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‘Two To Three Weeks’ Left To Save Freeport

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

The Grand Lucayan must be sold within “the next two-three weeks to save” Freeport as a tourist destination and its upcoming winter season, a leading resort executive warned yesterday.

Magnus Alnebeck, Pelican Bay’s managing director, told Tribune Business it was “now crunch time” for resolving the Grand Lucayan’s fate and Freeport’s tourism future.

He said its nine-month closure post-Matthew, and the loss of Memories, had been an “absolute disaster”, and warned that Grand Bahama “as a [stopover] tourist destination will probably not survive” unless the Lucayan strip quickly re-opens.

Mr Alnebeck said that while Pelican Bay was currently full, its customer base relied more on business travellers and persons who “have a reason” to visit the island.

He expressed concern that the lack of room inventory, with more than 1,000 rooms or 59 per cent of Grand Bahama’s capacity currently off-line, would ultimately impact his property because airlines would have less reason to service the island.

Mr Alnebeck said Freeport needed “at least 4,000 hotel rooms” to be regarded as a tourism destination, yet it currently has just 500 that are available - one-eighth, or just 12.5 per cent, of what is required.

“The reality is that we are doing well in the short-term,” he told Tribune Business of Pelican Bay, “but for the destination it’s an absolute disaster.

“If the [Lucayan] strip doesn’t open again, Grand Bahama as a tourist destination will probably not survive. If it doesn’t open up, the destination will not survive.”

Mr Alnebeck gave full support to the views of Freeport-based attorneys, Terence Gape and Carey Leonard, both of whom have warned that the Bahamas’ second city is facing an economic crisis unless the Grand Lucayan’s re-opening - and possible sale - are resolved soon.

“It’s crunch time now,” the Pelican Bay chief told this newspaper. “Terry Gape was quoted, and Carey Leonard was quoted. I can only say that their description of the situation is spot on.

“I think that if parts of the Grand Lucayan are not open by the winter season - unless something is open by the winter season - it’s going to be very hard to turn around.

“In the next two to three weeks, there needs to be a sale [of the Grand Lucayan] to be able to save this.”

Kwasi Thompson, minister of state for Grand Bahama, who appears to be the Government’s ‘point person’ on the Grand Lucayan situation, told Tribune Business on Tuesday that the Minnis administration felt it was “almost there” in resolving the resort’s fate.

While he declined to go into specifics, high-level government sources had previously told Tribune Business that the Wynn Group, the Toronto-based developer that is among the Grand Lucayan’s potential purchasers, submitted a proposed ‘Heads of Agreement’ to the Minnis administration last week.

Tribune Business contacts familiar with the Grand Lucayan situation were yesterday less optimistic than Mr Thompson, though, suggesting that Wynn had yet to sign a sales contract with the resort’s current owner, Hutchison Whampoa’s property arm.

Mr Alnebeck, placing the situation in context, told this newspaper: “For the national economy, I think this is more important than Baha Mar, but you’ve already used that headline.

“Freeport is not like Nassau. We’re not afraid of being robbed. We’re used to social infrastructure that works, and if we don’t a big part of that hotel open we’re going to have a tumultuous winter.”

Mr Alnebeck said that while Pelican Bay would be “fine in the short-term”, it would ultimately suffer like all resorts and tourism-related businesses if Freeport lost its standing as a visitor destination.

He added that the resort would only cater to the likes of Grand Bahama Shipyard workers and employees at the island’s other industrial companies, pointing to the negative impact reduced hotel capacity has on airlift.

“At the most we have 500 rooms open,” the Pelican Bay chief told Tribune Business of Freeport’s total inventory. “What airlift can you keep on, having just 500 hotel rooms open?

“We need a destination that has at least 4,000 hotel rooms. If not, it just doesn’t work.”

Mr Alnebeck said Cheung Kong Property Holdings, the Grand Lucayan’s current owner, had done little to nothing to repair the property and re-open in the nine months since Hurricane Matthew’s early October 2016 passage.

He praised the Minnis administration for seemingly understanding the situation’s urgency for Freeport and its people, but added: “The question is: What can they do very quickly?

“They have tried during six weeks in office to get it back on track, but we have to keep on keeping their feet to the fire.”

The near nine-month closure of the Grand Lucayan’s Breaker’s Cay property, and much of the Lighthouse Pointe section, together with Memories subsequent pull-out and loss of hundreds of jobs, has had a devastating effect on Freeport’s economy and society. Some are predicting that the city will hit “the point of no return” if the Grand Lucayan is not sold and re-opened by Christmas.

And several Port Lucaya Marketplace vendors have predicted that 95 per cent of tenants “will not survive another two months”, given their dependency on a resort customer base that has all but dried up.

Many observers believe the Grand Lucayan’s re-opening should be the Minnis administration’s leading national economic priority, given that the situation has the potential to derail its long-term plans for Grand Bahama if it persists much longer.

The new government has placed Grand Bahama at the centre of its economic revival strategy, with plans to market the island to three separate tourism niches, plus attract the film/TV industry and financial services.

This, though, will all be for nought unless the current decline is arrested.

Comments

Economist 2 years, 3 months ago

The government has to get tough with Hutchison.

Government, don't let Hutchison promises swing you into doing something that all Bahamians will pay for later. That is why the PLP messed up so badly in Grand Bahama.

If you don't want to voted out in a couple of years you must be tough now.

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birdiestrachan 2 years, 3 months ago

There has to be a sale. But I am sure there has to be repairs. But the Tourism Minister said GB will be a sports destination where the is no hotel rooms and a great big sports center in Nassau. How dim can he be?

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BMW 2 years, 3 months ago

Hutchison needs to be told sell now!

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proudloudandfnm 2 years, 3 months ago

We just got word that Lighthouse Point will be closing due to lack of air conditioning and severe mold. Had two guests in my store yesterday telling me they had to sleep on the beach.

Let me say that again. Tourists are having to SLEEP ON THE BEACH.

The women who were here for that christian conference also confirmed to me that they had no AC in their rooms.

Freeport is done. This place has hit rock bottom. I don't care what Peter Turnquest says. Freeport is most definitely at rock bottom....

Minister D'Aguilar tourists are sleeping on the beach. Its time you guys did something. Freeport has no more time to give you..

Hutchison does not care. The Haywards and St. George families are making too much money off of you and they don't care. Government is clueless.

Nothing will save Freeport...

I'm taking my family out of this country. No way I'm going down with this sinking ship...

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trae2013 2 years, 3 months ago

We have already reach the "point of no return" just after the New Year. The Grand Lucayan sale has been discussed to death just like the Port Authority family feud. Freeport, in fact Grand Bahama, has been on life support so long that pulling the plug would be a mercy killing right now. Rebuilding means destroying and changing everything that Grand Bahamians are use to which can be hard to swallow but to keep up with the world this has to be done. Hurricane Matthew was a death blow to Grand Bahama - finishing the work done previously by Hurricanes Frances, Jeanne and Wilma. Grand Bahama is like a phoenix waiting for the fire to be lit but time has run out all parties if nothing done soon. Grand Bahamians are deserting the island due to lack of jobs. Depopulation is a reality for the island. We are no longer the 2nd city or Magic city, we have become a Family island. The ship has sunk due to neglect by all powers - government & Port Authority

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proudloudandfnm 2 years, 3 months ago

By the way. This is month 10. Not 9.

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The_Oracle 2 years, 3 months ago

Hutchinson could buy the National debt with one years global Net Profit. While the Government has said they will repeal or replace the Dis-Incentive act that Gave Hutchinson and the port a 20 year blanket exemption, they are still advising the registration period has been extended to Jan 2018 for Licensees. So which is it? Repealed or continued? We know the PLP were going to cherry pick beneficiaries and penalize the rest. It is the Port that needs targeting. I say repeal it, the Port shareholders will crap themselves, Hutchinson won't care or pay it. Licensees in good standing aught to be granted the exemption in 5 year increments. No political meandering or sucking up to the Port. Grow a set and keep the Port at arms length and turn up the heat. Don't be satisfied with a few computers given to a government school, hold them to their mandate, their obligations, their responsibilities. That would be a first since Wallace Groves rolled out.......

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proudloudandfnm 2 years, 3 months ago

The GBPA is useless. Time for Freeoort to stop paying that shit company and getting zero return. The GBPA must either be held to its responsibilities or disbanded and closed down. The GBPA and Hutchison are Freeport's biggest problems...

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