By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
MEMBER of Parliament for Central Grand Bahama Iram Lewis said yesterday Grand Bahama has to be viewed "as a special needs case" by the government and the Grand Bahama Port Authority.
"Business, as usual, does not exist in Grand Bahama presently and more than likely will not for some time to come. Thought must be given and a concerted effort must be made in order to jumpstart Grand Bahama's economy," he said.
Mr Lewis noted the trending topic in The Bahamas, particularly Grand Bahama, is the government's decision to purchase the Grand Lucayan resort.
He said the hotel purchase is a key factor in the restoration of Grand Bahama, but believes it alone will not fix the island's economy.
Mr Lewis said that socio-economic projects need to be part of the mandate for Grand Bahama holistically.
"In order for Grand Bahama to truly take advantage of all the available opportunities, we, the citizens, along with the government of the Bahamas and the Grand Bahama Port Authority have to look at Grand Bahama holistically and create sustainable solutions," he said.
"If asked am I in agreement with the government's decision to purchase the Grand Lucayan resort, my answer would be yes. Do I believe this will fix the Grand Bahama economy? No, not by a long shot. However, it is a key component in bringing about the restoration of the island."
Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis and his Cabinet are due to be in Grand Bahama today to tour the Grand Lucayan property.
Press secretary Anthony Newbold said yesterday the trip will allow the government to get a first hand look at the problems on the ground.
"Let me talk about Grand Bahama," Mr Newbold said at his weekly press briefing.
"The prime minister is going to take his entire Cabinet to Grand Bahama and the idea is to view first hand what is happening on the ground.. so all of these ministers... can have first hand knowledge of what is happening down there. They will have an opportunity to inspect the property, they will also have an opportunity to speak to the staff at Lighthouse Point.
"They will also speak with the vendors in the area, again, speaking to the people on the ground. They know when they sit in that Cabinet room and make a decision, these are the people they are thinking about. The delegation travelling will also include some staffing from the Attorney General's Office. In fact the permanent secretary there, Mr Marco Rolle, is going to be part of that team. Again, we're talking about the government saying to the people of Grand Bahama look, we got you. We are concerned about what's happening and this is another example of how serious we take what's going on down there."
The government's decision to purchase the hotel has been met with mixed views.
Mr Lewis, who supports the government's decision, said the hotel's closure would further affect the people of Grand Bahama.
"The decision is by no means an easy one. However, a decision has to be made. And as we have seen with the Royal Oasis Resort, we cannot allow the Grand Lucayan to fall into a state of disrepair," he said.
Royal Oasis closed after hurricanes ripped through the island in 2004.
The MP believes that same operation model of the Bahamas Princess Resort should be adopted at the Grand Lucayan.
It was "one of the best examples of a successful Grand Bahamian resort operation" and was "an economic anchor in Grand Bahama," he stated.
Mr Lewis gave several important factors that must be considered when purchasing the hotel in Lucaya.
He said that once the hotel is purchased, he thinks an immediate renovation of the resort must be done to make it fully operational.
"The government will then assume the added cost of the day-to-day operations of the resort as well as paying salaries, insurances, etc. This additional costs will possibly exceed the cost of the purchase based on the length of time the government remains in ownership of the resort," according to Mr Lewis.
He said that proper management and branding is important. He said that the casino must be branded by an operator with the ability to attract their own players as well as manage and operate one of the hotel properties in order to facilitate their own guests.
"One of the things that made that Princess Casino a success was the Princess Towers and its ability to provide rooms for their players without having to buy their rooms from another entity," he explained.
He stated that government must strive to recoup all monies spent on deciding to sell the resort and find buyer that has the capacity to carry its own weight and pay its own bills.
Former successive governments have contributed millions annually in subsidies to the hotel.
Mr Lewis noted that proper airlift would be needed, and said that international carrier Sunwing and other carriers would be necessary. He also suggested that Bahamasair could also serve as a junket similar to how the Princess used Laker Airways.