The new $250 million Nassau Cruise Port (NCP) – a key component of the long-promised revitalization of a rundown City of Nassau – is taking shape and is on track for a summer 2022 completion, said NCP’s Chief Executive Officer Mike Maura as he and his team took National Review on a tour of the project on Monday.
The government of The Bahamas signed a heads of agreement with Nassau Cruise Port Ltd. in August 2019 for the port redevelopment.
The project entails extensive marine work and expansion of the piers, which will allow the port to accommodate larger ships.
“We’re very excited about the marine works,” Maura said.
“It’s going fantastic and you would have seen during the tour that the work is first class, just what you find in any major city, any major port project anywhere in the world.”
The Nassau Cruise Port will be able to berth as many as three Oasis class ships at once, as well as other vessels. When completed, it will be able to accommodate up to 33,990 cruise passengers daily, up from 22,620.
Oasis class ships are each able to accommodate 6,780 passengers and 2,200 crew members.
“The fact is that so many new bigger ships are coming out of shipyards over the next five years,” Maura said.
“We’re actually going to find more larger ships than we’re going to find smaller ships coming out of the Port of Miami, Port Everglades, Canaveral. The Bahamas is going to be so much further ahead than our neighbors throughout the Caribbean – from an infrastructure perspective and from a tourism capacity perspective – that we’re going to be in great shape.”
The new world-class port will include a new terminal, a waterfront park, a harbor village, a new inner harbor, amphitheater, Junkanoo Museum, shops, restaurants and an impact theater. New passenger transfer and parking and waiting areas to ensure the smooth and efficient operations by existing licensed taxi and tour operators are also part of the redevelopment.
The port will also have dedicated marine areas for large and super yachts, as well as smaller vessels. In addition, space has been allocated to facilitate water taxis.
Within the next three weeks, the old Port Department building will be torn down. Festival Place and other buildings at the site were demolished last year as the redevelopment unfolded.
Temporary facilities for Festival Place vendors have been placed in Rawson Square, and the nearby Kelly property will be used for a call-up system for taxi drivers when cruise passengers return.
At the time of the signing of the agreement, COVID-19, of course, was not on anyone’s minds. It has caused the developers to have to adjust their plans to meet challenges presented, but also to take advantage of previously unforeseen opportunities.
As a result of the pandemic, the cruise industry came to a halt. While that remains a significant blow for the thousands of Bahamians whose livelihoods are directly linked to the industry, it has meant that ENKA Construction and Development, the project’s contractor, and the rest of the team working on the new port, have been able to operate without thousands of passengers passing through daily.
“One of the changes that COVID has brought to the project, while it has definitely provided the opportunity for greater efficiency because we don’t have 20,000 passengers, what it has caused ENKA to have to do is to pivot and to be able to realign various phases of the project because of home porting,” Maura explained.
To date, Crystal Cruises and Royal Caribbean International (RCI) have confirmed home porting arrangements.
While the port will remain an active construction zone, NCP is prepared to carry out its health and safety protocols when ships arrive, according to officials.
The first ship is scheduled to arrive on June 12. Two more are due in July.
“ENKA and the team have expedited some of the pier works in order to allow us to get these home port ships in and allow us to safely disembark these passengers and to embark them, as well as handle all of the provisioning that’s going to be coming out of Nassau from the local wholesalers,” Maura said.
NCP is in the process of putting up a temporary operations building set to be completed by the end of the month.
Marques Williams, NCP’s operations manager, said, “With these passengers arriving and departing from our facilities, we thought it necessary to create a temporary arrivals building that can house them, process their credentials, scan and screen their bags and get them to and from the ships.”
Authentically Bahamian, fantastically different
When passengers arrive, they will know for sure they are in The Bahamas, not just because it’s a stop on their itinerary, but because it will be stamped with an all-Bahamian brand, NCP officials said.
“If you go to other ports around the Caribbean, a lot of the complaints that the guests have is that all of the ports look the same, and so our mission from the very beginning was to ensure that this port does not look that way and does not give passengers that experience, so the central theme in the story around the experience we’re creating is authentically Bahamian,” explained Maya Nottage, NCP’s regional marketing manager.
“It will be, one, very safe, and two, exceptionally Bahamian.”
Bahamian artwork and artisans will make up a large part of the experience, officials added, even during the port’s transition period.
Prominent Bahamian artist Antonius Roberts will serve as curator for an art area. On Monday, we met Bahamian artist Lemero Wright transforming a temporary building into a work of art.
Amanda Freedman, NCP’s communications manager, told us, “We have a unique opportunity through the amphitheater that we have here and just the unique space that we’re creating that hasn’t existed before, which will drive events in the downtown area and will encourage people to come out, so it’s Bahamians, stopover guests, it’s visitors who are coming on the cruise ships and we will have a comprehensive plan outlined with a lot of exciting things to see and do.”
That means authentically Bahamian retail concepts and restaurants.
“Again, we were targeting authentically Bahamian, so not franchises. We’re looking for food and beverage experiences that will drive home that you are in The Bahamas,” Freedman said.
“There’s no mistaking where you’re at.”
Around 45 of the original Festival Place tenants will be incorporated in the space.
“We could have filled up this entire space with luxury brands that would have been paying five times the rents that our Bahamian partners are paying and the fact is that’s not what we want to be here,” Maura said.
“We feel we have the best opportunity as a country, as a destination, to really drive this theme of fantastically different and that’s what we’re focusing on, because you can go to a Rolex store in any major city, you can go to a Cartier store in any major city, but the stores and the products and the experiences that we’re going to be doing here at the Nassau Cruise Port will let you know that you are in Nassau, that you have hit downtown Nassau and it’s going to be so wonderful you’ll be dreaming about it.”
Ownership and revitalization
Nassau Cruise Port Ltd. includes three entities, Global Ports Holding (GPH), the Bahamas Investment Fund (BIF) and the YES (Youth Education and Sports) Foundation. The majority of the shares for the new port will be owned by Bahamians through the BIF and YES Foundation.
BIF will offer to Bahamians and Bahamian residents two classes of Investor Shares – Class A and Class B – on a “bottom-up” basis with the objective to achieve participation by approximately 20,000 investors.
“When we talk about this idea of an IPO, we talk about the Bahamas Investment Fund and when we embarked on this project and signed the concession agreement with the government of The Bahamas back in August 2019, we believed at that point, similar to what happened at the container port, providing an opportunity for Bahamians to own a piece of their cruise port, because again, this is a concession agreement that has a concession term of 25 years by which Nassau Cruise Port has to complete all of this work that we’ve been talking about and then at the end of 25 years hand the keys to the government of the day for $1.”
The investment opportunity will be opened to Bahamians later this year, Maura said.
Work on the port comes as several other major projects in downtown Nassau are underway.
The recently completed Pointe resort, the nearby US Embassy and the new Central Bank projects are all major elements of what will be a newly upgraded city.
Maura agrees that the upgrade is long overdue.
“I think while we did something phenomenal, in my opinion, in terms of the development of Nassau Container Port, what we didn’t do so well is have a master plan for downtown because here we are in 2021, 10 years later, and only now are things happening,” he said.
“The container port should have been a component of a master plan for downtown and not its own project. And so, what we see happening now – and I guess, better late than never, as they say – is we’re seeing that the cruise port project, along with what the Pointe is doing, will and is serving as a catalyst for confidence on the part of investors.”
Maura noted that while government’s role is to clear a path for development, it takes private capital to make things happen. He said some owners of downtown properties are already drawing plans to upgrade their facilities to take advantage of increased business from the new port.
“This place is going to be a destination, and we’ve designed it in such a way that it is a strategic and valued partner of downtown,” he said.
“It’s not in partnership with downtown, but it’s part of the value of downtown so that when you come and you shop with your family, you come for dinner, you come for music, you’ve also got that opportunity to experience what we have … so it is about downtown.”