The Nassau Lighthouse. Photo: Terrel W. Carey/Tribune Staff
By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
A Bahamian entrepreneur yesterday said he was “assured” by Dr Hubert Minnis that his $2m Paradise Island project would not be “compromised” in favour of Royal Caribbean (RCCL).
Toby Smith, principal of Paradise Island Lighthouse & Beach Club Company, told Guardian Talk Radio that his efforts to lease five acres of crown land on Paradise Island’s western end would not be sacrificed to ensure the cruise line’s Grand Lucayan joint venture closed that deal.
“The prime minister reassured me he was not about to compromise [my] deal with Carnival or RCCL or any other cruise line, and to be patient,” Mr Smith said, after finding out his project was possibly being held up while the government focused on getting the $300m Freeport project over the line.
Tribune Business had previously been told by informed sources that the Minnis administration was waiting for that deal to close before it would approve Royal Caribbean’s beach club plans for Paradise Island/Colonial Beach - in effect, using the Nassau deal as leverage to get the cruise line to complete the Grand Lucayan purchase.
This newspaper understands that negotiations between the government, and Royal Caribbean, ITM Group and their Holistica joint venture, hit an “impasse” in November/December 2019. To break this, the prime minister is said to have met individually with all the players during the first or second week in January.
This is exactly the same time that Mr Smith received his “approval for crown land lease” document on January 7, 2020, complete with copy of the lease for two parcels - one for two acres, the other for three - to be signed and executed. He signed and returned it on January 9, but the government has held-off on applying its signature.
Mr Smith, who said he was “suckered” into thinking a crown land lease he had been negotiating for eight years was proceeding only for Royal Caribbean to subsequently apply for much of the same land, then came under pressure from the government to accept an “inferior” piece of land at Colonial Beach.
The entrepreneur said he spoke to Michael Bayley, Royal Caribbean’s president and chief executive, at the Grand Lucayan signing on March 2 in the hope they could work out a compromise over their competing Paradise Island ambitions.
Mr Smith said: “I approached him very civilly and said: ‘I think it would be beneficial to both parties that you understand what it is I’m trying to do over there, let me understand what you’re trying to do over there and then maybe we can both figure out how we can both do what we want to do over there together.”
He added that he would like to “take the heat off of the prime minister” on which deal he would prefer over the other, and said he would like to “try to figure out how we can work this one out. Then, once me and you can agree, we can go to the prime minister and say: ‘Hey, prime minister we’re looking for a trifecta win where my company wins, RCCL wins and the government wins’.”