By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Rival Bahamian-led bids with strong Andros connections are battling to acquire the last government-owned hotel, Tribune Business can reveal, with at least one proposal focusing on eco-tourism.
Prescott Smith, owner of Stafford Creek Lodge, confirmed to Tribune Business that he was heading one group seeking to buy the Fresh Creek-based Lighthouse Club from the Government-owned Hotel Corporation of the Bahamas.
Mr Smith, who is president of the Bahamas Sportfishing & Conservation Association, said he was proposing to establish an eco-tourism training institute at the property if his offer was successful.
However, he faces competition from at least one rival Bahamian group. Vanlock Fowler, owner of Nassau-based All Purpose Steel Company, confirmed to Tribune Business that he was also part of an investor group seeking to purchase the Lighthouse Club.
No deal has been sealed yet, and it remains unclear who the Government will go with, even after Prime Minister Perry Christie confirmed that multiple offers for the property were being assessed, and that Bahamians groups were involved in the process.
Tribune Business contacted both Mr Fowler and Mr Smith after being informed by sources familiar with the Lighthouse Club situation that they were leading bids to acquire it.
Mr Smith, who has partnered with a Philadelphia-based investor, told Tribune Business his offer was different from previous proposals that had looked at the property as ‘a real estate play’.
“Here is the Bahamas, a really special place, but we seem to develop the economy not based on the best use of our natural resources,” Mr Smith told Tribune Business.
“A lot of decision-making is based on making money short-term, as opposed to long-term sustainability.”
He added: “Here is the Lighthouse Club at the Tongue of the Ocean, the largest creek system on the island, but several proposals that have been made have only focused on selling real estate and would damage the environment even further.”
Mr Smith told Tribune Business he had submitted an eco-tourism plan for the Lighthouse Club’s development, featuring guest activities such as offshore fishing, bird watching, bonefishing, kayaking and scuba diving.
Disclosing that his negotiations with the Hotel Corporation’s Board had been “going well”, Mr Smith said his business plan also included a strong focus on training Bahamians in the necessary eco-tourism skills.
“When I looked at what I saw, and I’ve been to every island in the Bahamas, I said I’d build an institute on the site to train persons in all areas of eco-tourism,” he explained.
“The Lighthouse Club would serve as a resort where people can apprentice, and those skills could be used in other areas throughout the Bahamas. We can build one resort after the other.”
Expressing confidence in his prospects, Mr Smith said: “I can tell you for a fact. The [Hotel Corporation] has approved it.” A full government sign-off, though, remains.
Pointing out that his father was the first Bahamian to own a bonefishing lodge, Mr Smith said the Bahamas was not following the right development model for its number one industry.
“Here it is. There are thousands of creeks on Andros, and we are just pursuing a development model in tourism that is just about taking the typical model that takes place in different countries and plugging it in without any consideration as to how the local environment is impacted,” Mr Smith told Tribune Business.
He added that Andros marinas were also short of fuel, and said: “Can you imagine how that impacts the local economy and to go deep sea fishing? You have the Lighthouse Club sitting there, the only marina in Central Andros, and there’s not a gallon of fuel.”
Mr Fowler was more guarded when contacted by Tribune Business yesterday, saying: “I don’t want to comment on that because it’s not final.
“Nothing is finalised. We’re just talking. When it’s time, I will sit down and talk to you.”
He confirmed he was part of “a group of Bahamians” seeking to buy the Lighthouse Club.
Mr Fowler was embroiled in a pre-2012 general election controversy, after then-prime minister Hubert Ingraham publicly called his name at an FNM rally as someone he alleged should not be eligible to vote in North Andros.
Mr Fowler, in response, said Mr Ingraham was merely angry with him for switching his political allegiance from the FNM to the PLP. Mr Fowler is now deputy chairman of the Paradise Island Bridge Authority.
The former Ingraham administration had also been trying to sell the Lighthouse Club, which has less than 30 rooms, in a bid to get its annual $500,000 losses off the books of the Hotel Corporation and the Bahamian taxpayer.
It had been working on a deal to sell the property to Illinois-developer, Scheck Industries, which had initially planned to expand the marina to 50 slips and add 10 additional rooms.
The Christie administration, though, appears to have gone in a different direction.