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Disney: $400m Spend To 'Better' Top Location

photo

Jeff Vahle

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

Disney yesterday said Lighthouse Point will be transformed into its top global cruise destination through a $350-$400m "mutually beneficial" investment for Bahamians and passengers alike.

Jeff Vahle, Disney Cruise Line's president, told Tribune Business the company feels it can "do more" with the 700-acre South Eleuthera site than its present Bahamian destination, Castaway Cay in the Abacos, which is rated as its premier global stop by customers.

He added that approval of the Lighthouse Point plans would increase the volume of Disney Cruise Line's calls to The Bahamas by "just under 40 percent per year", as it will then have two destinations plus Nassau as ports to visit.

Pledging to create a "unique experience" with Bahamian culture central to the product, Mr Vahle said Disney would also work closely with Eleuthera-based tour operators and excursion providers to develop off-property attractions for passengers.

Unlike many cruise line private islands, the Disney Cruise Line president said it would not restrict passengers solely to its Lighthouse Point property, but instead seek to exploit eco-tourism and Eleuthera's history to create the experience its family-oriented customer base is demanding.

Disney's plans call for the creation of 150 permanent posts at Lighthouse Point, with a further 100 jobs involved in the construction phase, and Mr Vahle yesterday said "as many as possible" would go to Eleutherans.

He added that he had been "touched by the emotion" shown by South Eleuthera residents at meetings to discuss the Disney project, with many "pleading" for such investment to reverse the area's economic decline and population loss as persons move elsewhere in search of work.

Explaining why Disney wanted a second Bahamas destination of its own, Mr Vahle said it wanted to "build on the business model" developed at Castaway Cay and expand a cruise itinerary that is already heavily focused on this nation.

"Much of our business is Bahamas-based," he told Tribune Business. "Forty percent of our cruises are Bahamas-only. Seventy-five percent of our ships stop in The Bahamas, although they may go to other places.

"Part of what's been so successful for us in The Bahamas is the destination we have called Castaway Cay; a relaxing day on the beach. That's the single highest rated location stop anywhere around the world.

"As we look to expand, we're looking to build on that business model and are looking for a second unique destination in The Bahamas that will allow us to build something comparable to or better than Castaway Cay."

Developing Lighthouse Point as a second beach break destination will allow Disney to offer three different Bahamas' calls. Mr Vahle estimated that there would be between 200-250 cruise vessel visits to the south Eleuthera location annually, meaning it could receive 540,000 to 1m total visitors depending on whether Disney employs its 2,700 or 4,000-passenger capacity vessels.

"If we get Lighthouse Pointe, this will roughly double the number of calls we have in The Bahamas by just under 40 percent per year," he added. "We will keep the same number of calls at Castaway Cay, Lighthouse Point will have 200 to 250, and Nassau will have a 40 percent increase."

The cruise line, in a presentation on its Lighthouse Point plans, says its parent, The Walt Disney Company's Board, has already "authorised funding" at Board level for the property's acquisition and development.

Mr Vahle said the total investment required is currently pegged at between $350-$400m, a figure that may raise questions given Disney's pledge to have a minimal footprint to protect the environment.

He explained, though, that around 50 percent of this sum will be required to construct the pier linking the docked cruise ship to Lighthouse Point. "We've not done the full estimate as we're waiting for the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to say what that looks like, but that's the current projection," the Disney Cruise Line president revealed.

"Only 20 percent of the area will be developed. It's pretty low density." Some 170 acres of land will be donated to the Government for conservation, according to Disney's plans, with another 100-plus acres of salt ponds left untouched.

Disney's own presentation bills the project as "an opportunity to create a new model for how companies collaborate with the Government and local communities to protect the environment and create jobs".

It adds: "We are nearly doubling our business by 2023, which will result in 40 percent more calls to Nassau in addition to calls on Castaway Cay and Lighthouse Point if our project is approved."

Disney says it has "a sales agreement in place" with the current owner to purchase Lighthouse Point, meaning the property is under contract. Closing the deal, though, is likely to be subject to obtaining all the necessary government permits and approvals, and the company is still working through that process inclusive of completing a full EIA.

Kim Prunty, Disney Cruise Line's vice-president of public affairs, revealed that the company only selected Lighthouse Point for its second Bahamas destination after an exhaustive search that scouted numerous locations for a low-density, minimal environmental impact project.

She explained that Egg Island, and Morgan's Bluff in Andros, were both rejected after Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) suggested that the dredging required to provide deep water access for the cruise vessels would negatively impact nearby coral reefs and marine life.

Preliminary environmental and marine/navigation studies, though, had shown "little to no dredging" is required at Lighthouse Point, Ms Prunty added, with the fact the 700 acres is privately owned proving a further attraction for Disney.

"We're sensitive to whether its Crown Land or privately owned," she explained. "It's been on the market since 2010; it's been available for some time. We were able to do a preliminary EIA and navigation study that found it to be an appropriate location."

Ms Prunty, who disclosed that Disney was "not comfortable" with the study results for Egg Island and Morgan's Bluff, also moved to challenge the perception that the cruise industry's economic model is all take and no give when it comes to sharing the benefits with The Bahamas.

She revealed that, unlike other cruise lines, Disney does not participate in the departure tax rebate incentive programme which returns a portion of taxes collected to the ship owners if they exceed certain passenger targets. Disney also collects VAT at Castaway Cay, and Ms Prunty and Mr Vahle pledged that the same model will be employed at Lighthouse Point.

Besides giving Bahamians full, continued access to the 700-acre site, the duo also said Disney would replicate "the significant amount of business" it does with local tour operators/providers in Nassau and Castaway Cay.

With 80 percent of Disney's family-oriented customer base looking to experience new places, Ms Prunty said: "Eleuthera has a lot of unique places. We feel we can work with Bahamian tour providers." Mr Vahle pledged that passengers would be able "to go off-property" to see sights such as the Caves.

"We've also got to understand what the demand is in terms if Bahamians wanting to sell goods," the Disney Cruise Line chief added. "We want to integrate that into the site design, so that they won't be left selling goods by the gate."

Asked whether Disney would work with the likes of the One Eleuthera Foundation, which has submitted a rival proposal for Lighthouse Point, Mr Vahle replied: "We're willing to talk to anyone. Our plans and assessments are changing as we do that, and we will continue to do that to build the best project for The Bahamas and Disney.

"It's 150 jobs for Bahamians, 100 construction jobs, for people to do adventure tours, jobs for people with businesses in Eleuthera; hardware stores, grocery stores, accommodation. Judge us by the impact we have. We're proud of the impact we've had at Castaway Cay, and feel we have the opportunity to do more in Eleuthera."

Disney's presentation touts Castaway Cay's $40m annual economic impact and provision of jobs for around 150 Bahamian workers. Ms Prunty said the average weekly wage at Castaway Cay was between $600-$700, which the cruise line will replicate at Lighthouse Point.

She added that Disney had zeroed in on the south Eleuthera property from October/November 2017, initiating talks with the likes of the Government and Bahamas National Trust (BNT) and developing its plans.

"We wanted to create a project that was mutually beneficial; beneficial to those living in south Eleuthera and the guests looking for a unique experience," Ms Prunty told Tribune Business.

"People in Eleuthera have shaped the project from the beginning. We had thought of public access differently, but realised it was very important. This is an experience that's going to be rooted in The Bahamas, so it makes sense Bahamians are there.

"They said they'd this land to come back to being Bahamian, so we said 170 acres will come out of that to make it public land." Ms Prunty also pledged that Disney will not develop the area around the lighthouse and southern tip, and its passengers will not be allowed there, although Bahamians will still have access.

Mr Vahle added: "We'd want to be known for several things if we get the proposal approved. The first would be to sustain the natural beauty of Lighthouse Point. It will be a model of environmental development people will be proud of.

"We'd want to be known as a good economic partner for the community, driving a lot of economic opportunities in south Eleuthera and The Bahamas.... We will build a place that is unique and celebrates the culture of The Bahamas for our guests."

"feel we have an opportunity to do more in Eleuthera"

Comments

truetruebahamian 10 months, 3 weeks ago

If this government does NOT listen to the wishes of 30,000 Bahamians and residents it can count on losing all support from myself and thousands of others if they allow the crooked Disney crew to do what they want at Light house point,South Eleuthera. It will be like all of the other Disney properties, - obtained by underhanded means, their promises of jobs will as always fall through. When those who wish to feed off the crumbs of the Disney table realise that the table has been taken away, they will wonder what happened, what went wrong? By that time they will have lost a precious heritage and resource never to be regained. Stick with the better One Eleuthera plan, Don't forget 3 strikes and you're out Oban, Lucaya hotel and Disney - poor decisions that will cost way more than the few paltry dollars spent to sway those in power.

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OMG 10 months, 3 weeks ago

30,000 Bahamians- Rubbish, mostly foreigners and very few Eleutherans. As for One Eleuthera please tell what exactly is their plan and why has it suddenly been put forward albeit very vague.

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ThisIsOurs 10 months, 3 weeks ago

I've been hearing one Eleuthera talk about their plans for sustainable Eleuthera for quite some time, at minimum one year. Nothing to do with Disney entering the picture

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DDK 10 months, 3 weeks ago

Why is this beginning to sound like a fait accompli? Have palms already been greased?

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TalRussell 10 months, 3 weeks ago

91,409 comrades voting into House the 35 Imperial red shirts candidates have be asking what have Bahamalanders now in debt $8 BILLION - have watched Minnis and KP - trade away lineup foreigner players.... while they go about shunning welfare Out Islanders.... even extent demanding Out Islanders must permanently move off islands they birth... something not even the UBP would have dared attempt shut down complete Out Islands. What more will it take before the Out Islanders does revolt... is it 35 Imperial red shirts MP's stay all united to block Mail Boats Captains from delivering Out Islanders their life sustaining necessities and supplies?
{ Don't need make this up }.

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TigerB 10 months, 3 weeks ago

The total land area of the archipelago is 13,934 square kilometers, slightly larger than New Jersey and Connecticut combined. So with all this land mass, you think the Lord will be upset if we use a small bit of it for the sake of the people or investment. The land sitting there is beautiful but no use to the locals apart from the norm, fishing,swimming. They was always doing that, seems every time something comes up there is bickering. But its not like they using all of it, My goodness!! Nothing is happening in South Eleuthera, I work there as a policeman in 2001, it was dead, dead, dead!! we complain, now something may happen, well some of us still not happy to see them poor people try to get something. We strange people in this Bahamas always negative. We feel that the sand, the beach, the grass, the environment should take presidence over our own survival. But then when there is no job, we cry, when they break into our houses we blame the government, we strange. We complain but we don't do nuttin, just complain. If you not happy with it set up another business there that you like for them then Disney can stop, they wouldn't mind any.

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Clamshell 10 months, 3 weeks ago

OMG ... TigerB, please look at a map. There is no way in Haedes that the land involved is anywhere near* as large as either New Jersey or Connecticut, let alone combined. I respect your opinion, and agree with much of it ... but, please, get your geography in order.

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TigerB 10 months, 3 weeks ago

Just recheck my stats, you are so right, the Bahamas, 13,939, NJ, 22,591, and Conn, 14, 357. Thanks for keeping me straight.

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Clamshell 10 months, 3 weeks ago

You’re welcome ... and not everybody here has the integrity to admit a simple mistake. Good on ya, have a great day.

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jus2cents 10 months, 3 weeks ago

Look to places like Costa Rica. Now They REALLY appreciate their environment, and MAKE BIG Bucks because they have protected it. They're CLEVER, yes, they Get It. This beach is not just another pretty beach, this is a place people ask for their ashes to be spread, it stirs their soul. It is quite literally ONE OF A KIND, it is beyond any other beach in the nation, it should never, ever be developed, if it had any type of hard-scape or man-made modern structure in eye shot, its whole value and Worth would be GONE in an instant, Never to be repaired. You certainly couldn't fix what Disney wants to do, when they leave it, even if if you spent billions trying to repair it. (and they will abandon it one day, they always do)

You have to experience the place to understand why people love it, so go now before its gone for good.

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ThisIsOurs 10 months, 3 weeks ago

You "understand". The Bahamas' brand is "natural" beauty and tranquility. Build on that and you can't go wrong.

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SP 10 months, 3 weeks ago

Disney's proposal is exactly the type of resort destination development the Bahamas should have focused on for the last 5 decades!

Why dumb Pindling, dumber Ingraham and dumbest Christie couldn't see the value of simply copying Orlando by inviting theme park developers to partner with the Bahamas in creating a truly unique sun fun resort destination, is a mystery of deep stupidity we'll never understand.

That being said, although we badly need sustainable development and our tourism product is in need of serious intensive care, we DO NOT want Disney or anyone else coming here developing 100% foreign-owned tourist attractions. Disney should be made to partner with Bahamian investors to ensure Bahamians become OWNERS of our number 1 industry.

Just how stupid do Disney think we are to believe the Bahamas should be overjoyed with 150 measly jobs out of a $400M investment?

Do the math. If Disney charged the proposed minimum of 540,000 annual passengers $200.00 each for a day pass excursion to this Cay their gross would be $108,000,000.00 or with 1 million passengers $200,000,000.00 per year from a $400,000,000.00 investment. Totally outstanding and unprecedented ROI!

Secondly, as always, as soon as Disney receive approval they become like Haitians and simultaneously forget what a Bahamian is and have little to no use for us!!

The government needs to finally realize what we have and implement policies to cause joint venture projects for Bahamians to partners with these type developments, even if on a small scale.

WE MUST START SOMEWHERE to being owners of our economy and destiny! History has proven 100% dependence on foreign investors is not sustainable.

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bogart 10 months, 3 weeks ago

After trying to sell this private piece of land since 2010...all of a sudden all dis talk.of dis an dat....moddoes dred....Frankly erry Bahamian from erry island will tell you bout dere own island which in more beautiful....dont even want to start calling name.... On the 600 to 700 weekly salary ..the Banks will tell you the yearly salary of $31,200 is ,more than bank tellers are paid even with a Masters degree, more than policemen,,,more than $18,800 starting salary for Defrnce Force starting officer....even more than a Member of Parliament.... Just cannot why anyone cannot google an see Disney is listed as one of the topp socially responsible companies ...excellent corporate citizens promoting the admired lifestyles of good healthy living....much liked characters....Ariel, Mickey an Minnie Mouse, Pocohantas, Belle, Princess Jasmine, Cinderella, Prince Charming, Rapunzel, Lightening McQueen, Mufasa.and many ...others which children.....and many adults...parents....grandparents...erryone.. all love...who doesnt...??? Disney wants mutually beneficial project whichinin is a golden opportunity to also for Research in Climate change global warming dat will affect both Disney and Eleuthera residents and school chilfren against the Disney mutual beneficial project.......baffling how the Faction against all this...even demselves doing nothing to save reefs. Coastline from climate change...can be doing dis.................?.. ..........even more baffling after dis...not one scrap of protesting petitioning.....getting school chillren...to sign...petition 'gainst LNG...in Nassau.harbour..proposal....like....accident blowing up Nassau...even though dey blocked it from that entire northern...island years ago....hippopottomusses...!!!

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sheeprunner12 10 months, 3 weeks ago

Well Mr. Jeff Vahle ................... PLEASE send Disney Cruise Lines (cruise port) to South Long Island ........... We have 300 acres of Crown Land at Cape Verde near Gordons (Frank Watson's hometown) with many scenic white bluffs, historic caves, plantation ruins, sandy beaches, boar trails, blueholes, flamingo swamps etc ........... Send them to Long Island. We desperately need some investors.

After all .................. every cruise ship that goes to the Caribbean see this beautiful part of our island everytime they pass through here via the Windward Passage.

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The_Oracle 10 months, 2 weeks ago

Could we have the Disney Cruise Division clean up the eco-disaster the Disney film division left on east Grand Bahama? (pirates of the Caribbean movies) I would say they are Eco terrorists as they took a pristine beach and left it destroyed. Rusting iron barge hulks, Beach littered with rocks for miles due to their dredging an "Infinity pool" into the beach. (big deep square cutout, harbor like) Seriously, Government aught to invite Mr. Vahle for a tour, show him that upon which we will " Judge us by the impact we have" His words. BTW, a competent Government should study whether Eleuthera can support competent staff requirements for 3 cruise destinations. Half Moon, Princess and Disney already exist. .

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