The government is awaiting a meeting with local Paradise Island investor Toby Smith before making a decision on Royal Caribbean International’s (RCI) Royal Beach Club plans for Paradise Island, Press Secretary Clint Watson told Guardian Business, explaining that the government has already had an introductory meeting with the cruise line.
Under the previous Minnis administration, RCI’s Bahamas plans seemed to be moving ahead unabated, except for the long delay in negotiating the purchase of the Grand Lucayan resort.
However, certain pronouncements made by Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis when he was in opposition and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism, Investments and Aviation Chester Cooper’s recent branding of the former administration’s Grand Lucayan deal as an “egregiously bad” one, could skew the future of Royal Caribbean and the ITM Group’s stalled negotiations to purchase the resort.
Environmentalists have called on Davis to scrap RCI’s plan to develop the Royal Beach Club on a portion of Paradise Island, citing the Progressive Liberal Party’s (PLP) emphasis on environmental conservation and Davis’ threat while in opposition to pull the cruise line’s Crown land lease.
Watson said the Davis administration will not make a decision before its sits with Smith to discuss his plans for his Paradise Island Lighthouse and Beach Club project.
Both Smith and RCI were granted Crown land leases for different parts of Paradise Island, but Smith contends that a part of RCI’s lease encroaches on his at a small part of the western side of Paradise island, where there is a beach. Both parties view this part of the island as pivotal to their projects.
Smith has taken the government to court over his Crown land lease holding and is awaiting a decision.
“We are expecting to talk to Toby, who is the person responsible for the lighthouse development,” Watson said.
“We’ve spoken to RCI and we want an opportunity to talk to the Bahamian involved first before we make a decision or determination, that is why we’re not commenting on the matter right now.
“Once we’ve met with him and we’ve had the opportunity to hear his position, then the government will make a decision.”
Last week, Save the Bays (STB) Chairman Joseph Darville called on Davis to scrap RCI’s plan altogether and make good on his previously stated position to favor a local developer over a foreign one for Paradise Island.
“One such commitment was Mr. Davis’ firm pledge to terminate any agreement that would result in Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines leasing Crown land on Paradise Island,” Darville said.
“STB wholeheartedly supports the prime minister on this matter and we fully trust that he will keep his word.”
In opposition, Davis said granting Crown land to a foreign entity that was promised to a Bahamian would set a bad precedent.
Davis contended in a statement in March 2020 that the deal with Royal Caribbean would “set back Bahamian industries and block Bahamians from the enjoyment of asset use and value in what little is available for ordinary Bahamians”.
“This is grossly unfair to Bahamians and the next PLP government will terminate this agreement,” Davis said.
“There are many compelling reasons to support our position. First and foremost, any project of this type should be owned and operated by Bahamians, fully utilizing Bahamian entrepreneurs, vendors, artists, entertainers, retailers, tour guides, water taxis, etc. Secondly, no non-Bahamian entity should receive preferential consideration over the many Bahamian applicants who have attempted to procure this property. Thirdly, all attempts to purchase this property in the past have been denied for reasons overwhelmingly in the public interest.”
Darville said it is the view of environmentalists that anything other than a low-density development would threaten the environment on the undeveloped area of Paradise Island.