By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
THE Bahamian Contractors Association (BCA) president yesterday backed the Government’s plan to purchase the shuttered Grand Lucayan resort, telling Tribune Business the property’s revival would create “hundreds” of local construction jobs and mark the “single biggest success” for the Minnis administration.
Leonard Sands told Tribune Business that with the necessary renovations and the right marketing strategy, he believes Freeport’s still closed “anchor” resort property can be successful.
Prime Minnis Dr Hubert Minnis told the media over the weekend his administration is intent on buying the Grand Lucayan resort, with a detailed address explaining the Government’s decision to be given later this week. Dr Minnis warned that 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.
Mr Sands said he shared the Prime Minister’s sentiments, telling this newspaper he is “excited” over what the hotel’s revival could mean for Grand Bahama and the construction sector.
“A lot of the things Dr Minnis is talking about relative to Grand Bahama are supported by construction. If the government, like the Prime Minister has indicated are going to make the move to purchase the hotel, they are also going to have to make the necessary renovations to the hotel. That means there has to be work for Bahamian contractors and that is a very good thing from the BCA’s standpoint. Construction activity has been very slow on Grand Bahama for all the reasons that we recognise. A renovation project of that magnitude would provide construction jobs in the hundreds,” said Mr Sands.
He continued: “No matter what the naysayers say, when you spend money on the ground in construction it touches ten people. For every employee or worker in construction, nine other persons is feeling that dollar. I’m really excited about the position the Prime Minister has taken to engage in doing what is necessary in buying the hotel.”
Opposition leader Philip “Brave” Davis has slammed the government’s decision to purchase the resort, insisting it will be too costly for the government to own and operate a hotel that wasn’t making a profit even before it was shut down. Former Prime Minister and former leader of the Free National Movement has also criticised the move, arguing 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.
Mr Sands told Tribune Business: “I hear the naysayers talking about the hotel not being successful but we don’t know what the failed marketing strategies were. I encourage the government to look for world class successful operators to market the property and attract the kind of business it can handle. We keep talking about what didn’t work but why not look at what worked. Atlantis and Baha Mar and Sandals are not the only successful hotels. There are hundreds of thousands of boutique branded hotels all around the world who have their marketing so structured that they can attract people from far and wide. I believe the Grand Lucayan presents an opportunity for the government to achieve the very same thing.”
Mr Sands added: “That’s already a beautiful property. It’s a magnificent property in need of repair. If the hotel is purchased, renovated, and marketed properly, I believe this could be the single biggest success for the Minnis administration. I say go for it.”
Earlier this month, Paul Wynn, the Wynn Group’s chief executive confirmed he had backed out of plans to purchase the Grand Lucayan, telling Tribune Business he “feels much more comfortable investing” $200m in Nassau than seeking “massive subsidies” to make that deal work.
Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar previously stated the government felt that the Wynn Group was asking for too much in concessions to move forward with a deal to purchase the property. Mr Wynn has argued however 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.
Putting the Grand Lucayan and Freeport behind him, the Wynn Group chief said he was focusing his Bahamian investment interests solely on New Providence. Apart from the $120m GoldWynn project, upon which he hopes to break ground by September 1 once final permits are obtained, Mr Wynn said he was eyeing two other potential projects.