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'Unimaginable excess': Bid to attract showy superyachts to Cape Breton under scrutiny

In a remarkable transformation, Cape Breton sheds its industrial past to emerge as a prime tourist destination. Once notorious for the Sydney tar ponds, a colossal waste site, the region has evolved into a vibrant urban park with a focus on tech businesses and education, according to Terry Smith, CEO of Destination Cape Breton.

Now eyeing a shift towards luxury, Cape Breton aims to attract the attention of superyacht owners, the elite class with a penchant for opulent seafaring. Destination Cape Breton has enlisted the expertise of Superyacht East Coast, based in Halifax, to lure these floating palaces to the island.

Among these majestic vessels is Archimedes, a 68-meter superyacht valued at around $100 million, owned by U.S. hedge fund billionaire James Simons. While it may lack helicopter hangars and glass elevators, Archimedes boasts a marble Jacuzzi, a grand piano, an enclosed gym, a wood-burning fireplace, and six staterooms, making it an understated but impressive addition to Cape Breton's maritime scene.

Adam Langley, president and CEO of Superyacht East Coast, highlights the economic benefits these vessels bring. Beyond captivating locals with their grandeur, superyachts inject substantial funds into the local economy. Langley emphasizes that these floating resorts typically spend lavishly on provisions, ranging from fuel and groceries to tours, guides, and entertainment.

However, not everyone is on board with this ambitious initiative. Tom Urbaniak, a political science professor at Cape Breton University, questions the allocation of public funds to attract superyachts. He argues that this effort caters to an extremely small group of ultra-wealthy individuals, highlighting concerns about their environmental impact and lavish lifestyles, particularly as the world grapples with climate change.

Urbaniak emphasizes the need for transparency and accountability, urging Destination Cape Breton to establish criteria for welcoming superyachts based on factors such as tax contributions and adherence to the rule of law. He labels the initiative as a celebration of "almost unimaginable excess" at a time when citizens are being urged to make sacrifices for environmental sustainability.

In response, Smith defends the strategy, framing superyacht attraction as a small part of a broader plan to boost regional tourism. He challenges the notion that superyacht owners are the worst polluters, pointing out the emergence of electric superyachts and anticipating cleaner fuels and operational methods in the future.

Langley echoes this sentiment, noting that the trend among superyacht builders is shifting towards smaller, more environmentally conscious explorer yachts. He reassures that the marine tourism strategy for Nova Scotia will include sections on sustainability and best practices, acknowledging the importance of responsible tourism in preserving the region's natural beauty.

As Cape Breton navigates the delicate balance between luxury and environmental responsibility, the debate continues over whether attracting superyachts is a sustainable and responsible approach for the region's economic growth.