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Us Billionaire In Walker’S Cay Talks

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

The Government is hoping that Walker’s Cay will return to its “boater’s paradise heyday” if its purchase by a US real estate billionaire successfully closes.

Multiple Tribune Business sources yesterday confirmed that Jeff Greene, an investor with substantial upmarket real estate investments in Palm Beach and New York’s exclusive Hamptons area, is the potential buyer of the northernmost island in the Abacos.

Khaalis Rolle, minister of state for investments, declined to confirm whether Mr Greene was the potential Walker’s Cay buyer, but said he understood a deal for the property was close to completion.

“The last I heard, they were very close to a deal,” Mr Rolle told Tribune Business of the Walker’s Cay parties. “I haven’t gotten an update recently to determine whether it was finalised or nor.

“They were having some discussions and going through the normal process for a transaction like this.”

The Minister, though, emphasised that the Government wanted Walker’s Cay to either return to, or exceed, the economic impact it had on the northern Abacos when it was the automatic first stop for visiting boaters making their way down the Bahamian island chain.

“I believe it would be great for the Bahamas if it does happen,” Mr Rolle told this newspaper of a potential sale.

“Walker’s Cay, in its heyday, was the most popular boating spot in the Bahamas. When the Abplanalps were there and operating it, that was a boater’s paradise and contributed to a lot of economic activity in that area.”

The Minister added that Walker’s Cay supplied the electricity to neighbouring Grand Cay, and said: “We [the Government] would like to see that area live up to its former potential, and like to see the same level of activity.

“Depending on who the developer is, we’d like to see increased activity there.”

Tribune Business understands that Mr Rolle is being represented in the purchase by Stephen Melvin, an attorney at Higgs & Johnson.

However, he is currently on vacation and was unavailable for comment. Mr Melvin currently has significant investment-related work in Abaco, as he is also understood to be representing the Southworth Consultants/homeowners consortium seeking to purchase the Abaco Club at Winding Bay from Marriott Vacations Worldwide and Ritz-Carlton.

Mr Greene, though, appears to be another investor of considerable means who would be a ‘good catch’ for the Bahamas if it can land him.

He was estimated to have a $2.2 billion net worth in September 2012, and has built a successful real estate investment empire with interests in Florida and New York, having worked his way up from a position as ‘bus boy’ at a Palm Beach hotel.

Mr Greene’s wealth, according to Internet reports, soared spectacularly in the mid-2000s after he correctly forecast the bursting of the US housing/real estate bubble and the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Trading in credit default swaps was estimated to have added $500 million to his net wealth.

It is still unclear, though, whether the Walker’s Cay deal will close. The island has been on the market since the mid-2000s, but two previous acquisition attempts failed.

A US-based resort developer, Cay Clubs & Resorts, saw its attempt to purchase Walker’s Cay - first announced in early 2006 - fall through in 2007.

It is understood that a key factor in the deal’s collapse was the likely costs of the environmental clean-up work required on the island, which was devastated by Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne and has effectively been closed ever since. All the buildings were left in various stages of disrepair.

Subsequently, a $20 million offer to acquire Walker’s Cay was made under the former FNM administration by an entity called Victoria House IBC but that, too, fell through.

The island’s vendors are the Abplanalp family from New York, who invented the use of precision valves in aerosol cans via their Precision Valve Corporation. Prior to his taking office in 2007, the Abplanalp family was represented by former Prime Minister Ingraham and his law firm.

Walker’s Cay has a world-famous reputation among boaters and sports fishermen, with television programmes previously featuring activities such as shark feeding on the island. Some 80 per cent of the world’s game fishing records were held by boats who had come from the 100-acre Walker’s Cay.

The 71-room Walker’s Cay Hotel & Marina, which has 62 guest rooms, three villas, and the three-bedroom Harbour House was heavily damaged in the 2004 hurricanes. Apart from the 2,800 foot airstrip, Walker’s Cay houses the Conch Pearl and Lobster Trap restaurants, two bars, the Treasure Chest gift shop, the Sea Below Dive Shop, freshwater and saltwater swimming pools, tennis courts and a 75-slip marina. The hotel is 50 feet above sea level, and the island provides access to both shallow water and deep water fishing, with boaters in deep water within minutes of leaving.

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