam Lord’s.
Government proposes buy-out
After the onset of CLICO’s financial woes, Government late last year announced its intention to buy out the property from CLICO, and noted that is was seeking a joint venture arrangement to assist with the restoration of the site of the former Marriott’s Resort.
While there has no been confirmation of the sale going through, when asked about the plans for the property last night at the scene of the fire, Thornhill indicated that it would be up to Government. He told the media that given that Government has decided to compulsorily acquire the property, it would be up to them to redevelop the now gutted property.