By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Disney's Lighthouse Point rival says the difference between their respective projects' economic impact is "like night and day", despite push back from the cruise line's supporters.
Members of the Lighthouse Point Partners consortium told Tribune Business that the economic projections released by the two sides showed their proposal for an eco-tourism, research and national park-centred development would have "significantly more impact" than the cruise line's "beach break" experience for its passengers.
The consortium, whose members include some of Eleuthera's most prominent institutions, such as the Leon Levy Foundation, One Eleuthera Foundation, The Island School and Cape Eleuthera Institute, as well as the Bahamas National Trust (BNT), produced statistics purporting to show the wages paid at its project will be 146 percent higher on average than those offered by Disney.
It is also emphasising that the 190 permanent jobs promised by its proposal exceed the 120-150 pledged by Disney, and will "offer wages estimated to be 270 percent higher than the minimum wage for the permanent, high calibre seven-day-a-week jobs, many of them managerial and professional positions".
Eric Carey, the BNT's executive director, told this newspaper: "We have now laid out to government in the meeting that we have significantly more potential economic impact than what Disney has proposed."
The Lighthouse Point Partners group re-presented their proposal to senior government officials, including the prime minister's senior policy adviser, Joshua Sears, and Candia Ferguson, director of investments at the Bahamas Investment Authority (BIA), on Friday.
Mr Carey said it was made clear to the Government team that Disney's project was "incompatible with anything", given that its moored multi-storey cruise ship would tower over the group's eco-tourism destination, when officials asked if the two sides could work and co-exist side-by-side at the 700 acre site.
"There was a question raised by an official as to whether Lighthouse Point Partners considered there was an opportunity for co-existence," the BNT chief confirmed. "Our firm answer was: You have a 10-storey cruise ship with thousands of people a week on that beach. It's mutually exclusive. It's totally unsustainable and incompatible with anything.
"We will not attract the brands of Island House and other Bahamian groups. We won't be able to put in place eco-lodges. Mark Holowesko has a 30-room hotel [the Island House in New Providence] that employs 130 people, and it's likely a 20-room hotel will employ 100 people. The National Park will employ 25.
"We're way above Disney's numbers, and the national patrimony of that special place is intact." Apart from the Holowesko-owned Island House, the Lighthouse Point Partners group also produced letters from the Bahamas Boutique Hotels Group (owner of Hope Town Harbour Lodge) and Benjamin Simmons' Little Island Group confirming their interest in partnering with the project to develop the eco-tourism component.
"The space lends itself to a new model of tourism in The Bahamas," Mr Carey added, "and, for the first time, presents an opportunity for hundreds of jobs to be created in south Eleuthera and the creation of a national park. Nobody is going to go to Lighthouse Point to see a cruise port. Nobody."
Shaun Ingraham, the One Eleuthera Foundation's chief executive, was just as bullish on what he described as the consortium's superior economic impact. "It's like night and day, the difference between our proposal and theirs," he told Tribune Business. "One simple statement I can make, Neil, is ours will be owned and operated by Bahamians, and all profits will go to Bahamians. It's as simple as that.
"Look at our plans. We have capable, seasoned Bahamians. I don't see any downside to that. You can see what the One Eleuthera Foundation, the Island House have done, and what the Leon Levy Foundation has done. This is not pie in the sky; this is something you can touch."
The consortium's proposal', though, was yesterday challenged by the Eleuthera Community Support Group, which has become the most vocal Bahamian advocate and supporter of Disney's project.
It expressed "grave concerns" about Lighthouse Point Partners' ability to finance both the land acquisition and its $23m development plan, arguing that the "letters of interest" from the Bahamian hotel groups did not amount to concrete promises of financing.
The Support Group also pointed out that it was Disney, not Lighthouse Point Partners, who has a signed sales agreement for the property's purchase already in place, meaning that the latter requires government intervention to block the deal and enable it to step in.
It added that a September 21, 2018, letter to the Prime Minister from One Eleuthera's US-based foundation showed that just $6.463m had been raised by some "four dozen" US-based donors, implying that it was well short of raising the necessary money.
"The Lighthouse Point property has been on the market for eight years. After nearly a decade, the funds for the Lighthouse Point Partners development have not yet been secured," the Eleuthera Community Support Group said. "Are Eleutherans supposed to continue waiting while they continue to search for funding?"
It also questioned the differences between the projected economic impact figures contained in the Lighthouse Point Partners' March proposal and its latest submission, suggesting they had been "beefed up in a last-minute public relations move".
Mr Ingraham, though, told Tribune Business that the Leon Levy Foundation had "committed to pay the fair market value" to Lighthouse Point's vendors, The Related Group and Meritage Hospitality.
The Foundation, in a March 7, 2018, letter to the Prime Minister said it had assets in excess of $500m, having already invested $10m in Eleuthera to establish its native plant preserve. Some 10 Bahamian jobs have been created, with another five to six in the works for a science programme being developed on recently-acquired land next to the preserve.