By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Hotel workers "have no fear" over the government's potential Grand Lucayan acquisition, a union leader yesterday saying it will "never allow" the resort's closure.
Michelle Dorsett, president of the Commonwealth Union of Hotel Services and Allied Workers, told Tribune Business that she "never doubted one bit" that the Minnis administration will do whatever it takes to safeguard the resort's employees and businesses that rely on the property.
Describing Freeport's "anchor" property and the surrounding Lucayan strip as "the heart of the island", Ms Dorsett expressed confidence that the government "knows how to deal with business" and will hire the necessary resort brands/management companies to operate the hotel profitably.
The union chief, whose organisation represents Grand Lucayan line staff, added that she was unaware of any plans by Cheung Kong (CK) Property Holdings, the resort's owner, to completely close the resort by September 2018 if no buyer is found.
Reacting to the prime minister's pledge that the government will never allow that to happen, even if it has to acquire the Grand Lucayan itself, Mr Dorsett said: "Honestly, my message never changed about the government.
"I was always optimistic that would happen, as they're in good faith with the workers. I never doubted them; not one bit. We knew they were working in the workers' best interests. The workers have no fear. I always had confidence in the government no matter what."
Expressing similar sentiments to those used by Dr Hubert Minnis in his weekend address, Ms Dorsett argued that the Grand Lucayan's economic importance - and that of the surrounding strip area - meant it could never be allowed to fully close.
"The government will never allow that to happen," she told Tribune Business. "The Lucayan Strip is a strip for the whole island. This is the people's eat and drink. This is what people live on; the key for the island. It's the heart of the island. This is the major strip, the major hotel in Grand Bahama.
"With this administration, they know how to deal with business. Hopefully they're going to bring in people to manage the property properly. We need business people to manage it properly and professionally. It's a beautiful establishment. Once they get the right people in the place will be booming."
Not all Freeport residents were as enthused yesterday about the prime minister's confirmation that the government will, if necessary, effectively act as the Grand Lucayan's "purchaser of last resort" if all other options fail.
One executive, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Minnis administration was "talking in riddles" and not revealing any details about what a government acquisition might involve.
"This is what worries me," they told Tribune Business. "They keep saying the hotel won't close and jobs will be saved. Are they talking about the main hotel or just the Lighthouse Point? I feel they're talking about Lighthouse Point.
"That does nothing for Freeport. It doesn't do a damn thing for this town, and doesn't help affect the turnaround. Our tourism's at zero. There's no record of a hotel making money in this town for the last 15 years."
Should the government have to acquire the Grand Lucayan by itself, it will need to find considerably more financing that the $25m set aside in the 2018-2019 budget to fund its acquisition of a minority equity stake - believed to be 20 percent - in Wynn's majority purchase of the property. The Toronto-based developer's deal is said to be in difficulty, and unlikely to proceed.
Apart from likely having to match Wynn's $70m offer, Tribune Business sources said the government will need a further $25-$30m to fund the necessary renovations so the property can re-open. That will take its total outlay to near $100m, quadruple what is allocated in the budget, and creating a sizeable fiscal hole in its plans that will have to be filled by extra borrowing or re-purposing monies from other areas.