By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Baha Mar’s new owner yesterday pledged that it would be “a great caretaker” for the project, and said it was “very confident” it would meet the April 2017 opening deadline.
Graeme Davis, president of Chow Tai Fook Enterprises (CTFE) Bahamian subsidiary, told Tribune Business that it was working “very closely” with Baha Mar’s receivers and secured creditor, plus the contractor, to ensure the development is completed on schedule.
“We’re certainly working closely with the Export-Import Bank on a phased turnover of the project,” Mr Davis told this newspaper. “The next step is to get the project open by April 2017.
“We’re certainly very confident, and have a very good working relationship with China Construction America (CCA), the Export-Import Bank and the receivers. Everyone is certainly working very diligently to meet those deadlines.”
Mr Davis confirmed that CTFE, the Hong Kong-headquartered conglomerate owned by the Cheng family, would first seek to complete and open Baha Mar’s convention centre and golf course.
Both these facilities are largely completed already, and require minimal work to ready them, with CTFE and its construction/creditor partners then focusing on the casino and casino hotel.
However, one source familiar with the latest developments at Baha Mar suggested that meeting the latest construction and opening deadlines for the project remained “the elephant in the room”.
CCA has been retained as general contractor, charged with overseeing the completion, despite accusations from Baha Mar’s original developer, Sarkis Izmirlian, that the Chinese state-owned firm should shoulder most of the blame for the project’s previous demise.
CCA missed two completion deadlines, in December 2014 and March 2015, and its failure to complete on-time and on budget ultimately led to Baha Mar’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection filing and an acrimonious legal battle, which has stalled the project’s completion for the best part of two years.
Now, CTFE and the China Export-Import Bank are counting on history not repeating itself, even though Prime Minister Perry Christie last year said a $600 million investment was necessary to complete and open Baha Mar.
That price tag will only have risen since, due to a combination of Hurricane Matthew and Baha Mar largely sitting empty, something that according to Justice Ian Winder was causing its value to depreciate by $60 million a month.
However, due to CTFE’s phased opening plan, CCA will be able to concentrate on just getting a section of Baha Mar ready, Prime Minister Perry Christie having told stakeholders that 700-800 rooms are being targeted for the March/April opening.
Still, CCA will have to meet more completion and opening targets if it is to meet the goals of both CTFE and the Government.
Mr Davis confirmed that the new owner plans to start recruitment of Baha Mar’s first 1,500 employees, who will largely be engaged for the casino, early in the 2017 New Year.
And Prime Minister Perry Christie, in addressing the Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) recently, said CTFE planned to open 1,800 rooms at the casino and conference hotels during the 2017 second quarter.
“This is to facilitate the phased opening of 1,800 rooms at the conference and casino hotel, the casino, convention centre and golf course, and employment of up to 3,300 by August of 2017; 4,300 by December 2017,” Mr Christie said then.
Mr Davis, meanwhile, pledged that CTFE saw its Baha Mar purchase as “a long-term investment” that complemented its global growth plans and fitted well with its other multi-billion dollar integrated resort development interests.
He said CTFE aimed to “unlock the value” that has been created by the Cable Beach-based project, praising the “excellent vision” that the original developer, Mr Izmirlian, had for the benefit of the Bahamian people.
“We believe strongly that the previous developer had an excellent vision for the Bahamian people and to build an incredibly iconic destination resort that creates significant job creation, and creates economic value for the island,” Mr Davis told Tribune Business.
“We have global resources, and have the expertise as a global diversified conglomerate that owns and operates in the hospitality industry, that owns and operates large integrated resort developments, larger than Baha Mar....
“That gives us the depth of expertise that the Bahamian people can feel confident we’ll be a great caretaker and future developer that will create more growth and development for the Bahamas.”
Mr Davis said CTFE’s business interests, apart from its $10 billion publicly-listed New World Development Company, also include shopping malls, department stores, and aircraft leasing.
It also owns NWS Holdings, a $6 billion infrastructure and transportation company, plus the $8 billion Chow Tai Fook Jewellery Group.