By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Grand Lucayan’s chairman yesterday revealed that Hurricane Dorian might delay the resort’s sale until “just before Christmas”, but pledged: “We’ll get it done.”
Michael Scott told Tribune Business that while the category five storm’s impact may push back the targeted early October closing, both Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and its ITM Group partner had “resolved to press forward more than ever”.
“There may be a slight delay,” he disclosed of progress on the Grand Lucayan’s $65m sale. “We were hoping to get it done by early October, but it may now be just before Christmas. We’ll get it done. I promise you that.
“Speaking to Royal Caribbean, ITM and their lawyers, everybody’s resolved, enthused and anxious to go. Royal Caribbean and ITM have resolved to press forward now more than ever because they appreciate the urgency to give Freeport a financial shot in the arm, and rebuild and regenerate the city in the wake of Hurricane Dorian.”
Mr Scott confirmed his initial assessment to Tribune Business that Freeport’s “anchor resort property” had fared much better than expected given the severity of Dorian’s winds and storm surge, and was in far better shape than in Hurricane Matthew’s October 2016 aftermath.
“I was up there touring the property on Monday,” the chairman of Lucayan Renewal Holdings, the Government-owned vehicle that controls the Grand Lucayan, said. “Some of the offices, buildings and homes in Grand Bahama are in horrible shape.
“Compared to those we had damage to foliage, landscaping, and A/C chillers will have to be replaced, while there was some damage to roofs. The structure is fine and we fared very well through the storm.”
Mr Scott said the Grand Lucayan’s Board had allowed Royal Caribbean to use the resort as a base for preparing and distributing the 15,000 meals it is providing daily to Grand Bahama residents. World Central Kitchen, the initiative by celebrity chef Jose Andres, is also cooking 25,000 meals a day on the property.
“We’ve allowed them [Royal Caribbean] to set up a kitchen at the property and are providing them with logistical support for the meals they are providing to the disrupted and distressed in Freeport,” he told Tribune Business. “They’re doing 15,000 meals a day, and chef Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen is doing 25,000 meals per day.”
Tribune Business reported earlier this year how the Government was aiming to close the Grand Lucayan deal by September/October 2019, or before year-end in a worst case scenario. Dorian’s appearance, coupled with all the economic and social dislocation that has resulted, means that Freeport and wider Grand Bahama now need such a development more than ever.
The ITM/Royal Caribbean project was branded “a game changer” for Freeport’s economy when revealed by this newspaper earlier this year, as it promises a revival of the tourism industry that could - together with Carnival’s $100m cruise port - help drag the city out of a 15-year slump.
The Mexican port developer and cruise line have said the $130m first phase investment will cover a 24-month period, meaning that a revived Grand Lucayan - complete with water-based theme park and associated retail, gaming and restaurant amenities - may only be ready to receive its first guests come winter 2021 if the current timeline holds.
As previously detailed by Tribune Business, the proposal focuses on developing water-based adventure theme parks at both Freeport Harbour and around the resort. The Grand Lucayan will be upgraded to “five-star hotel accommodation”, and feature multiple gaming, entertainment and restaurant experiences.
Although few specifics have been released, the joint venture envisions combining Port Lucaya and Freeport Harbour into a “unique destination” that will set Grand Bahama apart from its competitors, not just Florida and other Caribbean nations, but Nassau/Paradise Island and the Family Islands.