• Genting/RAV in PPP talks on island’s aviation gateway
• Aim to extend runway to 8,000 ft, build new terminal
• Aviation chief: ‘We’re interested’, no taxpayer burden
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Bimini’s largest investor has submitted a $40m proposal that would see it transform and take over the management of that island’s airport, a senior government official revealed yesterday.
Algernon Cargill, director of aviation, confirmed to Tribune Business that the Minnis Cabinet has given “approval in principle” to enter into negotiations with the Genting Group and Gerardo Capo’s RAV Bahamas, joint owners of Resorts World Bimini, over a public-private partnership (PPP) that will see the duo “redevelop, manage and operate” the island’s primary aviation gateway.
“That’s at a very preliminary stage,” he told this newspaper of talks that began around two months ago. “The Genting Group and RAV Bahamas are putting together their proposal so we can secure the formal Cabinet approval of the project. They’re looking at investing approximately $40m in the Bimini airport in order to support all the infrastructure on the island.
“We’re very excited about it. This will be a PPP with that group that is similar to other PPPs. The plans are already in the preliminary stage. They’re looking at lengthening the runway and building a brand new terminal.”
Mr Cargill added that Genting/RAV Bahamas were seeking to source financing for their plans from a US-based company called Phoenix Infrastructure Group, although the government has not yet had contact with the latter.
The Resorts World Bimini owners are aiming to extend the runway from its present 6,000 feet to 8,000 feet, so that it can easily accommodate commercial passenger aircraft as well as private jets. The aviation director also confirmed that the proposal’s principal attraction for the government is that it will have to provide no financing itself from the cash-strapped Public Treasury.
“The good thing about it is that the proposed development will not cost the government any money, and is a way to increase the island’s development without expending any taxpayer money,” Mr Cargill told Tribune Business.
“We’re being very deliberate in our discussions to ensure we have take a well-developed proposal before we submit it to Cabinet for approval. They’ll be the managing partner for the airport, Genting and RAV Bahamas. It’s something we’ve been planning for a couple of months. We’ve had several meetings, but contracts have not been executed. “
Mr Cargill added that the Bimini airport talks were separate from the proposed $150m-$200m package of Family Island airport upgrades that the Government has hired RF Holdings to seek the financing balance for, and also has no links to plans to transform Grand Bahama International Airport following its acquisition by the Government last week.
Pointing out that negotiations may not result in a final deal, he nevertheless said: “We’re interested. We want to come to the table and negotiate. To have a large, modern commercial airport will create jobs, including construction jobs, and the type of development they have planned will create jobs.
“The idea is to increase employment in Bimini and create expansion opportunities for the economy.” While unable to specify how many jobs will be created if the $40m project receives the go-ahead from the Government, Mr Cargill estimated that 250 posts will be created between construction and full-time operations, with the size of airport proposed requiring at least 50 permanent positions.
Given that Genting and RAV Bahamas are Bimini’s largest investors, there may be some unease among smaller tourism operators that handing the duo the island’s prime aviation gateway may give them too much control and power.
However, Mr Cargill saw no downside, and said the Resorts World Bimini owners would likely have no difficulty in sourcing the necessary airport management expertise. “They’d have to pass the litmus test of what is required from an airport manager,” he added.
“They’re experienced business people with the ability to recruit the right talent for airport development, so we’re not concerned about that at this time.”
The Central Bank of The Bahamas, in unveiling its 2021 first quarter economic assessment, also detailed several other projects in the Government’s investment pipeline. These include a $35m investment by HotelConsult Bahamas in what was described as a hotel to be constructed on 107 acres of New Providence land it acquired for $10.3m.
The location of the property was not disclosed, although the project was billed as employing “100 new workers at its peak” along with 80 “incremental” staff. Amenities were described as including a “restaurant, bar, five bungalows, pool lounges, cabanas and the expansion of the existing dock and marina”.
Tribune Business records show an entity called HotelConsult Bahamas as purchasing the Paradise Harbour Club & Marina in 2016, along with the nearby Columbus Tavern, with plans to invest $7m in creating a new resort and restaurant complex. However, the size of land referred to by the Central Bank indicates the $35m may be earmarked for another development.
Other potential foreign direct investment (FDI) projects listed were the $20m Pinnacle Farm (Bahamas), a “full-scale poultry farm” targeted for Andros and which is billed as employing 50 full-time and another 50 part-time workers.
An entity called Marquis Point Holdings is aiming to acquire land at Great Harbour Cay in the Berry Islands for a $10m project that will feature a 20-room luxury resort and an eight-room complex for housing employees, creating ten jobs, while the $1.8m Soul Fly Fishing lodge has been given an International Persons Landholding permit to purchase land for its venture on the same island.
And Navigare Yachting (Bahamas) has also received approval to establish an operations office at the Conch Inn in Marsh Harbour so it can lease yachts to local customers for recreational purposes, creating an extra six jobs.