By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A Bahamian entrepreneur yesterday said he plans to create the country’s “first 100 percent green resort” through a $7m investment to revive the last Hotel Corporation-owned property.
Burton Rodgers confirmed to Tribune Business that his group has been selected as the preferred purchaser for Andros’s Lighthouse Yacht Club and Marina, and is now working feverishly to close the deal within the next six weeks.
The businessman, who has a history of involvement with boutique Family Island properties, has teamed with some of the investors who worked with him previously to purchase Exuma’s Club Peace & Plenty hotel and other resort deals on that island.
While the group’s plans are still being finalised, Mr Rodgers said they planned to expand the Lighthouse Club “for sure” and increase employment once the hurricane-ravaged property was restored and re-opened.
Pledging to restore the resort to “its old glory”, he added that the group was seeking to exploit Andros’s “eco-friendly environment” through the implementation of renewable energy sources such as solar and biomass.
Mr Rodgers said the resort’s marina and location, especially its proximity to Nassau, meant it will target the domestic - as well as international - tourism market, as he expressed a willingness to work with the Ministry of Tourism and other Andros resorts to “create synergies” and market the entire island.
“My whole thing is to create a green resort; the first 100 percent green resort in The Bahamas,” he told Tribune Business of his plans. “I don’t think there are any. We will use solar, bio fuel; everything that is in progress. It’ll probably be a $7m-$7.5m investment all-in.
“It will be a very niche, boutique property that will be restored to its old glory using the eco-friendly environment of Andros. I’m planning on expanding the property for sure but haven’t finalised the model as yet. The key is to create this tremendous, eco-friendly, awesome resort.”
Mr Rodgers said the still-closed Lighthouse Club could support between 40-50 employees once its existing 20 rooms were restored and re-opened, and staff numbers will grow from there “once the expansion starts”.
Outlining elements of his strategy, he added that the group plans “to take advantage of the marina and location of the property, and its nexus to Nassau, to dabble in domestic tourism and blend domestic and international tourism”.
“We will work with the Ministry of Tourism not just to market the Lighthouse Club but the entire island of Andros,” Mr Rodgers added. “It’s a good opportunity for the island to get that property back up and running.
“It’s a really nice property, great location and nice marina. We will work together and create synergies with surrounding properties. We’ve made some trips to Andros, looking at surrounding businesses, and what we can use to complement the hotel.
“The whole thing is to really redevelop the property, fix the marina, redo the hotel, add some rooms and amenities, and exploit the natural location of Andros.”
Mr Rodgers added that the Lighthouse Club had sustained “significant damage” from Hurricane Matthew’s passage in October 2016, and added: “I didn’t know it was that bad until I toured the property.
“It really got done. The roof is totally gone in the building. Fortunately the structure is still standing strong. We’re almost starting from scratch.”
Michael Scott, the Hotel Corporation’s chairman, confirmed to Tribune Business that Mr Rodgers and his group had been selected as preferred purchasers by the former Board that was headed by now-dissident FNM MP, Frederick McAlpine.
He added that he was now awaiting a signed contract, and payment of a deposit (a portion of the purchase price), by Mr Rodgers and his fellow investors to kick-start the process of closing the deal.
“They were the approved and designated purchaser by the Board before me,” Mr Scott said. “I’m waiting for a signed contract and a deposit cheque. I’m waiting for Mr Burton Rodgers to come back to me with everything. I live in fond expectation that that will occur imminently.”
Mr Rodgers yesterday said his group was aiming to close the purchase by end-January 2019 if not before, while confirming that their offer has been accepted by the Hotel Corporation.
“We haven’t officially closed on it,” he told Tribune Business. “We’ve finalised an agreement with the Government. Everything has been approved and they’ve accepted our offer. It’s just getting all the paperwork in. That process is happening now.
“We’re looking forward to finalising the deal, hopefully if not before the end of this month, we will get it done before the end of next month. We’re trying to get all the documents and everything straight, all the legal stuff finalised, and have it closed pretty soon.”
The Lighthouse Club’s sale would have completed the Government’s 26-year bid to completely exit ownership involvement in the Bahamian hotel industry until, that is, it paid $65m to acquire Freeport’s Grand Lucayan resort back in September.
Numerous attempts to sell the 20-room Lighthouse Club, whose amenities include a 30-slip marina, pool and tennis court on 11 acres of beachfront land, have been made before with little 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 some $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 $15m 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 Minnis administration offering the assets on an ‘as is’ basis when it began marketing the Lighthouse Club for sale in September 2017.
Mr McAlpine, the former Hotel Corporation chairman, told Tribune Business earlier this year that it had managed to save taxpayers some $250,000 by terminating the Lighthouse Club’s 20-plus staff and paying them due severance after the Christie administration kept them on despite the hotel being closed.