By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Baha Mar’s new owner was last night silent on revelations by the Rosewood hotel brand that the opening for its 200-room resort has seemingly been pushed back to Spring 2018.
Rosewood, which is itself owned by prospective Baha Mar purchaser, Chow Tai Fook Enterprises (CTFE), announced its opening date via an official press release published on February 28.
“Rosewood Hotels & Resorts has been appointed by the Bahamian subsidiary of Hong Kong-based development company, Chow Tai Fook Enterprises (CTFE), to operate and manage Rosewood Baha Mar in Nassau, Bahamas, which will open in Spring 2018,” the resort brand’s opening statement said.
This indicates that Rosewood’s opening has been pushed back, as the Bahamas Business Outlook presentation in January by Graeme Davis, CTFE’s top Bahamas-based executive, showed both its hotel and the SLS Lux would be completed in time for Baha Mar’s ‘grand opening’ in November/December 2017. Travel news websites also previously cited this date for Rosewood opening.
Robert Sands, Baha Mar’s senior vice-president of government and external affairs, told Tribune Business that Mr Davis was in New York yesterday to meet with Rosewood.
Confirming that he was aware of the Rosewood release, Mr Sands asked for this newspaper to submit e-mailed questions to him, which were forwarded to Mr Davis. However, no response was received by Tribune Business before press time last night.
The Rosewood media release raises numerous questions, not least of which is whether Baha Mar’s full construction completion date has been pushed back several months, and if this stems from concerns over the pace at which its main contractor, China Construction America (CCA), is moving.
CCA’s failure to complete Baha Mar on time, and on budget, was cited as the primary reason why the project’s original developer, Sarkis Izmirlian, was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection - sparking a near two-year legal and restructuring battle that ultimately led to CTFE becoming the new owner.
SLS told Travel Weekly that its Baha Mar-based property was still on track to open in November, and Rosewood’s press release indicates that it has signed a management/operator agreement with its CTFE affiliate to brand the resort.
“Rosewood Hotels & Resorts has had a relationship with Baha Mar since 2011, and we are truly excited to re-engage as the operator of Baha Mar’s luxury resort through our partnership with CTFE, Baha Mar Resort’s new owner,” said Sonia Cheng, chief executive of Rosewood Hotel Group.
“We are fully committed to this project and look forward to raising our flag in The Bahamas as originally planned.”
The opening push back may simply be designed to give Rosewood enough time to ensure that the property meets all its brand specifications, quality and service requirements.
However, in the absence of further explanation from CTFE/Baha Mar, the move ignited renewed speculation and concern that has been ever-present amid the absence of concrete details surrounding the $3.5 billion property’s sale and purchase.
Branville McCartney, the Democratic National Alliance’s (DNA) leader, jokingly questioned “what response or gesture the Prime Minister gave to Rosewood upon hearing this”.
Striking a more serious tone, the DNA leader said Rosewood’s announcement was simply the latest bout if uncertainty to surround a Baha Mar opening date, given that so many had been missed previously.
Mr McCartney said the hotel brand’s release also raised questions around the April 21 ‘soft opening’ for Baha Mar, now just 50 days away, which is supposed to see 1,500 Bahamians employed at its casino and casino hotel, convention centre and convention hotel, and golf course.
“We’re still very much up in the air with this Rosewood statement about opening in Spring 2018, which is March/April next year,” Mr McCartney told Tribune Business.
“It again begs the question as to there being a soft opening, given that the ownership aspect has not been determined, the construction is not completed and there being no marketing.”
CTFE, which has signed an agreement to purchase Baha Mar from its secured creditor, the China Export-Import Bank, will not close the acquisition until CCA has completed construction of the property - a sensible move on its part, given the history with the project’s contractor.
Mr McCartney, though, said the Rosewood announcement again showed that the April 21 ‘soft opening’ was nothing more than a ‘thank you’ to the Christie administration for helping the Chinese to get rid of Mr Izmirlian by boosting its re-election chances.
“It goes back to the facade of this opening on April 21,” the DNA leader said. “It is what it is: A facade, a political tool being used by the desperate PLP. There are jobs, but no significant impact to the economy.”
K P Turnquest, the FNM’s deputy leader, described the Rosewood statement as “unfortunate news”, but said Baha Mar’s full economic impact had not been projected to come through until 2018 anyway.
He added, though, that the delayed opening meant delayed opportunities for Bahamians, adding: “It’s disappointing that it’s not all going to be open at the projected date.”
Mr Turnquest said the Rosewood situation would also delay tax revenue benefits for the Government at a time when it needed every cent possible, given the $314.2 million half-year deficit.
Rosewood’s Baha Mar property will feature 185 rooms and five beachfront villas. The amenities will include four signature dining venues, including Commonwealth, a farm-to-table restaurant that will include a private Rum Room for exclusive, island-style dinners.
The other options are the Pool Grille; Bar Riva; and the Library Lounge, the latter of which will feature Bahamian-style afternoon tea and unique tea cocktails.
Recreational facilities will include a spa, salon, barber shop, fitness centre, two private swimming pools and luxury cabanas.
Eight meeting and event spaces include a 4,950 square foot ballroom, boardrooms, private dining room and two al fresco event areas.