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Sands: Eleuthera needs projects like Disney proposal

Chamber president: South Eleuthera in recession for an extended period of time
Lighthouse Point beach in Eleuthera.

President of the Eleuthera Chamber of Commerce Thomas Sands said yesterday that only an investment of the magnitude of the proposed Disney Cruise Line project can dig South Eleuthera out of the recession it has been plagued with for generations now.

“Coming back to the economy of South Eleuthera, the facts just show that we have been in a recession for a pretty long time. I think it is definitely in need of sustained economic development, so yes sustained capital investment throughout Eleuthera is a necessity and I think even more so in South Eleuthera,” Sands said when asked by Guardian Business about the state of the Eleuthera economy and whether he believed the Disney Cruise Line project was needed.

“In The Bahamas we have economies that have been challenged and a lot of reference is made on Freeport as a challenged economy, but I would argue that South Eleuthera has been recessed much longer than Grand Bahama, and so I would think that it deserves the same level of focus and attention.”

His comments came ahead of a town hall meeting yesterday in Green Castle, Eleuthera at which the prime minister was in attendance.

Sands said while there are a number of other small developments that are at various stages, none are at the magnitude of what Disney Cruise Line is proposing.

“Eleuthera is divided into a number of different economies. Where we are talking about in terms of this development is South Eleuthera. Historically South Eleuthera has been in recession for an extended period of time, I would argue for a couple of generations now. Again there are different things happening in different parts of this economy of Eleuthera, so you would see more momentum in terms of the vacation rental industry and so forth in Central Eleuthera; you would then see decline as you go just beyond the central area into what would be southern North Eleuthera; and then you have Harbour Island and Spanish Wells,” he said.

“Essentially to sustain these economies you need multiple developments taking place at the same time to support the investment in infrastructure, the investment in healthcare and policing and all the facets that go along with creating sustainable developments. So, there are a couple of developments out there, but I think they all play a role in creating a successful long-term sustainable economy.”

Disney Cruise Line already has an agreement for the purchase of the more than 700-acre, privately owned property on the southern tip of Eleuthera. It proposes to only develop 20 percent of the property for low density use – the placement of beach chairs, shops and restaurants – at a cost of $350 million to $400 million; and generate up 150 permanent jobs for Bahamians. Disney has also said it would preserve the natural salt ponds on the property and give back to the Bahamas government 170 acres of land.

However, private non-governmental organizations like the One Eleuthera Foundation and the Bahamas National Trust would like government to purchase the land and conserve it as a national park.

“Those of us who live in Eleuthera, we don’t want a Nassau (type) mega development here, that’s not what we’re looking for. We’re looking for sustained investment that brings us traffic, that is viable and that creates opportunities for future generations,” Sands said, careful not to choose a side in the controversial debate.

“And so we must all figure out that as these opportunities present themselves we are sensible and mature to sit down and say how do we make these things work.”

Sands said the best scenario for The Bahamas involves both proposals.

“I’m an entrepreneur and I’m in business. I believe that it is possible to bring people together, and that we should be able to sit at a table, be very sensible about it and be able to negotiate or create a position that is beneficial to all; that considers both sides of the discussion so that we can create a model for investment and development of this country,” he said.

“The Bahamian people cannot survive and the Bahamas government cannot meet the shortfall without investment and development taking place in this country. But yes, we must be sensible and mature about it, we must be mature about it, and we must all sit at the table and figure out how we can tweak the model so that it is in the best interest of all concerned.”

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