It was a cool Saturday morning at Port Lucaya Marketplace in Grand Bahama.
The stores were open, but the tourists were scarce. The area for taxi cabs had only drivers sitting on benches, queueing for the next fare.
It’s been almost five months since the government executed the purchase of the Grand Lucayan resort, but some of the vendors see no relief in sight.
Charlene Armbrister, owner of Sandy Shores Gifts, said for the last several months she has only been able to make her rent, but not much more.
“It hasn’t been as good as I would like it to be, but I’m very hopeful that things will pick up in the future and we will be able to see Freeport booming again,” said Armbrister, as she threaded the plastic twine on a new multicolored bracelet.
“I don’t see it but that’s where faith kicks in. We have to believe that it will one day turn around and not necessarily rely on the government as such but knowing that God is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all things that we can ever hope for.”
The Grand Lucayan, which is made up of three hotels – Breaker’s Cay, Memories and Lighthouse Pointe – closed its doors in 2016 after being damaged by Hurricane Matthew.
Only Lighthouse Pointe reopened.
The government purchased the property last year for $65 million.
While the government had initially projected a six-month timeline for the sale of the property, it now hopes to find a qualified buyer by the end of the second quarter of 2019.
Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar said last week that it will probably take another 12 to 18 months for the resort to reopen.
Armbrister, who has been at the market for three and a half years, said she thinks they will be able to hold out that long.
“It’s a daily struggle,” she said. “But for myself, I see that things happen, and what’s going on now, it’s not paying all of the bills but being able to stay here in the marketplace with the business that we have now, for the last several months I’ve seen that I was able to make my rent and not much more.”
When asked whether she has other means to support her day-to-day living, Armbrister hesitated.
“There [are] no other places as such because things on the entire island [are] slow now and it really and truly needs to pick up so that more people don’t find themselves walking the streets,” she said.
A day earlier, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis touted the work the government is doing to revitalize the Grand Bahamian economy.
He pointed to the decrease in joblessness on the island from 12.4 percent to 11.9 percent, the purchase of the resort and the recent deal with Carnival Cruise Line for a new cruise port in Freeport, insisting that change is on the horizon.
However, some vendors are not convinced.
Just across from Sandy Shores Gifts is Amoore’s Jewelry.
Walter Moore and his wife have had the stall for a year.
Unlike Armbrister, Moore doesn’t have any hope that the government can turn the resort around.
“It’s a bunch of talk coming from [Deputy Prime Minister] Peter Turnquest and even the prime minister, but ain’t nothing happening,” he said.
“…The hotel itself, in my view, they made an error by purchasing that. They should have purchased the smaller one and opened the casino.
“That way people would come to partake in the straw vendors’ stuff.”
When the submission period ended on February 15 for proposals from investors to
purchase the resort, there were “in excess of 60 bids” on the table, according to Chairman of Lucayan Renewal Holdings Michael Scott.
But Moore insisted that it’s too much talk and not enough action.
“If you have that [number] of buyers, how long does it take for you to deal with a couple of them, at least to see what their background is or whether they have the money? It [doesn’t] take months for that,” he said.
“In my view, the government is playing around, just what they did with Oban in East Grand Bahama. It’s in limbo. They are doing a lot of talking, but what they need to do is something.”
Michelle Munroe and her family have had a stall at the market for three years.
Munroe said she and other vendors have seen many slow days, but she too remains hopeful.
“Honestly, I believe there’s hope,” she said.
“As long as we continue to hope, for those of us who can hold on because if we let go there’s nothing else to go to, we are going to continue to hold on and we are praying for the [betterment] of everyone, not only because a certain government [is] in but because everyone has to survive and this is how I see it.
“I feel like nothing lasts forever.”
Education: Vrije Universiteit Brussel (University of Brussels), MA in Mass Communications