By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
The BAHAMAS National Trust’s (BNT) executive director yesterday said it has been approached by several other potential private national park partners as it continues to “refine” its deal with Albany.
The BNT unveiled its joint venture with Albany in October, the first such arrangement with a private investor/developer, but Eric Carey confirmed that the practical aspects are still being worked out.
“We’re still actually refining our arrangement with Albany,” he said. “That is still ongoing. We have been approached by several other potential private partners. It’s difficult to negotiate these things when you’re dealing with national parks and public spaces.
“We have to obviously be very clear that there aren’t going to be any restrictions on the movement of people, there are no exclusive deals, public access must be guaranteed, it must be transparent.”
Mr Carey added: “We are looking at a couple of other potential ones, none that we are able to speak publicly about yet because we are still trying to finalise the first one to make sure we get that right. That is going to be an important part of what we do.”
The Albany agreement, involving a 50/50 joint venture, will see the high-end development and its parent company, Nexus Luxury Collection, invest the necessary capital to develop a beach club and restaurant experience at Warderick Wells Cay, where the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park’s headquarters and visitor centre are located.
A water catchment system, utility and general support building will also be developed, and infrastructure upgraded to enhance the visitor experience. The BNT’s private sector partner will also construct accommodations to support future marine biology camps and retreats for Bahamian students.
Mr Carey said at the time that the deal would provide the sustainable financing required for the BNT to properly manage and safeguard the Exuma Park, benefiting both Bahamians and visitors, while covering an annual $300,000 “and growing” operating deficit.
The BNT executive director also revealed that the $10m annual operating costs for this nation’s national parks meant it had no choice but to seek private capital backing. He also revealed to Tribune Business that an additional $25m was also required to upgrade essential infrastructure across the 32 parks that the trust currently oversees.
Mr Carey said “simple economics” had forced the BNT to seek private investor support, with its current income - including an annual $1.5m grant from the Government - more than 50 percent below the financing required to properly manage and protect all The Bahamas’ national parks.
With the Government “making it clear” that the necessary funding will not be coming from the cash-strapped Public Treasury, he added that the Trust had sought to adopt the “concession” model employed by US and Canadian national parks.
“The cost estimates we’ve done show that to manage the national parks we currently have, 32, will probably cost us $10m per annum if we bring them all on stream,” Mr Carey told Tribune Business.
“That includes $25m in capital investment in visitor centres, board walks. When we spoke to members of the Government, current and former administrations, they encouraged us to look at the private sector to see if there was any interest in operating certain concessions, including potential visitor centres, offering some tours and providing the infrastructure to do that.
“The Government made it very clear that they would not provide the $25m. They don’t have it in the current Budget, and will not have it in the future.” The BNT yesterday said it currently incurs a $300,000 annual deficit between the Exuma Park’s annual income and $750,000 operating costs, making it difficult to find the “several million dollars” required in the near future to maintain and upgrade its facilities.
The BNT’s accounts show it received $1.5m and $1.4m grants from the Government in 2017 and 2016, respectively, without which it would have made a substantial operating loss for both years. Its endowment fund, the Heritage Fund, did possess some $4.319m in assets at end-2017 through investments in government bonds and Templeton Global mutual funds.
The Government’s $1.5m grant accounted for 35 percent of the National Trust’s $4.282m income in the year to end-December 2017, which saw it incur a net operating loss of $101,162. This followed a similar $117,976 net operating loss for 2016, although these figures do not include dividends and the performance of the Heritage Fund.