Disney Cruise Line already has an agreement for purchase with the current owner of the Lighthouse Point property in South Eleuthera for a nearly half a billion dollar cruise port development, according to Disney Cruise Line President Jeff Vahle.
“We are ready to go,” said Vahle, during a one-on-one interview with The Nassau Guardian at Baha Mar’s convention center yesterday.
“We have an approved project.
“The Walt Disney Board has approved the investment at a second island and we have a contract with the seller, so we would like to open this site in 2022 or 2023.”
Asked to elaborate on that contract Vahle said, “We have an agreement for purchase with the current owner, just under contract, and for, I think, a period of time we have the option for purchase of the property.”
He added that Disney has had that contract for “quite a few months”.
Disney is seeking to develop the property as it looks to double the number of ships calling on ports in The Bahamas by adding three new ships in 2021, 2022, and 2023.
Vahle said the company is only awaiting approval from The Bahamas Investment Authority to begin the project, which is expected to cost between $350 million and $400 million.
“We are going through the official process with The Bahamas investment Authority, so we have submitted the appropriate materials and it’s now working its way through the development process,” he said.
Disney has said the project will focus on conservation, where only 20 percent of the property would be developed and 120 to 150 permanent jobs would be created.
The company said it has no plans to develop the southern-most area of the property, the Lighthouse Point at the heart of the matter, or allow its guests to visit it.
Additionally, Vahle said the project will use sustainable design and building practices for the areas Disney intends to develop, and use solar power for much of its operation.
Further, if Disney’s proposed development is approved, it said it would preserve the salt ponds on the property and give the government 170 acres of the land for conservation.
While the company has not yet completed a thorough environmental impact assessment (EIA), Disney Cruise Line Vice President of Public Affairs & Communications Kim Prunty assured yesterday that the company will complete one.
“We are not at that part of the process yet but we will complete a thorough environmental impact assessment and obviously we will make any adjustments that are necessary in consultation with BEST (Bahamas Environment Science and Technology Commission) and government,” Prunty said.
Asked how soon that EIA would begin, Prunty said, “Immediately. I think that as soon as we have the understanding that there is support and tentative approval for the project we would immediately get to work on the environmental impact assessment.”
She added that the EIA would take a few months before it would be complete.
In recent weeks, environmentalists and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have spoken out against the proposed development.
The One Eleuthera Foundation and the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) have been at the forefront of the resistance with their “Save Lighthouse Point” petition and have been lobbying the government for approval to turn the 700-acre property into a national park.
BNT has said a cruise development would not be sustainable and the environmental impact would be significant.
The organization wants to secure the site as a national park and as a model for sustainable development.
That project would also see a sustainable development zone with ecolodges, a scientific research facility, a marine park offshore and more.
BNT said it has provided the prime minister with a proposal for acquisition of the site, along with a plan to create more full-time jobs and generate more sustained economic impact for South Eleuthera.
However, HG Christie Ltd chief executive officer John Christie told The Nassau Guardian yesterday, “we have been representing the property for two years and there was another company representing them for about two years before that and there has been no offers or anything.
“The last company had no offers at all. The only buyers we’ve been dealing with is Disney and that’s it.”
Christie said One Eleuthera has not made an official offer on that property that he’s aware of.
Education: Vrije Universiteit Brussel (University of Brussels), MA in Mass Communications