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Billionaire shuts down Exuma island resort

A popular Great Exuma resort and marina has shut its doors, in a move which will lead to job losses for employees and a reduction in destinations for visiting boaters, Guardian Business has learned.

The Sampson Cay Club, owned by billionaire telecommunications mogul John Malone, was taken out of commercial use by its owner in August, and will not be reopened.

The property includes five villas, a restaurant and a marina.

In an emailed statement sent to Guardian Business yesterday, Christine Stewart, island manager for Sampson Cay Club, confirmed the closure.

“The Sampson Cay Club closed for renovations August 1, 2013. When the renovations are complete, the island will not reopen for business. It will be the owner’s private island for use by his family and his guests. Mr. Malone’s decision to go private had many contributing factors.

“The bottom line is that over the time that he has owned the island, his usage has changed, and he now wants to be able to enjoy this Bahamian paradise with his family and friends.”

Malone served as chief executive officer of cable and media giant, Tele-Communications Inc., for 24 years from 1973 to 1996.

He is now chairman of Liberty Media and Liberty Global, and CEO of Discovery Holding Company, and was recently recognized as the “largest landowner in the United States” by Fortune Magazine.

Guardian Business understands that employees were informed of Malone’s plans as of Wednesday last week.

Last year, as many as 23 employees had worked at the property. This was reduced to 13 this year and with the announcement that the property will now “go private” just four employees remain.

“Staff and locals are very upset about it. Sampson Cay has been a hub for a lot of locals, with tour guides and fishing guides. A lot of people are very resentful towards it – they don’t like it at all,” said a source close to the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Peter Maury, president of the Marina Operators of The Bahamas (MOB) association, which represents marinas nationwide, expressed disappointment about the closure of the Sampson Cay Club and Marina, noting that it was a popular destination for boaters that created an all important diversity of experiences for “transient” boaters.

“With our map and hopefully our web page coming out we have been trying to get more boats to stay in The Bahamas. That’s the whole point of having a series of marinas; it gives them more places to go. They don’t like to sit in one place, that’s why they bought a boat. With Compass Cay and Staniel Cay and Sampson so close, that was three different experiences in one area, it was kind of neat. So it hurts in that respect,” he said, adding that he “did not know why” the decision had been made to close the property.

Evidence of the Sampson Cay Club’s popularity among visitors can be drawn from its rating on travel review site, Tripadvisor, where the property is currently ranked number four of 12 “specialty lodging” offerings in Great Exuma on Tripadvisor, with 26 out of 33 reviewers rating their experience as “excellent”.

Meanwhile, another developer has pointed to the closure as all the more reason why the government should move quickly to approve his proposed resort on nearby Leaf Cay.

Peter Vazquez, a principal behind the Leaf Cay resort, which is located around 2.5 miles away from Sampson Cay, said his project could re-absorb employees who have lost jobs at Sampson Cay.

In an email sent yesterday to Minister of State for Investments, Khaalis Rolle, Vazquez pointed out that its has been 15 months since he and his partner submitted their plans for Leaf Cay to the government.

He added: “Maybe this will help in motivating Phillip Weech and the Bahamas Investment Authority and others in assisting us in getting our approval so our project can get started, and we can begin providing much needed employment to the Bahamian people in the area.

“This closure (of Sampson Cay) has created several problems. To start with, more unemployed Bahamians in the local area, Black Point and Staniel Cay. In addition, Staniel Cay is now the only place to get fuel, food, or any type of provisions, of which (the yachts) usually do not have very much.

“Boaters both small boats as well as mega yachts are now short of dockage space for this area of the Exumas.”

Vazquez recently called on the government to stop delaying approval for his Leaf Cay Resort project, which includes a number of over-water bungalows. The concept would be new for The Bahamas, but is already highly sought-after in locations such as Fiji, Tahiti, and the Maldives.

Vazquez proposed that the introduction of this type of accommodation to The Bahamas could create a new “influx” of tourism to the islands.

Guardian Business has been informed that the delay in Vazquez’s approval has been justified on the ground that the government is still formulating its policy position on such bungalows, which may not be appropriate for all areas, due to potential risk of destruction from hurricanes or damage to the surrounding environment.



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