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GB project ‘putting money on table’

International investors behind a mega resort project on Grand Bahama are “putting money on the table” and nailing down its “footprint” following a meeting with the prime minister.

Kenneth Russell, a former cabinet minister and now an executive for the project, confirmed that the development would involve Crown land on the eastern side of the island.  Among the principals are a well-known U.S. hospitality brand and Chinese investors, according to Russell, which would culminate in a development not unlike the $3.5 billion Baha Mar development on New Providence. That said, Russell shied away from providing too many specifics on the exact scale, although it is abundantly clear the project is being seen as a “game changer” for Grand Bahama.

“For Grand Bahama, this will be bigger than Baha Mar, in terms of impact on the island.  It will take us back in history to a point where we had 100 percent employment there,” he told Guardian Business.

The disclosure by Russell comes shortly after a formal meeting with Prime Minister Perry Christie.

The government has pledged a revival for the country’s second city, which remains troubled economically and suffers from high double-digit unemployment.  The sale of Crown land, should the deal go through, could also mean a major capital injection to the public purse.

“Mr. Russell came to my office with about 15 persons, all part of an investment team, some representing a big commercial interest from the People’s Republic of China.  And the proposal remains one of those extraordinary proposals in terms of dimension and size,” the prime minister said on Tuesday.

The need for foreign direct investment and new forms of revenue have never been greater.  Just last week, Moody’s downgraded The Bahamas for a second time in just two years, partly due to low revenue generation and high debt.

Russell told Guardian Business that this week’s meeting was constructive and provided direction going forward.

“We made significant strides and the next step is to put money on the table,” he added.

A team has also been assigned to specifically determine the resort’s “footprint”.  That means confirming the acreage needed, and the exact number of partners involved.

Meanwhile, Guardian Business has learned that Bahamian investors held meetings in New York City yesterday with Chinese counterparts specifically for this project.  Other meetings are planned in Las Vegas.

The recent meeting with the prime minister only confirms rumblings among stakeholders on the island since the May election.

Back in November, Guardian Business reported that well-known Freeport developer Larry McDonough has spent considerable time in China rallying support for the project.  While the exact name of the revived development is unknown, Shark Rock Resort, as it was originally called, included hotels, a marina, casino, cruise ship terminal and retail offerings.

Russell confirmed yesterday that a cruise ship terminal is definitely a focus of the revived project.  The thinking, he said, is the terminal would provide a steady stream of tourists to Grand Bahama due to its convenient proximity to the U.S.

“Generally yes, it will be the same as Baha Mar, but more specifically we’re looking at a cruise port, so ships can go directly there,” he said.

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