By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A Bahamian entrepreneur yesterday blasted that “the crumbs are not enough” as he accused the government of employing double standards in how it has treated his project and that of Royal Caribbean.
Toby Smith, who submitted a formal objection to the cruise line’s Paradise Island-based Royal Beach Club to several regulatory agencies, questioned how much of the $100m in annual spending that project is forecast to generate will remain in The Bahamas.
The Paradise Island Lighthouse and Beach Club head, who has been seeking approval for a rival $2m project in the Colonial Beach area for the past decade, told Tribune Business his company “welcomes every single tourist to The Bahamas and considers the spending they do as foreign direct investment (FDI).
“We want as much foreign direct investment as possible coming to our shores, and I’m sure many Bahamians share the view that we want as much revenue to remain in The Bahamas and circulate in our struggling economy as possible.
“While Royal Caribbean may wish to tout those numbers for revenues made in The Bahamas, they should be mindful that Bahamians are not so ignorant as to think that a vast portion of those revenues don’t sail out the door when the cruise ship departs,” Mr Smith added.
“We’ve seen it demonstrated in Coco Cay and the many private island destinations the cruise lines have developed in The Bahamas. Bahamians aren’t greedy, and don’t want to take it all, but the crumbs are not enough. We’re prepared to work hard for it, and the Government needs to embrace the opportunities that Bahamians want.”
Mr Smith spoke out in response to Royal Caribbean recently releasing economic forecasts projecting that its proposed Royal Beach Club will inject $100m in new annual spending into the Bahamian economy, generating a $1bn boost over a decade. However, it did not break down how much of this sum will be retained by the cruise lines.
The economic impact projections appeared to be released by Royal Caribbean as part of a public relations offensive designed to counter both Mr Smith’s criticisms and concerns voiced by Charles Klonaris, the Downtown Nassau Partnership’s (DNP) co-chair, that the cruise line’s Paradise Island ‘beach break’ destination will suck thousands of passengers away from downtown Nassau.
Mr Smith, who is embroiled in ongoing court battle with the Government over a crown land lease agreement that covers several acres also sought by Royal Caribbean for its development in the Colonial Beach area, yesterday sent a letter to the Department of Physical Planning and Department of Environmental Planning and Protection (DEPP) objecting to the cruise line’s project.
Arguing that his proposal was being treated differently to Royal Caribbean’s by the regulatory agencies, Mr Smith said he had been informed by both the DEPP and the Department of Physical Planning that he could not proceed with Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) and other approval-related work until he obtained his Crown Land lease and his land boundaries are defined.
Yet he argued that Royal Caribbean has been cleared to proceed with the public consultation for site plan approval and other permits relating to its project even though Rochelle Newbold, the DEPP’s head, wrote in an April 1, 2021, letter that her agency had yet to receive “the letter of approval of leases awarded to the developer (Royal Caribbean) by the Office of the Prime Minister”.
Mr Smith wrote: “There seems to be two sets of rules: One for Bahamians and a different one for foreigners. It seems there are those that visit our shores and wish to be treated as royalty, while Bahamians are regarded as peasants in our own land......
“This roadblock ensured that assistance requested by Paradise Island Lighthouse & Beach Club Company was stopped from progress with bureaucratic imposition. However, it is abundantly clear, and this illustrates, that the Department of Physical Planning is willing to entertain a foreign party who up to Rochelle Newbold’s April 1, 2021, letter still have not provided Crown Land lease documents....
“How is it that the Department of Environmental Planning and Protection (DEPP) and the Department of Physical Planning are facilitating and allowing Royal Caribbean to proceed with public consultation for a project if they have not met the requirements requested of a Bahamian?”
Mr Smith also queried whether the April 28 public consultation on Royal Caribbean’s site plan approval could proceed without the 13.5 acres of private land that the cruise line has acquired on western Paradise Island being re-zoned from its present “residential” use to “commercial” to facilitate the project.
“Surely in the absence of such a shift in zoning from residential to commercial there would be a requirement of gazetting such information and public consultation,” Mr Smith wrote. “However, I am not aware of this. Would this present public consultation process not be putting the cart before the horse and premature?”
Mr Smith has initiated a Supreme Court action against the Government alleging he was granted a valid Crown Land lease over two-acre and three-acre parcels, including the lighthouse and the area at Colonial Beach for his “beach break” destination, which is now legally binding.
A January 7, 2020, letter from Richard Hardy, acting director of Lands and Surveys, was headlined “approval for crown land lease” over the two tracts. Mr Smith previously told this newspaper he returned the lease, bearing his signature and other formalities, to the Government on January 9, 2020.
However, the Government has to-date failed to apply its signature and execute the lease, with officials telling the entrepreneur that the document is now “not worth the paper it is written on”.
And documents filed as part of Royal Caribbean’s planning application show that, just five days before Mr Hardy wrote his letter, Candia Ferguson, the Bahamas Investment Authority’s (BIA) director, wrote to the cruise line’s attorney, Campbell Cleare at McKinney, Bancroft & Hughes, confirming that the Government had approved granting it Crown Land “in the vicinity of Colonial Beach”.
The January 2, 2020, letter noted that the exact area to be leased to Royal Caribbean was to be determined and “subject to availability”. And, some six to seven weeks later, Joshua Sears, the Prime Minister’s senior policy advisor, told Royal Caribbean on February 26, 2020, that the National Economic Council (NEC) - really the Cabinet - had approved the grant of ten acres of Crown Land.
This all took place at exactly the same time as Mr Smith was desperately trying to get the Government to execute his rival lease, and Mr Sears’ letter referenced “the existing interest of two other parties” in the same land although it did not name them.