By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
THE Eleuthera Chamber of Commerce’s president yesterday called for the Heads of Agreement (HOA) for Disney’s $250-$400m Lighthouse Point project, and the development “strategy”, to be made public.
Thomas Sands told Tribune Business he attended an Eleuthera Town Hall meeting on Saturday night where Dr Hubert Minnis spoke on the project and confirmed the agreement’s signing. “I commended the prime minister for coming to visit the people and communities to share information and stay in touch. I did, however, have a few concerns,” he revealed.
“I think first of all we were told that a Heads of Agreement was signed, and there was an overview of some of the points. I wanted to know when the official document would be shared so we can see the details. The PM provided some headline details but I think it would be wise if we could dive into the details.
“I also did not hear at that particular meeting a strategy to ensure the execution of that agreement; a strategy of the Bahamas government to ensure the local community takes advantage of the opportunity, and a specific strategy that points to not just employment alone but also the entrepreneurial opportunities. I wanted to hear the strategy.”
The Prime Minister’s Office, in a bid to quell rising claims that the deal signed with Disney last week was “secretive” and lacked transparency, especially since the media was not present, last night issued a statement pledging that the Heads of Agreement will be tabled at the House of Assembly’s next meeting on Wednesday, March 20.
The Government and Disney Island Development Ltd last week signed the formal agreement to develop a cruise port and entertainment facility at Lighthouse Point, the southernmost tip of Eleuthera.
The deal calls for the conveyance of 190 acres of land at the southernmost point of the 700-acre property - worth $6.29m - to the Government for creation of a national park. In a subsequent statement, the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) also noted Disney’s “completed acquisition” of the highly sought after property from a “private seller” - The Related Group and Meritage Hospitality.
Core elements of the proposed project, according to the Prime Minister’s Office, include low density development and sustainable design, public access and economic opportunities for Bahamians. Disney has pledged that a minimum of 120 Bahamians will be employed directly during the construction of the project, with an overall ratio of 80 percent Bahamian workers to 20 percent foreign during this phase.
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. 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”.
Mr Sands, meanwhile, reiterated that there must be a strategy to ensure both sides’ obligations under the Heads of Agreement are fulfilled. “I think that in a lot of the documents we hear ideas and principles, but we don’t see a strategy to ensure the Heads of Agreement is fulfilled and, at the same time, locals and entrepreneurs can really take full advance of the opportunity,” he added.
“I also did not hear about infrastructure. Under the scenario, what is proposed is a significant investment and strain on an infrastructure that is outdated and inadequate. I did not hear a strategy and a plan to address things such as water supply, electricity, docks, airports, schools, policing, health care, utilities and technology.”
Mr Sands continued: “Due to the fact that South Eleuthera has been in recession for such an extended period, all of those things are crumbling. I also didn’t hear a timeline. Maybe these are pending things, but in terms of persons who want to work and prepare their business, there has to be a strategy or timeline. I think this development creates a lot of opportunity if we manage it well. All of us in this community have to come together to ensure its success.”
The Prime Minister’s Office added: “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 LJM 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.”