Special to the Toronto Star
St.Kitts – Nevis ““It’s the tiny Caribbean country that could.
The twin island states of St. Kitts and Nevis faced skepticism and at times ridicule but have pulled off what naysayers predicted would be impossible. Not only is their Warner Park Stadium ready for the 2007 World Cup of Cricket, it’s also been called one of the best cricket grounds in the Caribbean.
“Pound for pound, it is the best venue and I certainly feel the pride of St. Kitts and Nevis,” said Chris Dehring, managing director of the International Cricket Council’s Cricket World Cup 2007.
Dehring was a part of a group of ICC officials who ended a tour of the nine World Cup venues spread across the Caribbean with a visit to St. Kitts Nov. 27.ICC Chief Operations Officer Don Lockerbie agreed.
“What makes it the more commendable is that you are a country that is doing it for the first time and you are the smallest of the match venues,” said Lockerbie.
Dehring admits that he had his doubts when he visited the scrubby open field in the centre of Basseterre, St. Kitts’ capital in 2004.”I did wonder if they would ever get it done,” he said in an interview after inspecting Warner Park Stadium.
Today, Warner Park Stadium is an immaculate facility with seating for 8,000, a well-maintained pitch and stunning mountain and ocean views. And Ricky Skerritt, Minister of State in the Ministry of Tourism Sports and Culture for St. Kitts is beaming with pride.
“The people of St. Kitts don’t always show emotion, but when the time comes, they deliver . . . we can be counted on to do our part,” said Skerritt.
Skerritt, who was West Indies Cricket Team Manager from 2000 to 2004, said cricket cup fever is sweeping the islands.
There is fierce competition among the island’s population of 35,000 as they put on their best faces working on beautifying their villages. “They are all working hard on turning their neck of paradise into the best it can be,” he said.
The St. Kitts and Nevis group matches will be played March 14-24, featuring South Africa, Scotland, Holland and the reigning world champions from Australia.
The St. Kitts Marriott Resort completed three years ago with 600 rooms effectively doubled the number of hotel rooms on the island, but the number still falls short of accommodating the estimated 6,000 people expected to arrive in St. Kitts to attend the opening rounds of the world cup.
Hundreds of spectators will stay on Nevis ““ a 35-minute ferry ride away ““ but even adding on the 220 rooms of the Nevis Four Seasons Resort and a couple of dozen more rooms from the upscale plantation inns and the world-famous Oualie Beach Hotel, there will still be a shortfall. Residents on both islands are being asked to open up their homes to take the overflow.
The economic benefit is predicted to be $10-million U.S. in expenditure by visitors and players, but best of all, it will be an opportunity to showcase to the world an island poised for upscale tourism development, said Skerritt.
He points out Ocean’s Edge by Canadian developer Newfound Property International, a mix of 200 apartments and villas slated to open in late 2007 on a 16-hectare site at Frigate Bay just down the beach from the Marriott, is exactly the type of growth his government wants to encourage.
The owners of apartments and villas at Ocean’s Edge will be able to place their homes in a rental pool, increasing the inventory of luxury accommodation on the island.
“It will be a great asset,” he said.
The government closed down the sugar cane industry in 2005 and is committed to developing upmarket tourism as the main industry and foreign exchange earner for the island, said Skerritt.
A smattering of upscale restaurants now complement the dining rooms of the world-renowned plantation inns on St. Kitts and several tour companies offer eco-tours to the rain forest as well as scuba diving, snorkelling and sailing excursions.
It’s also great news, Skerritt said, that California-based Auberge Resorts ““ operators of luxury boutique style hotels ““ has signed a deal with the government of St. Kitts to develop a five-star resort, golf course and spa on a 680-hectare parcel on St. Kitts’s virgin and pristine South East Peninsula.
There are also plans to dredge a large salt pond on the peninsula and turn it into a 300-slip yacht marina. Mandarin Oriental Hotels has also expressed interest in developing a site on the peninsula.
While these new developments are not scheduled to be ready in time for the cricket world cup, Skerritt is confident his tiny country will rise to the occasion.
“We are united on this, we will be ready to welcome the world,” he said.