By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
A former tourism minister yesterday expressed hope that Carnival’s $100m cruise port investment will attract other investors to Grand Bahama, while lamenting the project’s relocation.
Obie Wilchcombe, who held the post under the last Christie administration, told Tribune Business: “I said before that they would have to return to the Carnival deal. It’s the same deal. They changed the location, and I believe that’s been caused because of the Oban matter, but it’s the same deal and the same people who are involved.
“What I do not like is the fact that it has now moved out of the East End area and back into the Port area. The East End area gave it a direct impact on the people of East End. We’re going to get the tourism value of it, but the people of East End would have been able to engage with Carnival in the creation of businesses - and direct involvement and linkages - to ensure they could benefit even more handsomely from the cruise port.
“Now it’s in the Freeport area, which means that it will be for the most part DevCo (Grand Bahama Development Company) - that’s Hutchison Whampoa and the Port Authority - that will be working directly with Carnival in the execution of their arrangement with them. The government’s role has been lessened somewhat.”
The controversial $5.5bn Oban Energies project proposes to develop an oil refinery and related petroleum product storage facilities in east Grand Bahama - the same area where Carnival agreed with the former Christie administration to locate its cruise port.
Cruise tourism facilities and oil refineries/storage terminals are not a good mix, but the Minnis administration has yet to begin Heads of Agreement renegotiations with Oban after the latter’s project was derailed by multiple concerns surrounding its principals, its potential environmental impact and the government’s seeming lack of due diligence.
However, concerns were also expressed over whether east Grand Bahama was a suitable location for Carnival’s cruise port given the multiple environmental sensitivities associated with the location.
Fears were also voiced that the port’s distance from Freeport would result in a loss of business for existing Bahamian tourism entrepreneurs, since few Carnival passengers would want to spend much time travelling back and forth, thus minimising the economic and jobs impact.
However, the revised deal moves Carnival’s port back into the Port area with a 320-acre site at Sharp Rock, close to the University of The Bahamas campus.
K Peter Turnquest, deputy prime minister and minister for finance, said the project would still benefit Grand Bahama’s eastern area - which includes his own constituents - despite its latest relocation
“It is in eastern Grand Bahama, further to the city,” he said. “I’m just happy it’s on the island. Where it is located gives an opportunity for not only Freeport or the western side to benefit, but the eastern side.
“We have the opportunity here to open up this whole east area to eco-tourism and opportunities for small business people who have been neglected or ignored. This now gives them an opportunity to fully participate in this Grand Bahama experience.”
The Carnival cruise port project has been on the drawing board for more than a decade, covering both Christie administrations and the last Ingraham administration. It was originally set to be located at Williams Town before the last Christie administration signed the agreement to move it to eastern Grand Bahama.
The prime minister earlier this week said the relocated Carnival cruise port will create up to 1,000 jobs and become the company’s largest such facility in the world.
While addressing a Freeport town meeting to unveil the development, Dr Hubert Minnis said the economic benefits produced by Carnival’s investment “will reverberate throughout” The Bahamas by bringing “millions more tourists” to this nation every year.
“This cruise port, which will be the largest Carnival cruise port in the world, seeks to make Grand Bahama and The Bahamas one of the best cruise destinations in the Caribbean,” the prime minister said.
“I am advised that this project promises to be one of the most technologically-advanced cruise ports in this region with a state-of-the-art, point of sale cashless system.”
“The brand is what we wanted,” Mr Wilchcombe conceded yesterday. “The Carnival brand is a really good brand. They have proven over the years to be good corporate partners.
“That area they are seeking to develop, together with the Lucaya area, should become a very exciting area of growth and development. Carnival will open the doors and cause other investors to want to gravitate to Freeport and Grand Bahama.”