By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Minnis administration is intent on buying the Grand Lucayan resort, despite objections from former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham.
Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said on Saturday he will give a detailed address this week explaining the government’s decision.
Last week Mr Ingraham, former leader of the Free National Movement, became the most prominent critic of the move. In an interview with The Nassau Guardian, he argued that by not meeting face-to-face in Hong Kong with officials of Hutchinson Whampoa, which owns the resort, the administration has not exhausted all options for keeping the development in private hands.
Dr Minnis declined to respond to Mr Ingraham on Saturday.
“I won’t respond to that,” he said.
Instead, he said not getting the property re-opened will unleash a ripple effect that forces the closure of stores, barbershops and other small businesses, in addition to the loss of jobs for 400 people employed by the hotel.
As it acts, a key reference point for the Minnis administration has been the Royal Oasis Resort which closed after Hurricanes Jeanne and Frances hit Grand Bahama in 2004. That affected the International Bazaar, a once bustling Freeport shopping complex the current condition of which is frequently mocked on TripAdvisor and other consumer review websites.
The Grand Lucayan resort, which consists of three properties, has been closed since Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Only the 200-room Lighthouse Point property re-opened in November of that year.
Dr Minnis said: “I think it’s essential for Bahamians especially those in New Providence and through the Family Islands to understand the makeup of the Our Lucaya Hotel. You have about 400 individuals employed there but it’s not the employed individuals that’s the problem here. You also have the Our Lucaya strip and therefore the marketplace that would close. That’s hundreds of jobs. The tour buses would not have anywhere to carry their guests if there are any. The taxis would have problems. The loss of staff from Our Lucaya, the closure of the market place, will have great impact on the supermarket. There would be no persons to purchase from the supermarkets, so subsequently there would be layoffs from the supermarkets. The barbershops would have the same problems, the businesses would close, the beauticians would have the same issues. So it’s not just 400 jobs, we’re looking at the global picture.”
A key FNM policy in the 1990s was selling off government owned hotels; the legacy of such hotels had been waste and mismanagement.
In keeping with his party’s long-held view, Dr Minnis said: “I totally agree government should not be in the business of owning hotel.”
He added: “However, government must look beyond that. Government must look at what will be the impact on Grand Bahama. Do we sit idly and allow Grand Bahama to crash where unemployment will increase dramatically and those individuals would have to come to New Providence where unemployment will subsequently increase? You have to make a decision. “We are one Bahamas. We are supposed to be a family of islands and a family of (a) nation. So families look after each other. It’s our job to protect Grand Bahama and every other island that fall in similar situations. It’s them today and you tomorrow.”
Last week, Mr Ingraham urged the government to buy the Grand Bahama Port Authority rather than the Grand Lucayan.
Asked if he is satisfied that the Port Authority is doing all it can in Freeport, Dr Minnis said “No, I think the port could do a lot more.”
Earlier this month, Paul Wynn, the Wynn Group’s chief executive and the Grand Lucayan’s former prospective buyer, told Tribune Business that Freeport’s anchor property was “not for me” and he “can’t do it”, given that the potential purchase lacked “economic feasibility”.
He argued that any buyer would be seeking the same multi-million dollar taxpayer subsidies that he required to rebuild airlift into Freeport, plus renovate and remediate the existing hotel properties, pegging the latter cost at between $45-$55m.