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Freeport ‘Gets Short End Of Stick Again’

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

An outspoken QC yesterday pronounced himself “discouraged” by Wynn Group’s ability to make progress in Nassau rather than Freeport, blasting: “We’ve got the short end of the stick again.”

Fred Smith QC, the Freeport-based Callenders & Co managing partner, queried whether reviving Grand Bahama’s struggling economy remained a Government priority after the Grand Lucayan’s potential purchaser broke ground on its long-awaited $120m Goodman’s Bay condo-hotel/residences project.

Suggesting that the development was taking place “in the wrong city”, Mr Smith said he felt “abandoned” by the Minnis administration and described Freeport’s tourism economy as being in a state of “near collapse”.

“I am discouraged to see that even though the Government made resurrecting the Freeport economy a priority, the major investor it has proffered as potentially coming to a deal on the Lucayan Strip has instead embarked on a $120 million project in Nassau,” he told Tribune Business.

“Once again Freeport gets the short end of the stick, even with the investor supposed to be interested in Freeport. So many deals should be happening in Freeport, with its amazing tourism industry infrastructure, and instead we have Nassau keep stealing the show.”

Mr Smith’s comments show that efforts by Paul Wynn, the Wynn Group’s chief executive, to reassure Freeport residents he still remains interested in the Grand Lucayan - and that the deal is getting near “to the finish line” - have not had the desired effect on everybody.

Acknowledging concerns that Wynn Group might retreat from its $65 million all-cash offer if the deal did not close soon, Mr Wynn said: “It’s been a concern but it’s one of these things. There’s the vendors, the tenants, myself and the Government. There is a lot of work and the Government is doing all the heavy lifting here.

“It’s very complex, and a very difficult project for the country, but I think we’re almost at the finish line now. It’s been very hard... There are just so many moving parts. We’re near the finish line.”

Mr Wynn, though, gave no specific details on his plans for the Grand Lucayan, or a likely timeline for when the purchase from Cheung Kong (CK) Property Holdings will close. The latter company is the entity that holds all real estate and resort assets formerly belonging to Hutchison Whampoa.

Most of the Grand Lucayan has now been closed for 19 months, following the devastation inflicted by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. It has effectively deprived Grand Bahama of a ‘mass market’ stopover tourism industry, with around 1,000 direct jobs lost, and 1,100 rooms - amounting to 59 per cent of the island’s inventory - placed out of service.

A dispute over hurricane restoration with CK Property Holdings prompted the departure of Memories, the hotel brand operating one of the three Grand Lucayan properties. While Memories’ affiliate, Vacation Express, resumed its summer airlift programme yesterday, Mr Smith said the Government should have refused to provide a 20-year renewal of all CK Property Holdings’ tax breaks until it financed repairs to, and the re-opening of, the Grand Lucayan.

“I am very discouraged as a Freeporter,” he told Tribune Business. “I feel abandoned by my government. As a licensee and citizen of Freeport, I am very discouraged by the lack of attention by the Port Authority, Hutchison and the Government. I hate to be the harbinger of doom and gloom, but it’s [Freeport’s tourism economy] near collapse.”

Carey Leonard, Mr Smith’s colleague at Callenders & Co, yesterday said his conversations with Cabinet ministers indicated the Government was “working hard” to resolve the Grand Lucayan situation.

Yet without positive news within the next two months, he warned that many Port Lucaya Marketplace tenants currently “hanging on by a thread” were likely to close their doors. “I do not know how the businesses are holding on,” Mr Leonard told Tribune Business.

“I know a number of them are really hurting at the moment. Those businesses are really feeling it, and holding on by a thread. A number of them have already laid people off. I think some businesses are going to need an answer within a month or two. I really believe that.”

While Freeport’s cruise business has been maintained, Mr Leonard said per capita spending yields were much lower in comparison to stopover visitors. “At the moment we may as well say Freeport’s tourism product is dead,” he added.

“It’s that hotel guest that goes to Port Lucaya, has a drink and goes to a nightclub and restaurant; that’s what we need. They spend a couple hundred dollars in an evening. The cruise passenger does not do that. They get some tour package on the boat, the cruise ship takes a great chunk out of that, and the guy here makes something - but not much - out of it. The air arrival is the critical one for us.”

Kwasi Thompson, minister of state for Grand Bahama, previously indicated that the Government is determined that the Grand Lucayan become self-sufficient and weaned off government subsidies that once amounted to $29 million annually.

To achieve this, and build a sustainable tourism product in Freeport, it wants to transform the Lucayan strip into a true ‘destination’ product. Mr Thompson described achieving this as a ‘jigsaw’, with the Government still trying to fit the many ‘pieces of the puzzle’ - hotel brands, airlift and amenities - together.

Comments

The_Oracle 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Government doing Jigsaw puzzles, how apropos. Will never get done!

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sheeprunner12 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Wynn must be sure that he is going to get some return for investing in The Bahamas ....... Hence a viable resort near Bahamar should make money while he is "helping out" the Government by taking over an unknown entity in Freeport (Grand Lucayan) ....... Creole Fred is just showing his arsy side again.

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proudloudandfnm 2 months, 3 weeks ago

The most amazing part of this is how silent Freeport is. Not one march. Not one protest. Freeport is getting exactly what it deserves. Nothing. If we don't wake up we will never get the help we need.

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proudloudandfnm 2 months, 3 weeks ago

And we were never even told they were negotiating a hotel in Nassau. Not one time.

This FNM reminds me of the perry led PLP a little too much.

I wonder if we Grand Bahamians were to write to these ratings agencies asking them to look at Freeport would that incite this apathetic government to action? Surely we cannot get a good rating if the second largest economy in our country has collapsed???

Freeport needs to wake the hell up and fight for what it needs.

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proudloudandfnm 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I see what this lousy ass FNM is doing though. Nassau is where the vote is. That's why we get these lies about Freeport's unemployment beung down. And how a tech firm is going to train our D average population in artificial intelligence and cyber security. And a brand new oil terminal that'll hire every Grand Bahamian know and give them all cheap, new brand houses.

In Nassau it sounds like the FNM has already saved Freeport. In Nassau us Freeport folk are lucky, look at all that stuff yall gettin...

Unbelievable..

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proudloudandfnm 2 months, 3 weeks ago

No need to wait and lie to us about Wynn buying Our Lucaya. We know he won't. We've been told many times that there are other buyers interested. Was that a lie too? If not get on it. Forget Wynn. He got what he wanted. Stop wasting the one thing Freeport does not have, time.

We told you a year ago that we are in a crisis. DO SOMETHING!!

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sheeprunner12 2 months, 3 weeks ago

You are one bitter, miserable, jilted FNM ...... Go under the same rock with McAlpine (if things are that bad).

There are Bahamians who are FAR worst off than you entitled fools in GB.

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proudloudandfnm 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I seriously doubt any island is worse off than Grand Bahama. More proof of how incredibly stupid you are...

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sheeprunner12 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Try visiting any island other than mainland Exuma that is SOUTH of New Providence ......... and compare it with Freeport (not East or West GB). The ends of GB are very much like Family Islands south of Exuma ..... beautiful, simple, down-to-earth, welcoming, and industrious.

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Dawes 2 months, 2 weeks ago

The problem is no one really wants to invest in Freeport as they must not think it makes financial sense. So currently they are negotiating with Government for tax breaks to a point where they think it will work. Government of course is broke so can't give too much away. Wynn is a big company and no doubt is able to manage more then one new project at a time (its revenue is $4.4 billion so its bigger then our Government), so the fact that it has been able to move on with the Nassau project whilst still discussing Freeport is no worry (they are different types of projects anyway). If Fred thinks the hotel makes sense he can always put his money in and open it up.

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