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Big plans for Bimini Bay

Opportunities in the tourism industry are blooming in Bimini, with the Bimini Bay Resort officially handing management over to an experienced luxury operator, and formal announcements for a new hotel and spa, beach club, and fast ferry service to the island.

The news came Friday at the official signing ceremony for the new management contract, bringing RockResorts on board to manage the 350 vacation rentals, dining operations and the largest deep-water marina in The Bahamas. The upscale managers and announcements may signal the start of a tourism renaissance on the closest Bahamian island to the continental United States.

“We are revitalizing what a Family Island represents to this economy,”Raphael Reyes, President of Rav Bahamas said in remarks at the ceremony. Rav Bahamas co-owns the resort along with the Capo Group.

No figures were available yet for the anticipated development cost of the hotel, but a company spokesperson confirmed that the plan was for an 80100 room 5-star resort. Nevertheless, the Capo’s formally broke-ground at the site of the future hotel, which may take advantage of a 270 degree beachfront panorama.

The new hotel and spa should be completed in 2014, bringing the hotel into RockResorts'”Coastal Collection”according to Mark Jeffrey, Area Vice President for the Southeast and Caribbean Region.

RockResorts is renown for environmentally sensitive properties in unique sand or snow locations including Colorado, the Caribbean and South Florida.

The company’s environment-friendly reputation may go a long way in helping the Capo Group to shake lingering claims of damaging the environment as they developed the resort and marina allegations the Capos have consistently rejected.

RockResorts’environmental focus has reaped environmental and tourism awards for programs like’water on the rocks’which aims to eliminate all plastic bottles in guest operations. Rooms at the Bimini Bay already featured water in recyclable bottles. The company has also started a program in local schools to replace one-use plastic grocery bags with reusable environmentally friendly grocery bags.

In addition to an environmental focus, another’pillar’of the RockResorts management approach is the company’s commitment to staff and the development of local talent, Jeffrey said. He toldGuardian Businesshe envisaged opportunities for Bahamians to reap the experience benefits of working at other RockResorts properties as well.

A key aspect of the revitalization of the project is a new fast ferry service to provide a less than two-hour connection between Miami and Bimini, with Jeffrey saying the ferry should be operational by the summer. Official statements from the company about the new ferry were limited, but more comprehensive details about the new service are provided in anotherGuardian Businessstory today.

RockResorts brings 25 years of property management experience to Bimini Bay. It also has a’very loyal group of customers’according to Jeffrey, which may create special opportunities for attracting guests who frequented the ski-based resorts in the winter to Bimini in the summer months, and other opportunities to take advantage of the loyal client base.

RockResorts has 11 luxury resort hotels and properties with several ski lodges in Colorado and properties in The Dominican Republic, St. Lucia and Jamaica as well.

The news of the ferry, hotel and the new management was welcomed by several Bimini residents and entrepreneurs who toldGuardian Businessthat the 2010 season was the worst they had seen in many years. According to Carmen Dames, president of the Straw Market in Alice Town, only that weekend had they began to see any guests for the year, and growing numbers on the island had experienced hardship as a result.

A few local residents expressed cautious optimism about what the new management’s relationship with staff would be. They agreed that it was an area that needed improvement and said that since March they have felt a positive change under the RockResorts group. The interviewees did not wish to be identified.

Member of Parliament for West End and Bimini Obie Wilchcombe credited the patriarch of the Capo family Gerardo Capo for his perseverance and vision and his commitment to community involvement. In addition to the resort itself, which employes more than 300 Bahamians, Wilchcombe cited examples including a house-painting project in the nearby Alice Town settlement and reviving the marching band by helping them to acquire much-needed instruments.

“The people of Bimini have accepted Mr. Capo and what he is trying to do,”Wilchcombe said.”What has really made sense is him going to search for a renown hotel manager and he couldn’t come up with a better one.”

Telling this newspaper that economic empowerment was fundamental, Wilchcombe said that many Biminites were entrepreneurial and could bring great benefit to the industry, but needed access to capital. He said the Royal Bank of Canada(RBC)should continue in this regard and called for the Bank of The Bahamas to make its way to Bimini too. The MP also said he hoped the Bahamas Development Bank would be able to find more capital to help Biminites realize the opportunities there.

CAPTION: From left are Gerardo Capo, Chariman, the Capo Group; Mark Jeffrey, Area Vice President for the Southeast and Caribbean Region; Ralph Reyes, President, Rav Bahamas; and Alex Capo, the Capo Group

(BIMINI BAY)

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