By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A trade union leader has expressed "110 per cent confidence" in the Minnis administration's ability to resolve the year-long Grand Lucayan impasse.
Michelle Dorsett, whose Commonwealth Union of Hotel Services and Allied Workers represents the resort's line staff, told Tribune Business she was optimistic that the Government would "secure and protect" the interests of remaining Grand Lucayan workers.
Speaking after a recent meeting between the union and Dion Foulkes, minister of labour, Ms Dorsett said: "The meeting was very successful with the Minister. He spoke about the process they are going through; it takes time, and the Government will do their level best to secure and protect the workers.
"The whole thing about Grand Bahama is that this is the major hotel, and we have all the confidence that the Grand Lucayan will come back again with different people [owners] and that it will be successful moving forward."
Ms Dorsett said she was unable to reveal specifics on the union's discussion with Mr Foulkes, but added: "Apparently they [the Government] have reached some agreement with Hutchison, and very soon they will be moving on that.
"There was no timeframe given. They're going to be renovating one property at a time in short order; no time has been set as yet. They're meeting with a few people, and negotiations are ongoing. I can't put who they are on the table, but they are in the business [hotel] field."
Ms Dorsett indicated, though, that Memories, a previous operator at Grand Lucayan, was not part of the deal being put together by the Government.
However, she told Tribune Business: "Honestly speaking, I am 110 per cent confident with this government, with this prime minister, the deputy prime minister and minister of labour that they will be very successful in moving forward with the Grand Lucayan."
Many Grand Bahama and Freeport residents, though, are likely to question Ms Dorsett's optimism given the seeming lack of progress in renovating and reopening the Grand Lucayan's two shuttered resorts as the first anniversary of their Hurricane Matthew-induced closure approaches this week.
The August timeline set by Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis for repairs to begin on Freeport's 'anchor' hotel property has come and gone, and residents are becoming increasingly anxious about the silence surrounding the Government's efforts to craft a purchase in which it would take a part-ownership stake.
The Grand Lucayan's closure to-date has resulted in the loss of 1,000-plus jobs; 59 per cent of Grand Bahama's hotel room inventory; and business closures and redundancies in the Port Lucaya Marketplace. Many have warned that Freeport's tourism sector may never recover if the property does not open for at least part of the 2017-2018 winter season.
The failure by the Grand Lucayan's owner, Cheung Kong Property Holdings, to repair the Grand Lucayan in Matthew's wake resulted in the departure of Memories, the Sunwing-affiliated hotel brand, which brought in the majority of the island's visitors.
Many observers believe the Grand Lucayan's ongoing closure, together with the three-month loss of the Grand Celebration cruise ship on hurricane relief duty in the southern Caribbean, have brought Grand Bahama's economy to a 'rock bottom' position.
Tribune Business previously revealed that the Government was talking to both Memories/Sunwing, and Peter Hunt, the Port Lucaya Marketplace's owner, as it attempted to put together a consortium to acquire the Grand Lucayan and give itself an exit route.
It is aiming to avoid a repeat of previous failures and create a destination experience, and focused on curing the underlying structural problems that have undermined the resort and Grand Bahama's wider tourism/hotel product. This is to ensure the Government can rapidly 'exit' its temporary ownership and "not face another quagmire in five years".
Tribune Business's contacts recently confirmed that the strategy still involves creating a destination product along the lines of an Atlantis and Baha Mar, combining hotel, retail, cruise, marina and other associated resort amenities and attractions into one.
One well-placed source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Tribune Business that the private sector group had yet to be firmed up or become solid, amid some concerns about the involvement of an all-inclusive operator such as Memories.
"The Government is acquiring the property, and will then make sure we have a competent group of investors involved - some well known operators and brands - in the ownership and operation," the source said.
"The basis of it has been agreed; it's a matter of finalising the details and getting the right people involved. These people are standing by ready to participate. We have to get something that jump starts the whole process, and then begin to put in place the elements to make it work."
They added: "The Government doesn't get involved, we were before with the Hotel Corporation, in the hotel ownership business. The plan is to get Grand Bahama on a very healthy and sustainable footing, rather than subsidise the place for 15 years."