By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE government and Disney Island Development Ltd have signed a Heads of Agreement for the construction of a $250m to $400m cruise port and entertainment facility at Lighthouse Point, Eleuthera.
The deal, announced by Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis during a recent town hall meeting, allows for the conveyance of 190 acres of land along the southernmost point of the property — a $6.29m value — to the government for establishment of a national park.
In a subsequent statement on the announcement, the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) also noted Disney’s “completed acquisition” of the highly sought after property from a “private seller”.
Core elements of the proposed project, according to the OPM’s statement, include low density development and sustainable design, public access and economic opportunities for Bahamians.
Under the HOA, Disney has ensured a minimum of 120 Bahamians will be employed directly during the construction of the project.
Disney also has committed to aim for an overall ratio of 80 percent Bahamian workers to 20 percent non-Bahamian workers during the life of the construction phase of the project.
However, the statement said this element would be “subject to qualified labour being available and the need to ensure the highest level of technical compliance with international standards.”
The statement continued: “DCL (Disney Cruise Lines) will also create as many as 150 permanent, sustainable jobs with health benefits in a range of positions for Bahamians once construction is completed.
“The development will provide a variety of entrepreneurial opportunities for residents of Eleuthera and Bahamians in general.
“DCL will partner with agencies to develop training and professional development programmes, including the LIM Maritime Academy, Access Accelerator (Small Business Development Centre) and the Hospitality Institute of the University of the Bahamas.
“Space must be provided for Bahamian vendors on the property for the sale of authentic, high quality Bahamian retail goods, services, souvenirs, arts and crafts, Bahamian T-shirts and other merchandise,” it read.
According to OPM, Disney must also give priority to Bahamian owners and operators to provide port adventures for DCL guests while its ships are in port, and will seek to use Bahamian entertainers.
The government’s statement said other elements of the project include the integration of Bahamian cultural and artistic expression into the design of the site and experiences offered.
“Disney also will provide all citizens and residents of the Bahamas with access to the property for non-commercial purposes and will collaborate with government and local communities to meaningfully contribute to initiatives that meet community needs, with a special focus on children and families,” the statement noted.
“This includes assisting with local schools, assisting with identifying and enhancing tourist heritage sites in South Eleuthera and exploring opportunities to improve medical facilities that serve the residents of South and Central Eleuthera.”
The OPM statement suggested that DCL also intends to increase the number of ship calls at the Port of Nassau and/or the Port of Freeport by 30 to 40 percent over the number of calls made by its ships in 2018.
The statement added that construction of the project will not begin until an environmental impact assessment (EIA) and environmental management plan (EMP) are reviewed and approved.
According to the release, Dr Minnis said the government is “satisfied” with the move, calling it “the best decision in the interest of the Bahamian people, a sustainable future for the people of Central and South Eleuthera and the economic development of the country.”
He added: “The implementation of this project supports the government’s plan of expanding the economy of our country and economic opportunities for our people by promoting development in the Family Islands.”
To conclude its statement, the OPM said the government notes Disney’s record of environmental stewardship, asserting that it will “ensure that the project is implemented in a manner which safeguards the environment and is in the interests of the people of the Bahamas.”
This announcement comes roughly five months after the National Economic Council’s approved DCL’s proposal for Lighthouse Point.
That decision came despite calls from Disney’s lead competitor for the property, Lighthouse Point Partners, to delay the decision for 60 days to give the group an equal opportunity to present its proposal for the property to the public.
Lighthouse Point Partners had proposed constructing a sustainable development which would have included a 100-unit eco-lodge and a learning and research centre with space to accommodate a 20-person class on a 100-acre site adjacent to the national park. The coalition claims the project should yield permanent economic contributions of 190 jobs, $7.7m in annual earnings, $13.76m in economic output annually, $11.56m in annual GDP increase and $300,000 in annual NIB payments.
Environmentalists had argued that Disney would not be good for the environment given its history of managing and operating cruise ports around the globe.