Prime Minister Perry Christie speaks at yesterday’s signing at the Hilton. Photo/Shawn Hanna
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC) formalised its purchase of the historic British Colonial Hilton and adjoining property yesterday during a deal signing event that marked what government officials believe will be the catalyst for rejuvenating downtown Nassau.
In addition to revealing its elaborate plan to redevelop the downtown area, the CSCEC announced its intention to contribute more than $750 million to the country’s GDP in the next 20 years as part of its overall plans.
The CSCEC is also currently building the $3.5 billion Baha Mar project on Cable Beach, in which it has a $150 million equity stake.
Prime Minister Perry Christie, who was joined by several other top government officials at the event last evening, said: “What has unfolded here today is part of a vision which I had been resolutely pursuing for several years as a strategic component of the redevelopment plan of downtown Nassau and the waterfront into a compelling and iconic tourism residential, cultural, entertainment, business mecca and city centre to be leisurely enjoyed by residents and tourists alike.”
Despite approving the sale of the hotel, however, government officials were unable to tell reporters how much it cost the CSCEC to purchase it from its previous owners, Canadian Commercial Workers Industry Pension Plan and Aubaine Capital.
Mr Christie expressed his confidence that the CSCEC will develop the long vacant property next to the hotel, using it to help construct a luxury hotel and condominium units, a multi-storey garage building with roof-top garden and banquet rooms, a high-end retail shopping and marina village, a restaurant, gym, nightclub and movie theatre.
State Minister for Legal Affairs Damian Gomez told The Big T the total investment of the CSCEC in the area as part of its construction and investment efforts may be in the range of $1 billion.
Mr Christie also promised that the “maximum interest of Bahamian people will be preserved” when it comes to employment, adding that existing Bahamian employees of the establishment will have their jobs secured.
His statement comes as Bahamians continue to be concerned about the number of Bahamians employed as part of CSCEC-led ventures, with the company having mainly used Chinese labourers and material to construct Baha Mar.
“The project will create 250 construction jobs and 500 additional jobs in the amenities and commercial performance area,” Mr Christie said, adding that a public-private sector partnership between the government, the CSCEC and other stakeholders along Bay Street will extend “from Arawak Cay in the west to Potter’s Cay in the east.”
In an interview with The Big T, Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe hailed the sale of the hotel and the impending redevelopment of downtown as something that will have a “significant impact on the tourism product” of this country.
He emphasised that innovations to the area will be distinctly Bahamian.
As rumours of the hotel’s sale to the CSCEC spread on social media yesterday, some Bahamians expressed concern about the growing influence and investments of China in the Bahamas.
Asked for his views about this, Mr Wilchcombe emphasised that the developments will not “destroy any existent relationship”.
“We exist in a global economy,” he said, adding: “The Chinese have one of the best economies in the world.”