The Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) has promised to cancel the lease for Crown land on Paradise Island the government is negotiating with Royal Caribbean International (RCI), calling it a stitched-up, secret deal that has “no doubt arisen out of the FNM Administration’s desperate attempt to support the fire sale of the Grand Lucayan Hotel”.
RCI signed a heads of agreement (HOA) with the government to purchase the Grand Lucayan on Grand Bahama last week.
That agreement has not yet been made public.
RCI President Michael Bayley, while on Grand Bahama, confirmed that his company is planning a $50 million attraction called the Royal Beach Club, which is slated to open in late 2022.
A critical component of the attraction would be beachfront property at Colonial Beach, of which the government owns about 17 acres.
RCI is said to be eyeing leasing 10 acres of the land.
The Guardian understands the government is moving forward with the lease.
It is expected to be finalized by the Office of the Prime Minister in the coming weeks.
An accommodation with Bahamian proprietor Toby Smith to lease a parcel of land at Colonial Beach next to RCI’s development is still being worked out.
Government officials have cited the need for ensuring Nassau remains an attractive destination for cruise ships given the expansion of private island destinations as one of the reasons for moving forward.
There is also the concern by tourism officials that more attractions are needed to entice customers off the cruise ships.
The government is reported to be structuring the agreement for the Paradise Island destination with a view to maintaining Bahamian ownership of ferries to the attraction and water sports at the location.
But PLP Leader Philip Brave Davis contended in a statement yesterday that the Paradise Island deal 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 interes[t].”
Davis cited possible damage to marine life as a result of the “consequent increase in shuttle traffic between Prince George Dock and Paradise Island”.
He also claimed the businesses of Bahamian entrepreneurs operating on the western end of the beach would be “substantially destroyed”.
Additionally, he said given that the vast majority of tourists come to The Bahamas to visit the beach, giving the Crown lease to a single cruise operator “will unfairly shut out the vast majority of our tourist customers”.
Davis also questioned why the government would lease land on Paradise Island to RCI when the company already owns Coco Cay, an exclusive private destination for the company.
“As with any policy or transaction conducted on behalf of the Bahamian people, the government has an over-riding duty to clearly demonstrate how that policy or transaction is in the interests of the Bahamian people. There is none with this [RCI] deal.
Davis added, “Given RCCI’s longstanding operations in The Bahamas, there is no proven additional economic value or exercise of any corporate social responsibility. This latest deal simply generates more profits for Royal Caribbean.”
Davis said a better idea would be to lease the land to Bahamian companies that could build an attraction there that could be visited by the public and all cruise line passengers.
“The contracts could then be used to raise finance for the project and the cruise lines could, if necessary, put up the financing to be repaid from user fees,” Davis said.
The opposition leader urged all Bahamians of conscience and goodwill to reject the deal.
“If Royal Caribbean Cruise International is allowed to acquire government property on Paradise Island and proceed with the project as a sole proprietor, they would be in conflict with both Bahamians and other cruise lines calling at Nassau, which is the leading cruise port in the region,” Davis said.