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Resort Project's 'Rise From Ashes' Via $20m Spend

By NEIL HARTNELL Tribune Business Editor AN ELEUTHERA resort project many thought 'dead and buried' may be about to rise from the ashes, its developer yesterday telling Tribune Business that the revised development would involve an investment "in excess of $20 million" and create 25-30 construction jobs "from the get go". Eddie Lauth, who signed the Heads of Agreement for the French Leave Resort & Marina project back in 2003, said that despite enduring an arduous three-year wait for a title defect impacting 240 of its 270 acres to be cured, he had "never thrown in the towel". Explaining that he was unable to say anything publicly during that period, resulting in him getting "panned" by Eleuthera MPs, officials and locals, who thought he had abandoned the project due to the recession, Mr Lauth said the developers hoped to now begin construction "imminently". Acknowledging that "talk was cheap", Mr Lauth said his original development company, Governor's Harbour Resort & Marina, had partnered with Pennsylvania-based Shaner Hotel Group, which owns/operates 34 resort properties around the US and Italy, to bring French Leave to fruition. Mr Lauth is now chief executive of Shaner Capital, the group's finance arm, and he told Tribune Business that the French Leave Resort & Marina's developers were looking to emulate Schooner Bay's model of sustainable Family Island development. "We're making every right now to move forward with the Shaner Hotel Group to start the project," Mr Lauth told Tribune Business. "Talk is cheap, and we're now going to move ahead as quickly as we can. We're set to go." Among the final permissions awaited from the Government are subdivision approval, and Mr Lauth said he was expecting this to come through "imminently. I'm hoping that it's this week. Once we get that, we can sign the [construction] contracts and go. "This is the closest we've ever been to starting. I can't wait." He praised the support of Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham and his office, and the Attorney General's Office, for helping the project to each this stage, admitting that without it he could have "thrown in the towel". Mr Lauth acknowledged that Eleutherans could be forgiven for scepticism as to whether the French Leave Resort & Marina would finally move ahead, the island having seen more than its fair share of resort projects that have failed to materialise. "The people in the settlement of Governor's Harbour have been more than patient, and we're going to make every effort not to disappoint them," he told Tribune Business. "As they say in the Bahamas, we'll believe it when we see it. I'm the same as the Bahamians; I'll believe it when I see it, but I'm doing everything in my power to get it done...... No one wants to hear the excuses ; they just want it to start." Explaining that he could not go into detail on the precise nature of the title defects, Mr Lauth said the developers had used the delay wisely, reducing the development's density to ensure it was more in keeping with Family Island scale. Estimating that the French Leave Resort & Marina would require a three-four phase build-out, Mr Lauth said the initial stage, which would require a $5 million investment, was focused on the six-acre marina site at the former Club Med property. Included in that phase is the development of 40 luxury bungalows and villas, employing traditional Bahamian architecture; a bar and grill; and outdoor pavilion at what will be called the French Leave Marina Village. The first and second phases will likely meld together, the latter featuring construction of some 18 of those 40 properties. And Mr Lauth said the French Leave developers ultimately planned to construct another 40 bungalows/villas at a separate site on Eleuthera's Atlantic Ocean side, something they hoped to begin in some 12-18 months. "I'm going to guess there will somewhere in the neighbourhood of 20-30 construction jobs from the get go," Mr Laugh said, explaining that the title-induced delay had been used to get construction and financing in order. All contractors will be from Eleuthera. "The construction is lined up, the financing is lined up, and we're willing, able and ready to proceed. It's set to go," he added. "During this pause, we spent an inordinate amount of time and energy focusing on the details of the project, such as the architecture. We will be very respectful of the architecture and historical past there in Governor's Harbour." Half the phase one underground utilities were already in place, enabling the developers to start work on those for phase two straight away. A new dock, set higher above the water, will be put in, the French Leave marina being designed to accommodate large yachts up to 180 feet in length, rather than the six-eight small boats it can handle now. Hurricane Irene-related damage is being remedied through the provision of a 130-foot slip. "Right now, the initial phase is going to be in excess of $5 million, and the total project will be in excess of $20 million," Mr Lauth told Tribune Business. The development, when completed, will feature an all-Bahamian staff, and "add value to the area". Arguing that there was "no better location" in the Bahamas and the wider Caribbean for a resort development, Mr Lauth said Schooner Bay's principal, Orjan Lindroth, had provided helpful advice. French Leave's developers were now looking to use his project as a model. "French Leave is just to create a luxury, boutique hotel, and we will keep it simple, low density and all-Bahamian," Mr Lauth pledged, "very much like the Schooner Bay project. "What Orjan Lindroth is doing at Schooner Bay is absolutely the way projects should be done throughout the Bahamas, and he has memorialised it and documented it so well. We're trying to do something along the lines Orjan is doing. He's been a great inspiration to me." Acknowledging the tough times he has been through, Mr Lauth said: "I can't tell you how many investors, hotel companies have dropped out, but I've stuck with it and remain committed to the Bahamas and Governor's Harbour. I was getting panned in the press and couldn't say a word." The Shaner Hotel Group, owned by the Shaner family, operates hotels under brands such as Marriott, Renaissance, Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza.

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