By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Compass Point’s owner yesterday warned he will not renew his hotel licence for 2020 until the government agrees to support an examination of how the resort industry’s regulation can be improved.
Leigh Rodney, the West Bay Street-based property’s proprietor, told Tribune Business in a statement that he would not comply with a key requirement for his property to remain open until he was able to meet Dionisio D’Aguilar, minister of tourism and aviation, to discuss his concerns.
Acknowledging “the risk to the livelihood of 60 fine Bahamians” employed at Compass Point as a result of his stance, Mr Rodney vented his frustration that his proposals to “make it better in The Bahamas” through improving the ease of doing business are seemingly being rejected or ignored.
Reiterating his long-held belief that the Hotel Licensing Board’s annual inspections are “pointless”, and a “waste of Compass Point’s time” and Bahamian tax dollars, matters came to a head on Tuesday when the board abruptly ended a meeting where Mr Rodney had sought to press his calls for it to become a “partner” - rather than a regulator - with the industry.
Ethan Adderley, the board’s chairman, said that “we need to put the brakes on right there” after Mr Rodney informed the meeting prior to its start that a Tribune Business reporter was present at his request to observe and report on proceedings.
He then told the Compass Point owner that “we had this conversation before” about “no press is allowed in our meetings”, but Mr Rodney denied ever being informed in writing or verbally by the Hotel Licensing Board about this.
The Board chair then told Mr Rodney that he thought the purpose of the meeting was to “talk about the matters relating to your licensing”, and invited the Compass Point owner to re-schedule a time for this.
The duo again sparred over whether the media could be present, with Mr Adderley saying “we do not have press at any of our meetings for any of our operators for our hotels”. Mr Rodney replied: “I guess this meeting is over, to which the Board chairman reminded him there is still “one outstanding communicae that we need for your license, which is the purview of this board”.
“I will not renew my licence until I am given the honour of a meeting with Mr D’Aguilar, and... until [then] and we decide something otherwise I am not renewing my license,” Mr Rodney said. “It is the prerogative of this board to send me a letter to close. I would like it to be sent with Mr D’Aguilar’s signature on it telling me to close my property and I will. I believe in following the laws of this country.”
Mr D’Aguilar could not be reached for comment before press time last night, but the situation effectively revives Mr Rodney’s warning last summer - communicated through a full-page advertisement in The Tribune - that he will shutter Compass Point for good on the date of the next general election unless the government enacts the reforms he is seeking.
Saying that all he wanted was to improve the relationship between the hotel industry and the government, Mr Rodney wrote in his statement to Tribune Business: “I have told any authority that would listen that I will not renew my hotel licence until a plan is put in place, acceptable to me, to study and suggest appropriate changes to how hotel ‘partners’ are regulated and licensed.
“As it stands now, I have not renewed my 2020 licence and will not do so until I can have a meeting with Mr D’Aguilar. If time drags on, the governing authorities are obliged to enforce the law and tell Compass Point to close. If they fail to enforce the law, I will remind them of their duty to do so in a future advertisement.
“The authorities must also not forget one thing. If I close Compass Point it will disappear. It is a great place for another private condo complex that reduces further the Bahamian public’s access to enjoy their beautiful ocean and spectacular sunsets,” Mr Rodney continued.
“I hope the potential loss of public access to Compass Point’s beautiful, privately-owned space or the risk to the livelihood of 60 fine Bahamians will finally force Mr D’Aguilar to schedule a meeting.”
Mr Rodney’s relationship with the Hotel Licensing Board has been somewhat strained in recent years, with the regulator having made initial moves to close Compass Point down in 2018 after he allegedly proved “defiant” and failed to apply for his annual licence renewal that year.
Nothing seemingly resulted, but Mr Rodney yesterday made clear view that the Board and its processes are unnecessary ‘red tape’ and bureaucracy that the resort industry has to contend with.
“After almost 10 years of tolerating without complaint the pointless hotel inspections, conducted by the Ministry of Tourism’s licensing department, I decided the inspection was a waste of Compass Point’s time, an unnecessary use of Government’s (Bahamian citizens’ tax dollars) and an activity that contradicts the word ‘partnership’ when describing the Government and industry’s desired relationship,” he wrote.
“I began an effort to try to get the Government to reconsider the entire purpose of this department. Not only is it contradictory to the word partnership, but its activities have become unnecessary.”
Mr Rodney told Tribune Business that a “hotel licence” did not exist in three US states he had studied, namely Michigan, Nevada and California, although aspects of resort operations were subject to health, sanitation, environmental and safety checks by state, local and federal regulators.
After initially trying to push his ideas to the former Christie administration, Mr Rodney said he was able to secure a meeting with Mr D’Aguilar a few months after the May 2017 general election. He added that the minister “agreed with my observations, and expressed confirmation and sympathy to my frustrations”, and he left believing Mr D’Aguilar “had the same goals as me” to improve governance.
“With the election of the FNM, and its promise to make doing business simpler in The Bahamas, I thought that there would be a receptive new administration, eager for ideas on ow to fulfill their promises,” Mr Rodney said.
He added, though, that he had quickly become disillusioned by his failure to secure a follow-up meeting with Mr D’Aguilar. Noting that many Compass Point staff have been with the resort for 10 years or more, Mr Rodney said the property was now six months closer to his closure deadline and no progress had been made in addressing his concerns.
He likened his situation to being an employee with Mr D’Aguilar as “my boss”, adding that any worker unable to get management to listen to their concerns was effectively being told to “quit”. “If I am forced to quit my job... I want my employees to know why I quit, and I want the Bahamian public to know why I quit,” Mr Rodney said.
Mr D’Aguilar, responding to Mr Rodney’s advertisement last summer, said he would “not be bullied” by the Compass Point owner and blasted that he was “completely out of line”. He told Tribune Business that Mr Rodney needed to become “less confrontational” and stop using his employees as bargaining chips and leverage in his dealings with the government.
And he added that he did not necessarily consider Mr Rodney’s complaints over the hotel licensing process as “rationale”, and warned the US investor that as a non-Bahamian he “must remember he is a guest in this country”.
While admitting his concern for Compass Point’s 60 staff and their families, the minister reiterated he is “not going to stand for” Mr Rodney’s conduct and said he was “sure the Bahamian people will understand why I’m taking the position I’m taking”.
Mr Rodney acquired Compass Point in 2006. The property’s purchase from Island Outpost ended its two-year post-Hurricane Frances closure, although the iconic Compass Point Recording Studios were not included in the deal.
Mr Rodney is president of Detroit Forming Inc, a Detroit-based designer and manufacturer of rigid plastic packaging, a family-owned business that was started by his father in 1962.
He told this newspaper in 2006 that he had been visiting the Bahamas for 20-30 years, having first come here in the 1970s and visited this nation once a year since then. He also owned a residential property at Love Beach, which helped him become familiar with Compass Point.
Mr Rodney is currently also attempting to sell the former Robin Hood retail store on Prince Charles Drive, which is located on the site of the former Pepsi-Cola bottling plant. The Compass Point owner holds a mortgage lien on the property as security for the monies he advanced to finance the eastern expansion of the retailer’s owner, Sandy Schaefer.