By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A new sales process has been initiated for the long-closed South Ocean resort, a Cabinet minister yesterday describing the property’s revitalisation as key to the Bahamas achieving higher GDP growth rates.
Khaalis Rolle, minister of state for investments, told Tribune Business that while the Government had received no formal notification, he had been informed efforts to find a buyer for the 383-acre property have revived.
Multiple Tribune Business sources have this week confirmed that South Ocean’s owner, the Canadian Commercial Industry Workers Pension Plan (CCWIPP), has engaged the Miami office of CB Richard Ellis (CBRE), the commercial real estate broker, to restart efforts to find a buyer.
This newspaper was informed that bids are due to be submitted by April 28, with some sources suggesting that “four to five” and “six to seven” offers were likely to be submitted.
Among those said to be interested was the Tavistock Group, the Albany developer and vehicle for worldwide investments by Lyford Cay-based billionaire, Joe Lewis.
However, although Albany’s principals will be eager to influence any development that occurs next to their property, and want it to be of similar standard to their’s, sources familiar with Tavistock’s position yesterday said it was not involved with any South Ocean bid “at this time”.
Mr Rolle yesterday conceded that South Ocean was one of two major resort-based investment projects, together with the former Ginn development in Grand Bahama, that the Christie administration had failed to revive during its 2012-2017 term.
“That’s probably, out of everything we’ve been able to achieve this term, is the only project we’ve not been able to revive; that and Ginn,” the Minister told Tribune Business.
Mr Rolle added that South Ocean “would still be a major priority for the incoming administration after the election” regardless of who won, given that it represented the last available major resort/real estate development parcel on New Providence.
South Ocean is also especially attractive because it holds New Providence’s third casino license, which kicks-in and becomes ‘live’ once the resort reaches a certain number of rooms.
“That is still a very attractive property,” Mr Rolle said of South Ocean, which has been closed since 2004. “You can see why people would be interested in it, but obviously the price has to be right. It’s [South Ocean] a very important part of the completion of the last remaining land parcel.”
The South Ocean property has been closed for 13 years, with its condition likely to have deteriorated significantly over that period.
Mr Rolle, though, argued that South Ocean’s development was critical if the Bahamas was to generate the economic activity and job creation necessary to achieve faster GDP growth.
“It’s very important to the level of GDP growth that the country requires to outpace all the negative economic factors,” he told Tribune Business.
“That would play a key role in positioning us to reach the GDP growth target levels that are necessary for us to be successful.
“South Ocean would be a major component of the tourism plant. When you look at the design, the layout and particularly the casino option, one of our biggest competitors is Vegas. Vegas is known for the casino amenities that exist.”
CCWIPP has initiated several previous sales processes for South Ocean, but all fell through without any purchase of the property being completed.
The last sales process initiated by CBRE came to nothing after CCWIPP rejected two institutional investors in favour of an individual with Bahamas ties.
The pension fund went with Austrian financier Dr Mirko Kovats, who has a home in Lyford Cay and owns other real estate in the South Ocean area, rather than rival bids that included a joint venture between the Albany developers and Och-Ziff, the hedge fund and asset manager with over $40 billion in worldwide assets.#
Och-Ziff would have provided the financing, while Albany’s developers would have provided management, operational and development expertise.
Reviving South Ocean was among the Christie administration’s top investment priorities when it came to office, as the property has long been earmarked as the last mixed-use, integrated resort and real estate development in New Providence. It was supposed to be the third such site, after Paradise Island (Atlantis) and Cable Beach (Baha Mar).
CCWIPP, the pension provider for Canadian supermarket workers, hired the company owned by professional Australian golfer, Greg Norman, to masterplan South Ocean in 2012 after its previous partnership with Roger Stein’s RHS Ventures and Plainfield Asset Management ultimately came to nothing.