By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A 50-strong Bahamian investor group says its "reimagination" of Nassau's cruise port and downtown will fulfill demands "that we move away from cookie cutter proposals with no sense of place".
Gerald Strachan, founder, president and chief executive of Culture Village (Bahamas), told Tribune Business in a statement that the group's proposal for reviving both Prince George Wharf and the surrounding area would focus on development consistent with this country's heritage.
Speaking after this newspaper revealed the group had submitted a proposal to the Government to take over the cruise port's management and operation, Mr Strachan said the project team included "award-winning" architects and designers from London, Hong Kong and Orlando who will work with Bahamian counterparts.
He expressed concern, though, that the Government's plan to put Prince George Wharf's management out to bid through a public tendering process might result in any request for proposal (RFP) seeking to copy Culture Village (Bahamas) ideas by mandating that all offers have a a similar "Bahamianisation" flavour.
"To date we have been fairly quiet about our submission because, as far as we can tell, it alone captures the culture, history and heritage of the Bahamas, which will give visitors to the redeveloped Prince George Dock a sense of place while solving the most critical problems expressed by our residents, our visitors and the cruise companies," Mr Strachan said.
"Beyond that, we see our proposal as a critical catalyst for the redevelopment of the downtown area, and its elements will provide an invitation for our residents and for our visitors from both Cable Beach and Paradise Island to frequent a far less congested city centre."
Mr Strachan said Nassau and its cruise port "both demand and deserve experiences, elements and features that are recognised as being of the Bahamas, while serving the needs of our visitors and residents.
"Once our proposal is presented, you will see the philosophy of the Culture Village Group at its core," he added. "The people of the Bahamas are demanding that we move away from the cookie cutter proposals that have no sense of place, and that we create instead structures that become a proud part of the built heritage of our country. That is our plan."
Mr Strachan said non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) prevented him from revealing the identities of Culture Village (Bahamas) partners, but added: "You may recall that the membership of our Culture Village Group is comprised of 50 prominent and quite successful Bahamians from across a broad spectrum of professionals and business careers.
"And our recommendations and solutions for the redevelopment of Prince George Dock reflects that spectrum. Further, the consortium that we have created for the project includes award-winning and world-renowned architects and designers from Orlando, London and Hong Kong, whose talents have been combined with award-winning Bahamian architects, artists and designers, all of whom you will recognise and whose work both the local and international communities will recognise."
The former Family Guardian president, though, expressed concern over how Cultural Village (Bahamas) proposal may be used to inform the Government's RFP.
He said: "Now that an outline of our proposal has been seen by the BIA (Bahamas Investment Authority), our concern with the RFP is that it will require other bidders to 'Bahamianise' their proposals, thereby addressing what we have seen as the most significant deficit between ours and those that have been touted publicly."
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.
Cultural Village (Bahamas) efforts have spanned three administrations, both FNM and PLP. A Tribune Business article, dating from October 2010, reported on how Mr Strachan and his group were preparing to submit their proposal to the then-Ingraham Cabinet.
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.