By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Resorts World (Bimini) executives yesterday said the company’s name had been “unnecessarily sullied” by criticisms of its multi-million dollar project, with construction work continuing despite a legal action seeking to block it.
Dana Leibovitz, the developer’s president, and spokesperson Heather Krasnow, told Tribune Business they felt attacks by activists concerned about the proposed cruise terminal/pier’s impact on the environment, and the project’s sustainability, were “unwarranted”.
Emphasising that Resorts World had “no concern” about the Judicial Review challenge to the project that has been launched by the Bimini Blue Coalition, Mr Leibovitz said construction work was taking place today “and will continue”.
“We have no concerns with the Judicial Review,” Mr Leibovitz told Tribune Business. “It’s not going to cause us any delays. We’re still proceeding today, construction activity is taking place today, and will continue.”
When asked by this newspaper, he confirmed this work related to Resorts World’s planned 4.5 acre artificial island, which will be used to embark/disembark cruise passengers it has brought from Miami, and the pier that will take them to shore. Resorts World, Mr Leibovitz said, had complied with everything asked of it by the Government.
That is unlikely to sit well with the Bimini Blue Coalition and its attorney, Romauld Ferreira, who last week told Tribune Business that Resorts World’s attorneys had given an undertaking not to do any dredging prior to the next Supreme Court hearing on December 16.
Mr Leibovitz did not specify the type of construction work being done, and there is no suggestion that any undertaking has been breached. Mr Ferreira said that had been given in response to the Coalition’s efforts to obtain an injunction requiring Resorts World (Bimini) to cease all work on the project until the main Judicial Review action was heard.
The well-known environmental attorney last week also suggested that, on a cursory glance, the documents brought to the Supreme Court by Resorts World’s attorneys appeared to be permit applications and conditional approvals in principle, rather than the full permits themselves.
However, Mr Leibovitz suggested the environmental concerns were misplaced, given that all the issues being raised were contained in the Environmental Management Plan (EMP).
“What people don’t talk about is the mitigations in place,” he added. “The EMP in place, it addresses every single issue in the EIA.
“It’s like any project. If we do this, this happens, but if we do this it will counter that. We have submitted an EMP to deal with all these issues, and if someone reads the full study they will know this is being done.
“We’re committed to working with the environment, committed to working with the people of Bimini. As fully shown throughout the EIA and EMP, people will see everything is addressed and will continue to be addressed.”
The terminal/pier, Mr Leibovitz added, would also enable cruise ship passengers to spend two more hours on Bimini than they did currently.
As for concerns that the projected extra 570,000 visitors that Resorts World will bring to Bimini annually are unsustainable, given the island’s size, Mr Leibovitz responded: “I don’t know if these people have actually been to Bimini.”
He added that the island appeared to easily accommodate 3,000-4,000 persons at Christmas, and holidays such as July 4 and Labour Day, while the 500-1,000 cruise passengers brought daily had also been absorbed without difficulty.
While Resorts World’s cruise ship has brought some 40,000 visitors to Bimini since starting sailing in July, Mr Leibovitz yesterday revealed that bad winter weather had forced it to “cut the schedule back” from seven days to just three - weekend sailing on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Bad weather had forced Resorts World to start cancellations two months ago, but the decision to cut back to three days was taken around two weeks ago.
Noting the negative impact this was having for Bahamian-owned businesses on Bimini, as well as Resorts World, Mr Leibovitz implied this was why its cruise terminal island and pier needed to be built.
With the rough seas making it impossible to transfer passengers to/from the cruise ship via smaller feeder boats, he explained that the schedule cutbacks were necessary to avoid disappointing customers and ruining Resorts World’s brand/marketing image.
Mr Leibovitz said the return to seven day sailing would come when “the pier is built or there is summer weather; which is first”.
Countering claims that the developer, and its Malaysian conglomerate parent, Genting, would only be interested in Bimini until they gained their Miami casino licence, Mr Leibovitz said the latter’s chairman was now constructing his own personal home on the island.
Suggesting K. T. Lim’s investment was further proof of Genting’s long-term commitment to Bimini, he added that the chairman was on the island once a month to inspect progress on the new $150 million hotel investment.
“We would not be committing the kind of money we are committing to this project if we would not be here for the long-term,” the Resorts World (Bimini) president told Tribune Business.
“It hasn’t even crossed our minds why we would not be here. We’re spending $150 million now, and there’s potentially other things we’re looking at doing which I can’t speak to now. But we would not be here if we were not here for the long-term.”
Emphasising Genting’s personal attachment to the Bimini project at the highest levels, Mr Leibovitz added: “Our chairman has fallen in love with Bimini.
“He’s building his house here. He loves Bimini, loves the community, loves the people.”
Mr Lim’s father, Genting’s founder, had similar feelings when he visited Bimini 10 years ago, Mr Leibovitz added.
“The chairman jokes that this is one of the longest negotiations he’s been,” he added of the Bimini project. “It’s never been off the radar.
“He does take a personal interest in everything we do. He’s very much involved with the design of the hotel, the architecture and interior design. He’s in Bimini once a month. The commitment to this project is not an issue.”
Mr Leibovitz said the Bimini project, which involves a 300-room hotel and marina, and Genting’s Miami aspirations were “two different things”.
The Bimini casino was more a boutique style along the lines of Genting’s UK operations, and he added: “If anything happens in Miami, it will not be for three, four, five years.....
“There is no reason why we would not send people from the Miami resort to the Bimini resort.”
There was “no link”, Mr Leibovitz added, between Genting’s delayed Miami ambitions and its sudden turn to become interested in Bimini.
Describing Bimini as an “undiscovered island” for many Miami and south Florida residents, the Resorts World (Bimini) president said this, coupled with the island’s proximity, had attracted the developer to it.
Suggesting that he personally felt Genting’s Bimini presence would not become larger than it will become with the new hotel, he added: “Our expectations are very, very high. We’re very aggressive, and I have to say that we’ve absolutely met our expectations in all areas - business, the response of the Bimini people, all of it.”
Genting and Resorts World were “solely focused” on their $150 million investment in Bimini currently, although Mr Leibovitz conceded they had been asked to look at other Bahamas-based opportunities.
“We’ve been approached with some other projects that we are interested in right now, and this time,” he said. Those projects are thought to include South Ocean and the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC).