Minister of State for Grand Bahama Kwasi Thompson said yesterday he feels very optimistic following recent conversations with the principals of Royal Caribbean International (RCI) and the ITM Group, who are purchasing the Grand Lucayan resort, adding that he believes Grand Bahama’s capital, Freeport, will be well-poised for the return of the cruise industry when that island recovers from the damage caused by Hurricane Dorian.
RCI indicated in April, weeks after the cruise industry came to a standstill due to the COVID-19 pandemic and globally-implemented travel bans, that while it is still committed to all its projects, the timelines would be re-evaluated.
Thompson said he has been given an indication that the delay of work on the Grand Lucayan will be six months and that construction would begin in the upcoming fiscal year.
“I am very, very optimistic with respect to the moving forward of the Grand Lucayan. We have had some recent discussions with the ITM and Royal Caribbean. They have indicated their full commitment to the project and their full commitment to moving ahead with the project. Obviously timelines may have shifted a bit and we think that all in all there might be a shift of about six months, that’s what they had indicated,” he said outside the Churchill Building yesterday before the weekly Cabinet meeting.
“But given the circumstances of the world, given the circumstances of the country and given the circumstances of the cruise industry, we are very, very pleased that they have reaffirmed their commitment to moving ahead with the project; and we are also very pleased that they have indicated that their intention is to bring additional cruise ships even prior to the completion of their new cruise port, which again is good news for Freeport.”
The government signed a heads of agreement and sales purchase agreement with Holistica – a joint venture between RCI and the ITM Group – in March for the $300 million redevelopment of the Grand Lucayan and the enhancement and expansion of the Freeport Harbour.
As for the development of the Carnival Corporation’s $200 million cruise port on Grand Bahama, which was slated to begin construction by this summer, Thompson said that project remains in the permitting stage.
“As you would recall, they would have completed their heads of agreement and are now moving ahead in terms of the permitting stage. They’re still in that permitting stage. Obviously given the circumstances, we think that their timelines also are going to change as well, so we await to hear the official word from Carnival with respect to their timelines,” Thompson said.
“When the cruise industry begins to recover and pick up again, we think that Freeport really is going to be in a good position and poised to take advantage of when the cruise industry comes back on stream,” he added.
Thompson also noted that the government is aggressively pursuing the acquisition of Grand Bahama International Airport (GBIA).
“Hutchison Ports indicated that they were not intending on rebuilding the airport to the state that it was prior to Dorian. This obviously was unacceptable for the government. It remains an unacceptable position for the government. We entered into talks with Hutchison, the talks were slightly delayed as a result of COVID-19. We have continued those talks, we are actively in discussions with them, actively in negotiations with Hutchison with respect to the turnover of the airport,” he said.
“The airport is a high priority for the government. No island, particularly an island that is in the process of rebuilding, can do so without an active airport. One thing I will say is that the airport presently is open, there is a temporary structure that’s in place. Prior to COVID-19 there were international flights that were coming in, domestic flights were coming in.”
Asked whether he believes it is wise for the government to take on such an investment when it is already fiscally strained, Thompson said, “Obviously it is a very challenging situation for the government at present, given the difficulties that we have faced with COVID. But it is a position I think we have to aggressively pursue. I think if we want to fully rebuild the island, the airport is a high priority for the government. And so, we are going to continue to aggressively pursue it.”
Thompson would not give a timeline on when government expects to complete the acquisition of the airport and begin rebuilding it.
“It is very difficult to put in place timelines, particularly when you are negotiating; and I think when you put timelines then you risk really having the best possible deal that you can for the people,” he said.
“So, we are at the moment satisfied that there is a temporary facility there, there are domestic flights that are coming and we expect that international flights are going to come. So, we are going to aggressively pursue the negotiations as best as we can.”
The government confirmed in January that it was in talks with the owners of the GBIA, Hutchison Ports and the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA), after it was dissatisfied with the owners’ plan to rebuild after Category 5 Hurricane Dorian leveled the facility in September last year.
Initial estimates for repairs to the terminals following the hurricane were upwards of $40 million.