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Abaco Development Pledges $2bn Impact

An artist’s impression of the site in South Abaco.

An artist’s impression of the site in South Abaco.

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

A $580m mixed-use South Abaco resort investment is pledging to create 600 full-time jobs and inject $2bn into the area's struggling economy during its first 10 years in operation.

A four-page booklet produced by Tyrsoz Family Holdings Ltd, which has been obtained by Tribune Business, details plans to construct multiple hotels, residential homes, a 136-slip marina, golf course, water park, nature preserve and other amenities spread across almost 1,100 acres that is split into two separate land parcels.

The two parcels are said to be "under contract" for purchase by the project's owners, who are not identified in the report. The principal figure named is Ronnie Ben-Zur, the development manager, who is chief executive of French Quarter Holdings, a hospitality development company that specialises in acquiring distressed and undervalued resort properties it then renovates, turns around and prepares for onward sale.

Mr Ben-Zur was yesterday said to be travelling and unavailable for comment when Tribune Business reached out to him, but this newspaper understands he visited south Abaco last week to meet with area residents, environmental activists and other stakeholders to unveil and discuss his plans.

While the $580m proposal was said to be in its "early days" in terms of obtaining the necessary government permits and Heads of Agreement, Tribune Business was told that Mr Ben-Zur wanted to "take the temperature" of south Abaco "and find out if the community wanted it" after the project was revealed by the Prime Minister in a recent national address.

One contact, speaking on condition of anonymity, told this newspaper that the presentations given by Mr Ben-Zur were "hugely successful" and there appeared to be no overt opposition or resistance to the Tyrsoz Family Holdings project. It is projecting to create 927 jobs for locals at the peak of construction, with the average number of hires pegged at 618.

However, Tribune Business was yesterday informed that concerns are indeed building among environmental activists due to both the size and location of the proposed development, which is in close proximity to the 20,500-acre Abaco National Forest and the prime breeding ground for the endangered Abaco parrot.

The project's two potential real estate holdings include the 620-acre Lantern Head parcel, which according to renderings seen by Tribune Business appears to be especially close to the National Forest. The other 467-acre tract, called "South-West Point", lies further south on Abaco's south-western tip.

Much of Tyrsoz Family Holdings' booklet was devoted to reassuring Bahamians of the company's environmental sensitivities. It is promising to create "a world-class, environmentally-sustainable luxury island retreat with local appeal via the participating community while, importantly, maintaining South Abaco’s natural charm".

"Tyrsoz Family Holdings Ltd’s financial advisor and real estate developer, Ra’anan ‘Ronnie’ Ben-Zur, is proposing a low-density, ultra-luxury hotel, residential and marina development for the secluded undeveloped coastal region of South Abaco, Bahamas," the booklet added.

"Based on sound economical footing, yet designed with great care and responsibility to the environment and original nature of the area, it is intended to provide significant ongoing and expanding employment opportunities for the community and important infrastructure improvements for the benefit of residents and visitors alike."

The Lantern Head site, which is closest to the National Forest, will become "a very low density, private, secluded community" with an "ultra-luxury hotel of 50 large suites with private pools" acting as its anchor.

A golf course and tennis courts, together with 76 residential home lots sized at one acre or more, will also feature amid the developer's ambition to make the hotel rank in "the top hotels of the world" list.

The South-West Point site, meanwhile, is being targeted for the 136-slip marina and two hotels - one a 75-room "luxury" resort, the other a 100-room "standard" property. A water park, 80 residential lots, marina village and artists' and cultural village are also included in the plans.

"It will practically be the first meaningful super yachts marina in North America," Tyrsoz Family Holdings said. "The marina has been sited and designed to minimise impacts to marine resources to the furthest extent practicable.

"It will be located on the western shore near the southern side of the island to take advantage of the naturally occurring deep waters of the existing near-shore channel, and utilises the calm waters off the western coast of the island for safe navigation.

"Adjacent to the marina will be a high-end Marina Village with yacht, fishing and scuba charter offices, boutique shops, restaurants and bars, and all other necessities to ensure a vibrant marina atmosphere."

Tyrsoz Family Holdings' booklet said it had secured "two world-class luxury brands" to brand and manage the resort properties, although it did not name them. It added that the project was targeting "sophisticated", luxury travellers who were looking for authentic experiences and wanted to mix with local communities, cultures and customs as they unwind on vacation.

The rest of the developer's publication was devoted to explaining the benefits it will provide for south Abaco's community, which include a $9m "Entrepreneurs Fund" to provide Bahamians with the necessary access to capital for the creation of small businesses that will support and feed off the project.

"Local involvement is central to the success of the proposed venture, as currently there are no tourism related attractions in the area," it said. "With nature billed as one of the top attractions to visitors, Ronnie realised that he must encourage the local communities to join him in entertaining guests and will establish, once the project commences, a $9m Entrepreneurial Fund for local businesses to get started in lines of work that will attract overseas visitors.

"Also, to help stimulate financially the local economy, rent-free commercial spaces will initially be provided for Bahamians in the proposed Marina Village as well as a free Artists Village where crafts people can live, work, sell their goods and give lessons."

Tyrsoz Family Holdings is also promising "to donate back to the Government" some of the land it is aiming to acquire. Among its other community-focused pledges are financial support for the Bahamas National Trust's (BNT) National Park masterplan; a nature preserve; restoration of the "iconic" Hole in the Wall Lighthouse under BNT supervision; and access to the beaches on the southern shore.

A medical centre at South-West Point; expansion and improvement of the Great Abaco Road; and upgrading of the nearby airport into Sandy Point International for private aviation use only are also on the developer's list.

Tyrsoz Family Holdings' attorney is understood to be former Cabinet minister, Ryan Pinder, at Graham, Thompson & Company. He is handling the government approvals process, while Sean B. Callender & Co is dealing with the land acquisition.

But Tribune Business sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, have raised concerns that the scale of the proposed project appears to be disproportionate to the location it is targeting. They suggested it revives memories of the so-called "anchor project" strategy employed by the Ingraham and Christie administrations, which - at best - produced somewhat mixed results.

Developers of Family Island "greenfield" sites have often been caught unprepared by the huge financial sums they have to invest in equipping their projects with the necessary supporting infrastructure, with the scale of such outlays frequently making it difficult to achieve profitability and investment return targets.

Mr Ben-Zur's career has largely involved transforming existing resort properties, such as the Radisson at JFK Airport and multiple hotels in Atlanta and Florida, rather than the "greenfield" property earmarked for the Tyrsoz Family Holdings project.

The unspoilt, pristine nature of the development site is bound to arouse concerns from environmental activists and others. Previous investment proposals targeted at the south Abaco area, albeit from groups that lacked Mr Ben-Zur's track record, received a frosty reception and went nowhere.

However, south Abaco's economy and its people badly need an economic stimulus. Much of Abaco's wealth and development is largely concentrated in the northern end of the island around Marsh Harbour and the main population centres, and south Abaco has largely been forgotten and left out.

Many had looked to Schooner Bay to be the 'anchor' for south Abaco, but that project has come to a standstill - even regressed - after its development partner, Orjan Lindroth, left and placed it solely under the control of US investor, David Huber.

Comments

Well_mudda_take_sic 1 year, 1 month ago

Another environmental fiasco in the making. Abaconians are foolishly allowing their island to be literally carved up with canals and marinas.

Tyrsoz Family Holdings is also promising "to donate back to the Government" some of the land it is aiming to acquire. Among its other community-focused pledges are financial support for the Bahamas National Trust's (BNT) National Park masterplan; a nature preserve; restoration of the "iconic" Hole in the Wall Lighthouse under BNT supervision; and access to the beaches on the southern shore.

What's quoted immediately above is tantamount to bribery of government agencies and their officials. If the developer and development manager are U.S. persons, charges should be brought against them in the U.S. by Bahamas-based environmental groups for violating various criminal provisions of U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The U.S. Embassy in The Bahamas should be paying very careful attention to what's going on here, assuming the U.S. government remains a friend of the Bahamian people. The massive scale and environmental risks associated with such projects makes them totally unsuitable for a nation of small islands like ours. This is not development for the good of the economy....it's instead the height of lunacy and madness in destroying our God-given natural heritage with no ability for it to ever be restored.

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JackArawak 1 year, 1 month ago

is this because Schooner Bay has been so successful?

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realitycheck242 1 year, 1 month ago

Although this development is at this stage just a dream of the Tyrsoz Family Holdings Ltd, and not yet money in the ground, I am still amazed at how Abaco , Exuma, and Bimini are all swamped with investment proposals these days and Grand Bahama continues to languish in a valley of dispair with its world class infrastructure. Could it be that investors today simply want no dealings with the port authority ? Or the results of pindling bend or break speach still has relevance more than four decades after it was made?

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sheeprunner12 1 year, 1 month ago

Interesting observation, Reality ......... Maybe the Government needs to push for a sale of the GBPA ......... Maybe to Sarkis??????? .......... LOL

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OldFort2012 1 year, 1 month ago

Crime. And population density. No one wants either.

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DWW 1 year, 1 month ago

The irony is that with these kinds of development projects comes an increase in crime and population density which is often one of the big reasons these areas are targeted for development.

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realitycheck242 1 year, 1 month ago

Government needs to zone each island in the Bahamas with proposed development sizes for each zone on each island. Tell the investors where their development is likely to be approved and not approved. Can you imagine the public infactructure the government would likely be required to put in for a development of this size. In Abaco and repeating the same infrastructure for the proposed north long island eco friendly development.

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proudloudandfnm 1 year, 1 month ago

No way Abaco is going to allow this. Sorry but you need to find another island... Abaco is a weird place, they refuse to grow....

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realitycheck242 1 year, 1 month ago

That's may be the reason Bakers Bay is situated on a cay ....lol

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birdiestrachan 1 year, 1 month ago

I trust they will do the necessary environmental research. Because for to long now. investors come mess up the beautiful Bahamas then pack their bags and leave their mess.

The Hurricanes are now stronger and more frequent, and when the Hurricanes are on their way to the Bahamas, they the Investors fly out.

Hurricanes hurt poor people , there are many who have never recovered , not even from Frances. 2005 or 2004

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DWW 1 year, 1 month ago

I am curious to see if it gets off the ground this time. its been tried 3 times before.

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SP 1 year, 1 month ago

Bahamians are strange. If the same dynamics today were in place 70 years ago, Lyford Cay, Paradise Island, Freeport, Cable Beach, Old Fort Bay, Sandyport, Port New Providence, Palm Cay, and every other major development throughout the Bahamas would not exist today!

Hopefully, the present government has more sense than the three dumb stooges gang of Pindling, Ingraham, and Christie, and after "proper" due diligence, allow this developer to move forward with his plans.

It is stupid and totally unreasonable to expect badly needed sustainable growth without some environmental impact, we cannot have our cake and eat it too!

Congratulations to this spinless FNM government for attracting potentially serious major investors. With very little effort, simply by proximity alone, the Bahamas could become the biggest tourism mecca in the region by far, easily surpassing Florida and the Dominican Republic.

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Well_mudda_take_sic 1 year, 1 month ago

You must know somewhere where land is growing in our country and will forever be in bountiful supply.

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sheeprunner12 1 year, 1 month ago

The truth is that most of these inclusive, foreign-oriented home sales developments do not bring much real growth to the communities ..... just menial jobs for paychecks ........ the real wealth is exported to HQ.

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John 1 year, 1 month ago

Why did The Bahamas bypass several economic cycles of recovery, at least for Bahamians? Why areBahamians and the local economy is a worse state than in decades? Who was given instructions to ‘make the economy scream?’ We hear about these projects being announced and about how many jobs will be created and how muc money will be put into the economy, but how much of it is reaching Bahamians in a substantial way. Do you realize Bahamians own less of their economy than ever before but are still expected to carry the majority of the tax burden? Why after the introduction of VAT on top of customs duties and the increase in VAT by 60% the national debt is continuing to climb and Bahamians are still losing their homes and businesses? Who is making the local economy scream?

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