By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The $250 million Pointe project’s Chinese developer urged the Government to quickly provide construction approvals just days after Beijing unveiled plans to restrict overseas investments.
Daniel Liu, head of the China Construction America (CCA) entity behind the downtown Nassau project, wrote to the Minnis administration on August 22, 2017, seeking “immediate assistance” for the Pointe’s condominium and marina construction approvals.
The letter, addressed to Desmond Bannister, minister of works, was written just four days after China’s State Council and its top economic planning body placed overseas hotel investments by Chinese companies - and especially state-owned ones such as CCA - in a ‘restricted’ category.
The impact this new strategy will have on both the $4.2 billion Baha Mar project and the Pointe remains unclear, but CCA is clearly eager to obtain the necessary planning and construction approvals to complete its investment.
Mr Liu’s letter, which has been obtained by Tribune Business, refers to a meeting with Mr Bannister on Monday, August 14, to discuss the Pointe’s progress or lack of it.
“We would like to draw attention to two major, open items that require immediate assistance, being condominium piling approval and marina permit/marina construction approval,” the Neworld One Bay Street president wrote.
“We thoroughly enjoyed updating you and the Ministry on our project, and to discuss what is required from the Ministry of Works in order for us to commence the construction (and completion) thereof.”
Mr Bannister confirmed the meeting with the Pointe’s developer to Tribune Business, but indicated that the Government would not be rushed into providing the approvals CCA and its affiliate are seeking.
“We met with CCA about a week and a half ago,” the Minister said. “There were some matters they have to resolve.
“The engineers, planning control people are looking at them, and as soon as they are satisfied about all the issues raised, they will issue the permits. There were some issues that have to be resolved.”
Mr Bannister did not detail the requirements that CCA must satisfy to proceed with the Pointe’s development, although Tribune Business understands that the approval process will require input from both the Town Planning Committee and the Bahamas Environment, Science and Technology ( BEST) Commission.
This newspaper was also informed that Neworld One Bay Street may have fallen behind on payments for the Crown Land seabed lease, although Mr Bannister said he was unable to confirm if this was accurate. Calls to the Pointe’s spokesperson, Leslie Pindling, were not returned before press time.
“We wouldn’t be concerned about payment. We are concerned strictly with technical issues,” Mr Bannister said. “The issues for us are purely technical issues, protecting the Bahamian people and ensuring all the rules are complied with.”
When asked whether Beijing’s new investment directives would impact the Pointe, Baha Mar and other Chinese projects in the Bahamas, the Minister replied: “We didn’t have that discussion.”
He then added: “We don’t anticipate that there are going to be any issues with respect to that. I don’t anticipate there are going to be any difficulties whatsoever.”
The Chinese government’s crackdown on “irrational” overseas investments has created a new element of uncertainty for the Baha Mar and the Pointe projects as efforts are made to progress them towards completion.
Beijing, on August 18, announced a ban on overseas gambling investments by Chinese companies, although it is unclear whether this applies to Chow Tai Fook Enterprises (CTFE) decision to operate Baha Mar’s casino via its Sky Warrior entity.
And hotel investments were placed in the ‘restricted’ category. Some observers believe the changed strategy will not apply to existing investments or projects underway, with both Baha Mar and the Pointe falling into the latter category.
Baha Mar, especially, is at an advanced stage of construction/transaction completion, with the property’s substantial completion date set for October 15. Once achieved, this will trigger completion of the $4.2 billion property’s sale by the China Export-Import Bank to CTFE.
Given that the bank is state-owned, a sale to a privately-owned Hong Kong entity is unlikely to be interrupted or delayed by the new investment policy, as the Beijing government will likely be keen to exit.
The Pointe appears more vulnerable to the change, given that CCA and its parent, China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC), are also state-owned. Again, though, commercial reality would likely dictate the project is unlikely to be left half-finished.
Mr Liu, in his letter to Mr Bannister, reminded the Minnis administration that CCA views the Pointe as a catalyst for downtown Nassau’s wider redevelopment.
“We envision the Pointe to be the catalyst for the downtown [Nassau] rehabilitation project, and invigorating the downtown tourism product,” he wrote. CCA has repeatedly expressed its enthusiasm for assisting with this effort, both financially and in the planning, and has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Jamaica’s government for a similar project involving downtown Kingston.
Mr Liu added that CCA had “compiled an extensive file” setting out “the various stages” of approvals for the Pointe, the government agencies involved and the submission of its drawings.
“We wish to gather all outstanding items, and wish to work to complete this file in the quickest timeframe possible,” he reiterated.
Ground breaking for the Pointe’s latest development phase took place in early March 2017 under the former Christie administration. Once approved, it will include a 100-room, eight storey condominium complex with oceanfront residences, originally due to open in September 2018.
A 150-room branded resort and spa with business centre, dining and retail amenities was scheduled to open in November 2018. Once completed, the Pointe will include a marina and yacht club, 50,000 square feet of retail and office space, restaurants, upscale shopping and entertainment venues, such as a performing arts centre, movie theatre, nightclub and roof top bar.
Some 500 permanent jobs will be created, but completion of this phase has likely now been pushed back into 2019.
The Pointe’s first phase was centred on the parking garage, which now dominates the entrance to downtown Nassau on West Bay Street.