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$65m Exuma Airport: December Start Eyed

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Algernon Cargill

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

The Government's top aviation official yesterday said we "definitely want to break ground" on Exuma's $65m airport redevelopment early next month as part of a wider $165m Family Island upgrade.

Algernon Cargill, director of aviation, told Tribune Business that officials were now waiting on the Government to approve the preferred contractor for a project that will increase the airport's terminal from the present 2,000 square feet to some 60,000 square feet.

Exuma, together with ongoing upgrades to the Great Harbour Cay airport in the Berry Islands, represent the first steps in a wider overhaul that is designed to transform key Out Island airports into true tourism "gateways" and links/hubs to other parts of The Bahamas.

Mr Cargill confirmed that officials plan to put the construction contract for a new $15m airport at Deadman's Cay, Long Island, out to tender in January, with construction work starting in March 2021.

He also affirmed that the Government remains committed to a public-private partnership (PPP) model for financing and managing the construction/development of these airports in a bid to alleviate the strain on an already cash-strapped Public Treasury.

Revealing that the process had been broken down into individual airports, Mr Cargill said officials were also awaiting the go-ahead to release several Request for Proposal (RFP) tender documents in a bid to "find the right partner" to manage/operate The Bahamas' key aviation infrastructure assets.

With $35m in Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) financing set to kick-off Exuma's redevelopment, the aviation chief said the Government remained confident that the necessary extra capital could be secured from both domestic and international private sources after receiving several such offers already.

He added that potential airport manager/operator partners were also being encouraged to find ways for Bahamian investors to participate in the financing and earn a return, suggesting that the model would be similar to that used to fund Arawak Port Development Company (APD).

"We definitely want to break ground next month in Exuma," Mr Cargill told this newspaper. "The recommendation has been made on the contractor, and we're waiting on the Cabinet of The Bahamas to give the go ahead, confirm the contractor and advise that we can proceed. We certainly have the funding to move ahead." He did not name the likely contractor.

The IDB's $35m, while substantial enough to get construction in Exuma moving, "is a very small contribution to the total cost" of an initiative that Mr Cargill estimated will require a $165m total investment between Exuma, north Eleuthera, Long Island, Abaco and Great Harbour Cay.

Exuma and north Eleuthera will each cost $65m, he added, with the former involving airside redevelopment through work on the runway as well as a new fire crash rescue station and control tower. "The market has outgrown the current airport," Mr Cargill said, "so we're moving from a terminal with 2,000 square feet space to 60,000 square feet space for arrivals.

"It will bring a lot of strategic advantages in terms of the tourism market as it will allow jets to fly in directly to Exuma rather than have to stop in Nassau. The mid-range strategic plan is to have the Exuma airport act as a hub for the southern Bahamas, so instead of stopping in Nassau planes can stop in Exuma and Eleuthera. We're creating support for travel from those places to other islands in The Bahamas."

Mr Cargill added that the design for Exuma, by Bahamian architect firm, Alexiou & Associates, will be replicated in north Eleuthera. He added that the Government would not provide direct funding for the Family Island airport overhauls, but instead will contribute assets such as land, which it is working to acquire via compulsory acquisition in both Eleuthera and Long Island.

"We're moving quickly. We'd have liked to be a bit further ahead, but this is where we are," Mr Cargill said. "We're at the roof stage in Great Harbour Cay for a 5,000 square foot terminal, and we're in the final stages of planning in Long Island. Our plan is to go to tender in Long Island in January, and then be able to start construction in February/March.

"We're improving the gateways for The Bahamas, as the airports are the first point of entry that travellers see. We're creating businesses for Bahamians to work in at airports and communities around the airport, so we're creating entrepreneurship and creating additional industries for more Bahamians to get hired in the aviation sector. These are all projects that have huge benefits for our economy."

Mr Cargill said it was vital that potential airport operators/managers "come with good plans to generate revenues" and make these facilities financially self-sustainable, adding: "We have a proposal already done, an RFP to go out to find partners for these PPPs. As soon as that's approved, we will be able to issue several of them.

"We've already done the groundwork and are ready to release them to find the right partner to move ahead with. These are for the operator services primarily. We're not too concerned about the financing. We have the financing to move ahead from private sources, arranged mainly by local institutions.

"We have local financing arranged in the event we cannot source international funding, but I doubt that will be an issue. A part of the financing is that Bahamians are able to participate in investing in the airports. That's how we structured it. The important thing is Bahamians are able to participate in the local financing similar to what we did to APD. It's intended to encourage Bahamians to invest in airports."

Comments

Junkan00 3 weeks, 1 day ago

As an Exuma resident I am thrilled to hear that work will begin next month on our new airport. My question is how the cost has now risen by $ 21 million in just over a year, to a staggering total of $ 66 million. on the 26th October last year the cost was quoted at being $ 44 million, and that the airport was due be open by the end of 2020. While I appreciate Covid19 has not helped with the timeline for the opening, which at 14 months was pretty optimistic in the first place, I really can't understand where the 50% increase in cost has come from? In these difficult times I would have thought if anything, the cost should have decreased as contractors would be crying out for work for their businesses and staff?

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sheeprunner12 3 weeks, 1 day ago

Good question ............. at least the FNM government is doing a big development project in a PLP constituency (compared to the PLP bad ways) ............ That in itself is commendable. Look into the fine print of what is now included ........ maybe it is the same thing like the RBDF Sandy Bottom costs.

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DWW 3 weeks, 1 day ago

$1,100 PER SQUARE FOOT. the actual construction is like $500 but the extra $600 PSF if for all the "Extras".

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sheeprunner12 3 weeks, 1 day ago

Yep ......... this Exuma airport rebuild reminds us of the North Abaco port. Overkill

Then, GB airport sits there like a skeleton ............ Lord help us

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lovingbahamas 3 weeks ago

On Abaco they refer to it as the Chinese port, not the North Abaco port. I wonder if the Exuma airport will be the Chinese Airport?

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tribanon 3 weeks, 1 day ago

Why are we borrowing US$35 million (foreign currency) from the IDB for this 'over-kill' 60,000 square foot Exuma airport project when our local banks are supposedly flush with Bahamian dollars to lend to qualified borrowers? Is it because the local banks and investors in Bahamas Government Registered Stock no longer consider our government (our country) to be creditworthy?

One would think most of the materials, supplies and labour for this airport project would be sourced from local contractors (Bahamian businesses) to the maximum extent possible in order to ensure most of the economic benefits from the construction remain in our country. It seems insane that our government is prepared to increase the foreign currency denominated component of our nation debt at a time when the required level of our country's foreign currency reserves is under such intense pressure.

Why is our government not fostering much stronger linkages between the economic benefits of such construction projects and our local economy/businesses? And the same goes for all other other infrastructural development projects on the table. I smell a big fat rat at play!

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DWW 3 weeks, 1 day ago

meanwhile they can't fix the Marsh Harbour airport or the AC at Road Traffic

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lovingbahamas 3 weeks, 1 day ago

So, 165 million for airport "upgrades' while we have people struggling to make ends meet. Really? Look at what happened to Abaco after Dorian. There is no hurricane redevelopment plan. It has taken a year to get some-and I underline some- water and electricity to Abaco. Wouldn't it be better to take that money and create an infrastructure to help our people cope with what may be an annual event? And, get reliable water and electricty to every place in the Bahamas. We just had another power outage in Nassau.

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tribanon 3 weeks ago

Couldn't agree with you more, but obviously our corrupt senior politicians are much more interested in the kinds of development projects involving the right people that can put the most dollars in their pockets.

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sheeprunner12 3 weeks ago

Do not be so sarcastic or negative about building FI airports ........ the future of tourism is getting airlift into each island so that MORE long term stopover tourists can enjoy an outdoorsy type experience in this Covid era.

But the costing of Government projects are definitely suspect

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