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Gov’T In ‘Final Talks’ On Grand Lucayan

By YOURI KEMP

Tribune Business Reporter

ykemp@tribunemedia.net

The Government is in the “final phase of discussions” with Royal Caribbean over its long-running Grand Lucayan acquisition, the deputy prime minister said yesterday.

Chester Cooper, also minister of tourism, investments and aviation, speaking ahead of the weekly Cabinet meeting, said: “We are in the final phase of discussions with Royal Caribbean in relation to the Grand Lucayan matter, and until those discussions are concluded I wouldn’t want to be making any further pronouncements on it.

“I’ve indicated my view publicly as to what I think of the deal itself. Royal Caribbean is a long-standing partner of The Bahamas; they’ve been here for 50 years. They recently launched new ships. Last week, we welcomed a new cruise ship to The Bahamas. They have other interests in Grand Bahama; they have other interests in Nassau as well.

“So when there is a marriage as long as the one we have with Royal Caribbean, every day isn’t going to be Sunday. Suffice to say the issue in Grand Bahama as it relates to the Grand Lucayan, in the view of this government, has gone on too long and I can tell you that we are close to a resolution in relation to that specific matter.”

Mr Cooper divulged no specifics on the negotiations, so it remains unclear just how far the Davis administration’s talks with the cruise giant have progressed. In particular, there was no mention of whether Royal Caribbean and its ITM Group partner have managed to seal the deal for Freeport Harbour with the Hutchison Whampoa-controlled Freeport Harbour Company.

The deputy prime minister’s predecessor as minister of tourism, Dionisio D’Aguilar, previously told this newspaper that completion of the Freeport Harbour arrangement was a “condition precedent” for closing the Grand Lucayan’s sale - meaning the ITM/Royal Caribbean joint venture will not close on the hotel’s purchase until talks with Hutchison reach a satisfactory outcome.

The Grand Lucayan’s sale was derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the Minnis administration having held a much-publicised agreement signing just weeks before the March 2020 lockdown. Subsequently, Royal Caribbean/ITM used COVID to water down the terms of the agreement and reduce the benefits to the Bahamian people - at least in the eyes of the resort’s former Board.

The terms were reduced to the point where Royal Caribbean/ITM would have obtained vendor financing from the Government to fund the purchase, but upgrades to the Grand Lucayan woukld have been delayed to later in the decade.

When asked whether the Davis administration is merely spouting the same rhetoric as its predecessors, Mr Cooper replied: “I don’t speak for my predecessors. I’ve been in office for eight weeks. We’ve begun the discussion in earnest with our partners.

“My approach to this job is one of collaboration and speaking with the stakeholders. Suffice to say Royal Caribbean knows my position. The position of our government is very clear as of the deal itself. We’ve said it publicly, and Royal Caribbean understands very clearly what the discussion is about.”

Mr Cooper responded with “no comment” when asked whether Royal Caribbean’s Crown Land lease on Paradise Island was used by the former government to incentivise the cruise giant to complete the Grand Lucayan deal.

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