Two days ago, the government inked a deal with Royal Caribbean and its partner, ITM Group, for the purchase and redevelopment of the Grand Lucaya property in Freeport. Royal Caribbean and ITM will invest upwards of $300 million to redevelop a 1,000-room hotel, 500 villas, a new casino, restaurants and shopping area. The deal calls for maximum Bahamian ownership of retail spaces, transportation services and employment. This is all good news for Grand Bahama. Now all that must happen is the delivery, which should take place starting within a few months and extending into to 2022.
Grand Bahama needs this project to materialize. Along with some $500 million in additional investments proposed for the island, within three years, the economy of Grand Bahama should be in a much better shape than it is today—if all goes well. I have taken the time to confirm with principles of these investments both their intent and capacity to follow through on their proposals. I have not relied on the Government for this. People who live in Grand Bahama need these investments to happen and I needed to satisfy myself that they represented real prospects. I am satisfied that they are, though I cannot guarantee that they will come about.
While this news is good for Grand Bahama, the people of the island are rightly cautious. They have seen this rodeo before where the documents are signed, the ground is broken and the land is cleared, only to remain so forever more. It is understandable that they will wait for the hiring and ordering and ribbon cutting to allow their hearts to truly celebrate. I am not perfectly certain they will be able to do so but I believe that there is a high probability that they will.
The question now is: Will we be that Bahamas that so often drags our feet on the things we must do to get a project going? Will we frustrate investors with drawn out legal reviews, license applications, building inspections, contract negotiations and political jostling? Or, will we step up to the plate and be a “get-it-done” jurisdiction, laying the foundation for the rise of Freeport and establishing new business brands for ourselves?
As the Government sets about to deliver this project for an island eager for its benefits, it should do something, a couple of things really. It should lay the heads of agreement and any side agreements on the table of the House of Assembly; in other words, make the agreement public. Second, it should shoot straight about the dollar value it agreed to sell the hotel for, devoid of any interpretation of the numbers. It should make clear its policy rationale for pursuing the deal with the Royal Caribbean/ITM Group and all that it hopes and expects to get from it for the people of The Bahamas. Finally, it should layout any challenges it expects going forward and how it will meet them including how it will enforce the employment and ownership stipulations in the agreement.
On the face of it, one must be happy for Grand Bahama in hearing about the signing of the Grand Lucayan heads of agreement. To be even happier, it will be great to see Grand Bahamians experiencing the benefits of the proposal. We keep our hands together in prayerful expectation of the good to come.
• Zhivargo Laing is a Bahamian economic consultant and former Cabinet minister who represented the Marco City constituency in the House of Assembly.