By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A 50-plus Bahamian investor group has submitted a proposal to take over management of Nassau's cruise port as part of wider plans to grow the capital's tourism industry.
The group, which first proposed a "cultural village" development for Arawak Cay up to 11 years ago, is aiming to exploit the potential synergies between this project and the millions of cruise passengers that come through Prince George Wharf every year.
Gerald Strachan, a principal in the group, confirmed to Tribune Business yesterday that it had submitted a proposal to the Minnis administration earlier this year relating to the Nassau cruise port.
The former Family Guardian Insurance Company president said: "There is a group and we have been working at it for some time. We did make a proposal to the Government; it was made to the Bahamas Investment Authority (BIA).
"That was done quite a while ago; about January. That would have demonstrated what we want to do inclusive of the Prince George Wharf. We got an official response from the Government to a presentation in January."
Mr Strachan described the cruise port's management/operations as "one component or element" of the group's plans, adding that they were seeking to "do something that is extraordinary in the tourism industry".
He declined to provide detail on the group's proposals and plans, as he was travelling when reached by Tribune Business. Mr Strachan indicated, though, that he might be able to provide more information upon returning to the Bahamas.
This newspaper contacted the ex-Family Guardian chief after multiple sources disclosed his group's interest in the Government's plans to outsource control of the Nassau cruise port to a private sector entity, which will be responsible for financing much-needed berth expansions and infrastructure upgrades while also improving the cruise visitor experience.
One contact, speaking on condition of anonymity, revealed that Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, the former minister of tourism and aviation, is acting as an adviser to Mr Strachan's group - something Tribune Business was able to confirm.
"They have been proposing to the Government for quite a while," the source said of Mr Strachan's group. "They have met with the Government and it's very much alive. It makes sense for them to control a port that connects to that cultural village."
Another familiar with the situation, also speaking on condition of anonymity, added: "It's really a group that Gerald Strachan has put together, and has been in place for some time. They're one of four or five groups that's likely to put in a strong proposal for the management of the port."
Tribune Business's files show that the efforts by Mr Strachan and his group have spanned at least three administrations, both FNM and PLP, with Mr Vanderpool-Wallace a strong supporter of the 'cultural village' concept when he held Cabinet office during the last Ingraham administration.
A Tribune Business article, dating from October 2010, quoted Mr Vanderpool-Wallace as saying Mr Strachan and his group were preparing to submit their proposal to the then-Ingraham Cabinet imminently.
The 'cultural village' plan was reported as an $80m project, covering 30-35 acres at Arawak Cay, and billed as creating 500 construction jobs and some 150-200 full-time posts.
The group's plans had to be adjusted, though, after the Government ultimately decided to relocate Nassau's shipping companies from Bay Street to Arawak Cay. The Nassau Container Port subsequently took up much of the real estate eyed for the 'cultural village', which was intended to provide an authentic Bahamian cultural and historic experience for locals and visitors.
A 2014 report quoted Mr Strachan as saying just 2.5 acres remained available on Arawak Cay. Yet it also revealed the group's plan to propose a privately-managed cruise port at Festival Place from then.
Dionisio D'Aguilar, minister of tourism and aviation, earlier this week confirmed that the contract for Prince George Wharf's management and upgrading will be open to all potential bidders via a public tender process or Request for Proposal (RFP).
Mr Strachan's group will almost certainly face competition from the consortium headed by Global Ports Holding, which operates multiple cruise ports in Europe and the Far East, together with BISX-listed Arawak Port Development Company (APD) and CFAL (formerly Colina Financial Advisors).
That group's 49-page proposal, obtained by this newspaper, said its plans to transform Nassau's cruise port will give the economy a $16bn boost spread over 30 years. It added that a $285.7m upgrade of Prince George Wharf through a waterfront entertainment park would inject an extra $216m into the Bahamian economy in the first year alone.
Mehmet Kutman, Global Ports Holding's chairman, wrote in a letter to the Bahamas Investment Authority (BIA) that this nation urgently needed to improve a "greatly underperforming" infrastructure asset if it was to capitalise on the cruise industry's anticipated growth and increase passenger spending yields to the benefit of local businesses.
"Currently, the Nassau cruise port greatly underperforms as a national asset," Mr Kutman wrote. "Its infrastructure ought to be significantly improved to ensure the growth of the cruise business by providing a more fulfilling passenger experience in Nassau..."
Referring to an economic impact analysis conducted by the KPMG accounting firm, the Global Ports chief said the construction/development phase would generate "a cumulative impact of $285.7m" over a three-year period as a result of investment in Prince George Wharf's infrastructure and building jobs.
"The first year of the operational phase is expected to add an estimated $216m to the economy as a result of expected increases to cruise passenger arrivals, onshore rates and cruise tourist spending," Mr Kutman continued.
"Over a ten-year period (2022-2031), the cumulative effect is projected to be $3.7bn. A preliminary and high-level estimate is that the project will have a cumulative impact of $16bn from 2019 to 2049."