By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Royal Caribbean’s Bahamian attorney this week confirmed it has acquired multiple real estate parcels on Paradise Island’s western end, but declined to specify whether it is also seeking crown land.
Campbell Cleare, partner at McKinney, Bancroft and Hughes, instead directed Tribune Business to speak to the Prime Minister’s Office after multiple sources suggested the Department of Lands and Surveys has been given instructions to draw-up plans to address the cruise line’s request.
This newspaper has never received an answer to its questions, submitted through Dr Hubert Minnis’ official spokesman several weeks ago, as to whether Royal Caribbean has submitted an application to purchase, lease or otherwise use as much as ten acres of crown land in efforts to develop a beach break/getaway destination for the thousands of passengers it brings to Nassau annually.
However, Mr Cleare did affirm Tribune Business revelations dating back to early 2019 that the cruise line giant has been steadily acquiring real estate parcels on Paradise Island’s western end from their private high-end owners.
“I do represent Royal Caribbean,” he said. “Royal Caribbean has bought a number of parcels of land on the western side of Paradise Island. I can tell you, because we’ve concluded the matter and it’s of public record, that we did buy a number of parcels on western Paradise Island.”
Mr Cleare, though, was less forthcoming when asked whether his client was also seeking crown land to go with its private acquisitions. “I think the best people to ask are the Office of the Prime Minister,” he replied, neither confirming or denying Royal Caribbean’s intentions.
“As it relates to crown land, you need to speak to the Crown. I cannot go any further than that. The only people who can tell you that are the Office of the Prime Minister or the surveyor general. Certainly, if the Office of the Prime Minister cannot tell you, I certainly cannot. I’m sure you understand the dynamics of all this.”
Tribune Business was last night awaiting replies from Royal Caribbean to its questions on the Paradise Island plans as it went to press. Its real estate purchases are thought to accompany virtually all the private parcels extending west from the Yoga Retreat, although there is understood to be one lot owner who may be holding out.
Several properties on Paradise Island’s western end have been on the market in recent years. Hollywood actor Nicholas Cage’s property, Kilkee House, was put up for auction in 2016, while art dealer Gilbert Lloyd, whose father co-founded the Marlborough Gallery, was said to be seeking near-$16m when his property was advertised for sale in 2017.
Both are thought to have been snapped up by Royal Caribbean, along with the Beach House Villas property developed by Sterling Global Financial chief, David Kosoy, who is now spearheading Hurricane Hole’s redevelopment. Tribune Business understands that Royal Caribbean may have spent as much as $54m on these deals, including $18m on Mr Kosoy’s former property.
The remaining real estate, which sits between the lighthouse and the last privately-owned property, is Crown Land. Royal Caribbean is thought to be eager to add this to its holdings as the final piece in the land jigsaw that will form a beach-centred entertainment destination for the passengers it brings to Nassau.
It is unclear what amenities/attractions will be developed at the site, which sits on the other side of Nassau Harbour almost exactly opposite Prince George Wharf and the cruise terminal that will undergo a $250m transformation under Global Ports Holding’s supervision.
However, it is unlikely to feature any type of water park as this would bring Royal Caribbean into direct competition with the nearby Atlantis resort. The cruise line, having seen how popular Atlantis ‘day passes’ have been with cruise passengers, is thought to be keen to retain this spending for itself at a destination where it can control the experience and provide improved product offerings.
Such plans are unlikely to be received with joy by Bay Street and downtown Nassau merchants, given that this will likely result in a reduced customer base and cruise passenger-related revenues. And Royal Caribbean’s plans, as previously reported by this newspaper, may also compete - and conflict with - western Paradise Island Crown Land applications submitted by at least one Bahamian entrepreneur.
Toby Smith, principal of Paradise Island Lighthouse & Beach Club Company, earlier this month revealed that he already possesses a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) secured with the Antiquities, Monuments and Museums Corporation (AMMC) to facilitate his lighthouse-centred $2m project to transform Paradise Island’s western end.
Tribune Business understands that Mr Smith and his company have also applied to lease around five acres of Crown Land in that area, and are only waiting for the Government to sign-off on the relevant lease. But it is unclear whether the Minnis administration will be unable to accommodate both him and Royal Caribbean, and their respective plans.
Mr Smith declined to comment when contacted by Tribune Business this week. It creates a potential dilemma for the Government, though, as it will not wish to be seen pushing Mr Smith out in favour of a foreign corporate giant - especially given that Crown Land is involved, while his MoU dates back several years.
The Prime Minister this week also suggested he was keen to introduce more transparency and method around Crown Land grants as he blasted alleged “greedy hoarders” who are sitting on 1,000 acres or more of such property.
Confirmation of Royal Caribbean’s Paradise Island purchases comes as it prepares to join its ITM Group joint venture partner in signing the purchase agreement, and Heads of Agreement, for the $275m Grand Lucayan and Freeport Harbour redevelopment on Monday.
Tribune Business previously reported suggestions that the Government is using Royal Caribbean’s desire for a Nassau Harbour destination as “leverage” in negotiations over the Grand Lucayan deal.
This newspaper was told that the Minnis administration will not give the final go-ahead for Royal Caribbean’s Nassau project until the deal for its $275m overhaul of Freeport’s “anchor” property and harbour is sealed.
The cruise line is understood to have taken a tough approach to the Freeport negotiations, and the length of time taken to close the sale - it is almost a year since the Letter of Intent was signed - is thought to have frustrated the Government.
Royal Caribbean, though, is investing heavily in The Bahamas. Besides Nassau and the Grand Lucayan, it has already spent around $250m in enhancing its private island, Coco Cay in the Berry Islands, into the Perfect Day destination.