A leading businessman yesterday rounded on the “despicable critics” of Baha Mar’s principals, and said of the $3.5 billion project’s delayed opening: “We are all losers.”
Franklyn Wilson, the Arawak Homes and Sunshine Holdings chairman, slammed hotel union chief, Nicole Martin, for her “reckless and irresponsible” suggestion that Baha Mar had been ‘selling a dream’ it could not deliver.
He instead praised Baha Mar’s chairman and chief executive, Sarkis Izmirlian, for “an exceptional degree of entrepreneurship” to bring the mammoth Cable Beach project to the verge of completion.
Arguing that it “must be heart-wrenching” for Mr Izmirlian to be so close to fulfilling his vision, Mr Wilson called on Bahamians to “not be oblivious” to the financial and emotional impact this was having on his family.
He also pointed out that many Bahamian-owned retail and restaurant owners were now “in the same boat” as Mr Izmirlian, having already obtained financing and made other arrangements for concessions at Baha Mar that will also not open on the planned date.
Suggesting that the plight of these Bahamian entrepreneurs had been forgotten amid the dispute between Baha Mar and its Chinese state-owned contractor, Mr Wilson still expressed optimism that the impasse had yet to do long-term damage to the Bahamas’ tourism brand.
He based this on the fact there had been no public “screams” or demands by Baha Mar’s high-end hotel brand partners threatening to pull-out if certain deadlines and requirements were not met.
Emphasising that there were “no winners” from the current stand-off at Cable Beach, Mr Wilson told Tribune Business: “Clearly, the delay is not positive for anyone involved with it, whether as an investor, potential employee - any of those roles.
“It’s not a good thing. It’s unfortunate that it has happened. Looking at the various stakeholders, my first thought is for Mr Izmirlian, because he has demonstrated such an exceptional degree of entrepreneurship to bring that project to this stage.
“It must be heart-wrenching to go through this in human terms. All of us should not be totally selfish about this, and be oblivious to what he and his family are going through.”
Mr Wilson then turned on Bahamas Hotel, Catering and Allied Workers Union (BHCAWU) president, Nicole Martin, for her recent criticisms of Baha Mar and its principals in the media.
“I caution, in the strongest possible terms, the critics who are piling on Mr Izmirlian,” Mr Wilson said, referring specifically to Ms Martin.
“It’s just so despicable that any leader in any role would issue a statement such as that. It’s just so reckless and irresponsible.”
His comments echo those of BEC executive chairman, Leslie Miller, who also hammered Ms Martin for the anti-Baha Mar comments made as she nominated again for the union presidency. The union is currently embroiled in a bitter court battle with Baha Mar over the gratuities paid to employees and the latter’s Melia Nassau Beach Hotel.
Acknowledging that Baha Mar’s delayed opening was “a negative” for the economy, and would cause growth forecasts for 2015 (and possibly 2016) to be downgraded, Mr Wilson said Bahamians were also “oblivious” to the impact on their own entrepreneurs.
“There are entrepreneurs with concessions at Baha Mar that have made financial arrangements on the premise that the resort would be open by now, so they’re incurring costs that they didn’t anticipate,” Mr Wilson told Tribune Business.
“Really, there are no winners, and the contractor’s reputation is also taking a hit. Whatever the reasons are, no contractor wants to stay on the job indefinitely.”
That is a reference to China Construction America, which has wanted to use Baha Mar as an example of what it can do to ‘win’ similar contracts in the Western Hemisphere. It, too, has much at stake and much to lose if the situation is not resolved.
“We are all losers,” Mr Wilson said of the Baha Mar delays. “There are no winners. We must hope and pray we get all this behind us.”
Looking for positives, he added that Baha Mar was still paying hundreds of Bahamian workers.
And, having lunched at the resort’s golf shop within the past week, Mr Wilson said the “spectatcular” scenery showed the resort was “almost worth the wait”.
“Rather than use this opportunity to wallow in his tears, he’s using this opportunity to inculcate service among the staff,” he added of Mr Izmirlian.
“The service level of the place, when it opens, may cause people to forget all this.”
Mr Wilson also refuted suggestions that the delayed Baha Mar opening, and hundreds of guest reservation calculations, had inflicted irreparable, long-term harm on the Bahamas’ tourism brand.
“I think these things happen all the time in the hotel business, and people are used to it,” Mr Wilson told Tribune Business.
“One of the most encouraging things through this process is you are not hearing any screams from people like Rosewood, from people like Grand Hyatt.
“If there’s a real issue, you would be hearing from people like them. It’s good and positive so far that we’ve heard nothing like Hyatt saying: ‘This is the deadline, and if you don’t finish by then.....’
“ Companies of that ilk are not pushing any demands or impositions. That’s a good sign.”
China Construction America has admitted ‘slowing down’ the work pace in the key weeks leading up to the planned March 27 opening, due to a payment dispute with Baha Mar.
There are also suggestions that Baha Mar may have exhausted its construction financing credit, and now has to find new funding lines to complete the development.
The impasse has developed into a ‘high stakes’ battle, where the Bahamas and its people rank alongside the Izmirlian family as the greatest losers if a solution is not found quickly. Chinese-Bahamian relations will also likely be impacted.