By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A Bahamian resort developer yesterday said that together with a proposed Four Seasons property nearby, they would “exceed South Eleuthera’s glory days” that were experienced under Pan-Am founder Juan Tripp.
Franklyn Wilson, Cotton Bay Developers’ chairman, said the signing of a preliminary management/branding agreement with Noble House Hotels and Resorts would create a destination “above high end”.
Disclosing that the developers had invested “over $80 million” to-date in developing Cotton Bay, Mr Wilson said Noble House was especially suited to the property because it was a chain of niche, boutique hotels.
He added that its room rates were “comparable, if not greater” than those at the One & Only Ocean Club on Paradise Island.
Mr Wilson was responding to Tribune Business inquiries after Prime Minister Perry Christie revealed during the 2014-2015 Budget presentation that the developers had signed a management agreement with Noble House.
The Prime Minister added that the developers were renovating the existing clubhouse, with a restaurant, pool area, spa and amenities; renovating 24 oceanfront villas and constructing an 18-hole Tom Fazio golf course.
Mr Wilson said the developers had been focused on getting Cotton Bay to a point where it was ready to be “launched” to the world market.
“It’s for that reason we have not been saying very much about what we have been doing,” he explained to Tribune Business. “Our approach is to get it done, keep our mouths shut and at the appropriate time we will expose it to the world.
“The Prime Minister puts us in a position where it’s appropriate for us to confirm we have a Letter of Intent signed with Noble House. That is particularly significant because Noble House is a chain of boutique properties that is particularly suited to what we are doing.”
Mr Wilson added: “They’re very high-end, and one of the best known properties in Florida is their Little Palm Island. Conde Naste rated it the best hotel in Florida.
“The average room rate at Little Palm Island are comparable, if not in excess, of the Ocean Club. That gives you some sense of where we’re pitching this.”
Noble House is not confining itself to merely being an operator, but will invest in Cotton Bay, Mr Wilson confirming: “They’re bringing capital as well.”
He added that Noble House’s chairman had himself visited Cotton Bay six times, the last one being on his private yacht accompanied by personal friends - his involvement a further encouraging sign.
Mr Wilson said a Noble House-branded Cotton Bay would complement plans for a nearby Four Seasons-branded resort that will be developed by Colombian banker Luis Carlos Sarmiento, one of the South American nation’s richest, if not the richest, man.
The Bahamas has been waiting for over a decade for Mr Sarmiento and his companies to get active on their Eleuthera landholdings, and it now appears something may be about to happen.
Mr Christie told the House of Assembly during his Budget presentation: “My office is currently reviewing the final draft of Heads of Agreement, for consideration by the Government, of a $100 million investment for the construction of an upscale Four Seasons Resort in South Eleuthera near the settlement of Greencastle and Wemyss Bight.
“Phase 1 of the resort will include a luxury resort hotel of approximately 115 rooms; a residential subdivision comprising 40 cottages, which will be used as part of the hotel rental pool; the renovation and re-opening of the Cotton Bay Golf Course and Golf Club; a spa, restaurants, bars, communal shopping area, retail spaces; recreation and activity facilities and employee housing.
“Phase II will provide for further expansion. It is projected that approximately 150 construction jobs and some 250 permanent jobs will be created in the Phase I. It is expected that construction would commence during 2015.”
With a Noble House property and Four Seasons next door to each other, Mr Wilson told Tribune Business yesterday: “With these two in place, it’s a totally different ball game. The combination will be pretty transformative. That doesn’t exist anywhere else in the Bahamas.”
He said the closest comparison would be a Four Seasons property immediately adjacent to the One & Only Ocean Club on Paradise Island, not as far apart as the latter is from Atlantis.
Declining to reveal the launch timetable for the Cotton Bay project, Mr Wilson said it was now 30 years since talks to acquire the property first began, with the deal closing in 1987.
“Everybody we have taken to Cotton bay has said we have not messed it up, and we always said that as long as we don’t mess up, we can’t lose,” he told Tribune Business. “We’re going to build a very special place.
“The glory days of the South Eleuthera economy were, for a generation, the days of Juan Tripp when Cotton Bay was launched. The combination of what is happening today with Cotton Bay and Four Seasons will exceed that.”