By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Hotel Corporation is moving "to aggressively sell" its last-remaining resort property, and complete the 25-year process to cease Government ownership in the hotel industry.
Dionisio D'Aguilar, minister of tourism, told Tribune Business that the Government was hoping for "an all-cash deal" for the Lighthouse Yacht Club and Marina, having kick-started a formal sales process for the 20-room Andros resort last week.
Bids are due by October 31, and Mr D'Aguilar said the Minnis administration was seeking offers from groups "with the wherewithal" to develop the 11-acre property rather than 'buy and hold'.
"It's always been on the market," the Minister said of the Lighthouse Club, "but now the Hotel Corporation is aggressively trying to sell it. It's the only hotel left.
"It was significantly damaged in Hurricane Matthew, and it's really not the intention of the Government to be in the business of running hotels. The Government is not the best-suited entity to run that hotel, so we're opening it up to whoever's interested in buying it. We'll consider all bids."
A successful sale of the Lighthouse Club would seemingly mark the end of a 25-year process, begun under the first Ingraham administration in 1992, with the sales to Sandals and SuperClubs Breezes, to extricate the Government from the business of hotel ownership.
Mr D'Aguilar, though, replied: "I wouldn't say that too quickly" - seemingly a reference to the fact that the Government may, through the Hotel Corporation, take a partial equity ownership stake in the Grand Lucayan to ensure that property rapidly re-opens for the benefit of Freeport's economy.
"We want to get it income producing, we want to get it employing people," the Minister added of the Lighthouse Club. "We just don't believe the Government should be performing that function.
"We want to sell it as quickly as possible. The quicker it gets sold the people purchasing it can do something with it and get people employed again. A number of parties had approached us previously, and we would hope for an all-cash deal.
"People are interested, wondering what we're going to do with it, and are interested in acquiring it," Mr D'Aguilar continued. "We'd like to sell it to someone who's going to do something with it, and create employment for Andros. The preferred purchaser would be someone with the wherewithal to do something with it, not just buy it and let it sit there."
Numerous attempts to sell the Fresh Creek-based property, which also includes a 30-slip marina, pool and tennis court on 11 acres of beachfront land, have been made before with little seeming success.
The last Ingraham administration was trying to negotiate a sale to Illinois-based Scheck Industries when it left office in May 2012, in a bid to end financial bleeding that was costing the Hotel Corporation $500,000 per year.
Under the proposed agreement with the then-Ingraham administration, land and investment incentives would have been released to Scheck in accordance with "timeframes and milestones for development".
The company had proposed a $15 million investment in the first phase, and construction and full-time jobs of 50-plus, but nothing further was heard of Scheck once the Christie administration took office.
Tribune Business then revealed in 2014 that rival Bahamian-led bids with strong Andros connections were battling to acquire the Lighthouse Club. Prescott Smith, owner of Stafford Creek Lodge, confirmed he was heading one group, while Vanlock Fowler, owner of Nassau-based All Purpose Steel Company, confirmed he was part of another.
Again, though, no deal was closed. The property remains shuttered, with the Matthew-related damage not repaired, resulting in the assets being offered on an 'as is' basis.
Rev Frederick McAlpine, the Hotel Corporation's chairman, told Tribune Business that there was likely "more value in the land" than the buildings at the Lighthouse Club.
"We're interested in selling it to anyone who wants to do something in Andros that will be an economic blessing for the people of Andros," he said. "We're looking for a very quick sale and a reasonable sale."
Both Mr D'Aguilar and Rev McAlpine said a sale closing would not result in the Hotel Corporation's winding-up, as its remaining assets include about 3,200 acres of undeveloped land in Eleuthera, in the area of Winding Bay and Half Sound.
They suggested it would instead be "redefined" as a Tourism Development Corporation, something that has been planned since the 2002-2007 Christie administration.
"We've got some other ideas for the Hotel Corporation once we get out of this business," Mr D'Aguilar told Tribune Business. "We're exploring the idea of a Tourism Development Corporation.
"It has to be fleshed out, and we have to see how it will be constituted and what will be its purpose. We have to think about that and come to a conclusion."
Rev McAlpine added: "I think the future of the Hotel Corporation is to convert ourselves into a Tourism Development Corporation, being able to be a catalyst in the affairs of tourism in the Commonwealth of the Bahamas and trying to bring people to the table and even be a partner in tourism ventures.
"It would also put the Hotel Corporation in a better position to have more teeth to do something and redefine ourselves."