By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A Cabinet minister yesterday voiced optimism that the Grand Lucayan will be "fully turned over" to the ITM Group/Royal Caribbean joint venture before year-end 2020.
Kwasi Thompson, minister of state for Grand Bahama, said in his national address that the duo's partnership, known as Holistica, remains "committed" to the hotel's transformation and that of Freeport Harbour but the project's start will be delayed due to COVID-19.
"We are currently reviewing their post COVID-19 development plans and hope to fully turn over the hotel property before the end of the year," he said, although few specifics or new details were provided.
Tribune Business previously revealed that the Government was hoping to close the Grand Lucayan's sale by December 10, but this will not happen until Royal Caribbean and its joint venture partner have sealed the deal for Freeport Harbour.
Dionisio D'Aguilar, minister of tourism and aviation, previously confirmed that ITM Group and the cruise line want to seal "the entire transaction at once" to protect their commercial interests and not hand an advantage to either Freeport Harbour Company or the Government.
"We would obviously like to conclude the entire transaction at the same time," Mr D'Aguilar told this newspaper. "So, yes, ITM wants to conclude the entire transaction at once. They don't want to close on one part of the deal and the other part of the deal is still pending."
The minister's confirmation adds another twist to long-running negotiations that are attempting to get an agreement perceived as vital to Freeport's economic and tourism revival over the line amid the devastation inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ITM Group/Royal Caribbean joint venture, known as Holistica, is understandably reluctant to close the Grand Lucayan's purchase without first sealing an agreement with Freeport Harbour Company, and its 50 percent shareholder and manager, Hutchison Whampoa.
Securing the hotel without the harbour, and the proposed additional cruise berths and water-based adventure theme park, would hand the advantage to Hutchison. Knowing that ITM/Royal Caribbean will now be desperate to tie down terms for the harbour to complement the Grand Lucayan, Hutchison could seek to alter the deal to its commercial advantage and extract extra concessions from the joint venture.
Thus ITM/Royal Caribbean's interest in sealing both aspects of its $300m project simultaneously. However, sources familiar with developments, speaking on condition of anonymity, argued that the Government has done too little to push Freeport Harbour Company and Hutchison to close their end of a complex deal.
Mr Thompson, meanwhile, said Carnival Cruise Line's separate port project was in the permitting stage, with the Government awaiting receipt of the cruise line's post-COVID-19 plans. "It is expected that the project will lead to 1,000 jobs during construction and between 500 and 1,000 jobs post-construction," he added.
There was also little new with respect to Grand Bahama International Airport, where talks with Hutchison Port Holdings and the Grand Bahama Port Authority were continuing in a bid to "reach an agreement on the best way forward in rebuilding a world-class airport".
"In the interim, a temporary structure is open and fully functional, operating regular daily international and domestic flights. However, in addition to the existing facility work continues to proceed on the expansion of the temporary facility. This new facility is 8,500 square feet, adding to the existing 8,200 square foot facility," Mr Thompson said.
"Once completed there will be 350 seats total, and a new combined Customs and Immigration arrival hall. The airport will be able to accommodate some 350-400 passengers. The project is currently more than 85 percent completed.
"The airport will require a long-term sustainable rebuilding plan. It has been destroyed by hurricanes several times. The airport has been rebuilt three times in the last seven years,. which signifies that a greater plan must be put into place. However, even as we work toward the final product, we are indeed accessible."