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By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
THE deal brokered by Prime Minister Perry Christie to secure the additional funding necessary to complete the Baha Mar project would have required an equal capital injection from both resort CEO Sarkis Izmirlian and general contractor China Construction America, according to Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe.
Although he declined to reveal the more “intricate” details of the deal Mr Christie negotiated with Export-Import Bank of China, Mr Wilchcombe expressed optimism that the government was poised to rapidly put the $3.5bn project back on track.
He was responding to reports that under this arrangement, the bank would have extended a loan of $150m on the condition that the developer invested $75m and the contractor $75m.
High among fears over the stalled project are concerns from some observers that a possible foreclosure would see the resort’s land fall into the ownership of the Chinese bank, the project’s largest lender.
Mr Wilchcombe said that although he believed there were specific protections embedded in the existing agreement to mitigate against this, the subject of land ownership was currently being discussed at high-level talks between the government and stakeholders.
He added that while speculation over the stalled project has not yet impacted the country’s brand, there have been some repercussions and his team was monitoring the matter daily.
“The truth is there have been concerns raised and repercussions of sorts, where there are high levels of speculations over the future of Baha Mar that you will have to, after all the legal matters are resolved, we will have to build again.”
He added: “The Bahamas is fortunate to have a brand, and be a brand that has stood the test of time. We’ve been in the tourism industry more than 50 years and we have been able to deliver and be associated with major brand names in the tourism community.
“The Bahamas, the brand, continues to do well and occupancy levels over the (July 4) holiday were great.”
Last week, Mr Christie admitted during a press conference that the government was caught off guard by the bankruptcy filing, which he said came “without notice” on Monday.
Mr Christie said the decision by Baha Mar CEO Sarkis Izmirlian came at a point when his personal intervention with all parties involved led to a substantial agreement on a packaged solution for additional funding by the Export-Import Bank.
This deal was going to ensure that the general contractor, China Construction America, resumed construction at the West Bay Street project and that the mega-resort was completed, Mr Christie said last Tuesday.
He said this is supported by exchange of correspondence “as recently as June 26.”
Yesterday, Mr Wilchcombe said that while it was disappointing that the deal did not go through as planned, it was important to move forward in concert with the developer to achieve the mutual goal of seeing the resort completed and opened in the shortest time possible.
“There is only success in this,” he said, “and that is getting the properties open right now. We all are a bit taken aback by what has taken place, we wish it hadn’t, but it has. We wanted a smooth transitional path to opening, that’s behind us, what’s in front of us is dealing with issues on the table and pushing them aside to get to the next level.
“Mr Christie has ensured that negotiations with necessary authorities are taking place,” Mr Wilchcombe added.
Last Friday, hundreds of Baha Mar employees took to the streets to proclaim their support for the man who gave them a chance in a dismal job market.
Clad in the brand’s logo and blue colours, workers marched from Goodman’s Bay to the mega-resort’s parking lot chanting their affection for Mr Izmirlian.
Meanwhile, attorneys representing the government, the Export-Import Bank and Baha Mar are due in the Supreme Court on Tuesday for the resumption into a hearing into a motion to uphold the resort’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings in the United States.