By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
Bahamians last night raised concerns over Royal Caribbean’s proposed Paradise Island beach club despite cruise line executives pledging it will inject $100m annually into the economy in its first decade.
James Boink, president of private destinations for Royal Caribbean Cruises, told a virtual Department of Physical Planning meeting that the multi-million dollar Royal Beach Club, once completed, will provide a major boost to the economy’s post-COVID revival by generating $1bn in spending over a ten-year period.
He added that the project will create an estimated 250 jobs for Bahamians, 100 of which will come from the construction industry.
“Our project will contribute over $1bn in just the first ten years,” Mr Boink said. “Our project will also drive demand for Nassau, and this will result in an increase of 1.2 million additional guests every single year to Nassau over the period to 2030, where we will stabilise around 2.5m guests.
“Not only will we bring more guests to Nassau but we will also have our guests spend more time on shore. This is critical for the downtown Nassau area, and we will also have our guests enjoy Royal Beach Club for approximately four to five hours.
“… We will employ locally, buy locally and partner locally. We project and estimate 250 new jobs. One hundred of these jobs will occur during construction, and we will use a Bahamian contractor for our project, much as we have for the Coco [Cay] project as well.
“We anticipate that when we open in 2023 that we will have 150 positions, and it is our commitment that within five years all of these positions will be filled by Bahamians.”
The planning meeting was called as part of Royal Caribbean’s formal bid to obtain site plan approval for the project from the Town Planning Committee. However, the cruise line’s presentation generated questions and concerns from attendees, who called for more details on the project.
Chief among those concerns was whether Royal Caribbean has been granted a Crown Land lease by the Government for acreage on western Paradise Island in the Colonial Beach area.
The issue was raised by Bahamian entrepreneur Toby Smith, who is currently 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.
Royal Caribbean has steadily amassed around 13.5 acres on Paradise Island’s western end by buying out private landowners in the area, but it is also seeking to lease some ten acres of crown land to complete its development.
This has brought it into potential conflict with Mr Smith, who is seeking himself to lease two crown land parcels at Paradise Island’s western end, one of which involves two acres around the lighthouse and another three acres for the “beach break” element of his own $2m project.
Mr Smith’s court action is alleging that he was granted a valid crown land lease over both 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 Mr Smith previously voiced fears his project was being “marginalised” and treated like “a second class citizen” to make way for Royal Caribbean’s rival beach break destination.
Asked last night if the cruise line has an executed Crown Land lease to facilitate its proposed project, Mr Broink replied: “All of our terms had been agreed upon with the Government and we are pending signature upon final execution of the contract.”
Environmentalists also voiced concerns that the private land sought and acquired by Royal Caribbean for the Royal Beach Club is presently zoned for residential property, and is said to have “low density”, which would mean the area need to be rezoned for commercial use under planning laws.
Asked if the proposed development complies with Bahamian laws as it relates to zoning, a cruise company executive replied: “Our project has been filed with Town Planning and you are correct that this is residential property and this is part of the approval that we seek for our project.”
Royal Caribbean was also questioned about its sewerage and waste management protocols. Tim Blankenship, a member of its design team, responded: “Our plan to handle solid waste is to work with a local vendor to make use of existing recycling and solid waste management that’s available in Nassau currently.
“ .. There will be a commercial barge operated by local vendors that will address the solid waste.”
“Relative to sewerage collection and treatment, Lambert Knowles indicated that there will be a sewage treatment package plan on island that will operate and collect the sewerage from the guests and the staff that’s on the island, and currently the design team is evaluating the potential use for reclaimed water for use in irrigation of certain areas of landscaping of the project.”