By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The entrepreneur behind the proposed $2m restoration of Paradise Island’s lighthouse is urging the government to “get out the way and let all Bahamians thrive” in a bid to reboot the economy after COVID-19.
Toby Smith, principal of Paradise Island Lighthouse & Beach Club Company, told Tribune Business that he and other Bahamian entrepreneurs would no longer take rejection by the authorities given that their risk-taking and energy were critical ingredients that the economy needs now more than ever.
“I don’t need an Economic Recovery Committee, I don’t need an economic recovery committee’s sub-committee. I need action, and we’re ready to go now,” Mr Smith said of a project that would create 40 full-time jobs and a ‘beach break’ destination - accessible to both tourists and Bahamians - on Paradise Island’s western end.
“Stop stepping in the way and allow us to proceed,” he told the Prime Minister and the Government. “Bahamians have had enough of the waiting game. We need you to walk and chew gum. We need you to multi-task. We understand COVID-19, we understand hurricanes, but we’re tired of the excuses.
“We need to get back to work and be a part of this economy. Where is your heart? Where is your compassion? I understand, with full comprehension, that my project is not the only project waiting on government while foreign projects get the fast track only to not materialise.
“There are people in Abaco waiting for approval of their projects, people from all over The Bahamas, and we’re getting stronger in our voice. Bahamians are becoming united to say enough is enough and let us thrive. Why do we have to beg? We need action now.”
Mr Smith previously voiced concerns that his own project, for which he signed a lease for Crown Land in the Colonial Beach area earlier this year, was in danger of being “marginalised” and treated like “a second class citizen” to make way for Royal Caribbean’s Royal Beach Club.
The cruise line wants much of the Crown Land that Mr Smith is seeking for his project, but the COVID-19 pandemic’s shutdown of the cruise industry at the very least has given the Bahamian entrepreneur breathing space if not an advantage given that his project - including the financing - is ready to proceed complete with Bahamas Investment Authority (BIA) approvals.
A Royal Caribbean spokesperson, while confirming that the cruise line remains committed to its Paradise Island ambitions, conceded in a statement that they may be delayed. “It is still our intention to move forward with the project. We are reviewing our plans and timelines in the fluid situation caused by impacts of the pandemic,” they said.
Meanwhile, Mr Smith told Tribune Business: “I’m not going to continue to be ignored. The financing is in place. We can monitor and enforce safe social distancing. And there is legal recourse available. Is that what Bahamians have to be faced with in our country?
“I have attempted through a mediator to reach out to Royal Caribbean to explain where my boundaries are in my Crown Land lease agreement, and I’m astonished Royal Caribbean are still trying to push over my boundaries with what appears to be the support of the Government of The Bahamas. Do we need to be issuing work permits and Crown Land to a foreign cruise line?”
Mr Smith, in an April 30 letter to the Prime Minister, urged: “We wish to have a virtual meeting with you to discuss the Paradise Island Lighthouse & Beach Club project so we can invest and create commercial opportunities for Bahamians, get Bahamians back to work and assist in getting the economy turned around.
“While we are cognisant and sensitive to the current global pandemic, we would like to receive all government approvals once those agencies reopen and commence as soon as the all-clear sign is given. We have tens of thousands of unemployed Bahamians, and we would like this project to receive accelerated processing to provide for opportunities for Bahamians with an urgency.
“We also wish to receive direct government assistance to mitigate any delays originated by government, and an accountable government designate to bring this project to fruition. Since we are in our ninth year of trying to conclude this matter with the Government we trust you understand why accountability is important to us.”
Mr Smith added that ownership and project financing will be 100 percent Bahamian, with the development generating $5m per year in revenues for the Government once complete and fully operational. Some 40 construction jobs will also be created if it gets the go-ahead, while an initial public offering (IPO) to local investors remains a long-term goal.