• Eleuthera development to create 200 full-time jobs
• Developer: All approvals in; site clearance started
• Briland experience to help: ‘I’m not a crazy guy’
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A North Eleuthera developer plans to create “a Bali in beautiful Bahamas” through a mixed-use project forecast to generate up to 200 full-time jobs via a $50m investment in the resort component alone.
Eric Harari, principal for the Gregory Town-based Bel Air Resort development, told Tribune Business in a recent interview he was seeking to “create something very special and unique” by combining the environment and culture that The Bahamas offers with the quality service typically found at Aman Resorts and other high-end Asian inspired boutique hotels.
Disclosing that site clearance has already at the 50.73-acre parcel located some 300 yards from The Cove resort, he added that the necessary planning and environmental approvals - including the Environmental Clearance Certificate (CEC) - have been obtained to allow Bel Air to proceed with construction work likely to start “within five months”.
Mr Harari, a Miami-based real estate developer who has delivered projects in Canada as well as three upscale villas on Harbour Island, told this newspaper the project’s build-out will see 50-100 construction workers on-site “at all times” with this number potentially increasing to between 150-200 once work on the planned 44 residential home sites begins.
Pledging that the development will seek to employ as many Bahamians, and especially Eleuthera natives, as possible, he revealed the first phase will involve a $15m investment on construction of the club house, associated amenities and 15 cottages that will be the first units in a hotel pool intended to ultimately be 70-strong.
Describing The Bahamas as his “second home”, Mr Harari said construction work on the first phase will likely take between six to eight months from start, and the first buildings should emerge by summer 2023. Asked why he had selected North Eleuthera as the site for his second Bel Air-branded development, the developer cited airlift access to major aviation hubs such as Miami and Fort Lauderdale as well as proximity to his existing interests in Harbour Island.
“First off, I love North Eleuthera specifically. I’ve been to central Eleuthera, but I haven’t gone as far as south Eleuthera. I was looking for sites, and what attracted me is the proximity to Harbour Island,” Mr Harari told Tribune Business. “There’s no land in Harbour Island any more. We bought 55 total acres. Harbour Island is 400 acres. It’s about 12 percent [sic 13.75 percent] of the island.
“My second home is The Bahamas. Why would I do it anywhere else? I wanted to create something very special, bringing like a Balinese Bahamas project with a lot of privacy between the units. To bring Bali, Asia in The Bahamas, this was my inspiration. This is something very different.
“I’ve visited multiple Aman Resorts where the attention is on service. The service is impeccable, and there is a large number of staff working in the hotel compared to the number of guests. It can be a Bali in beautiful Bahamas. I’ve been to the Maldives, Taiwan, Japan. But when I walk into this place it slaps me in the face, Eleuthera, Harbour Island,” he continued.
“It’s stuck in time, and that’s what I like. I would imagine it was the same 50 years ago. This is the challenge and why no one is coming. No one wants to be the first in. It’s an opportunity to create something special. We’re very excited to have this opportunity to create something unique.”
The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the Bel Air project, produced by Bahamas-based SEV Consulting Group, reveals that unlike many resort and beachfront developments Mr Harari is proposing no marina or golf course facilities.
The project will instead feature a resort component featuring 70 cottages complete with a restaurant, bar, pool, gym and spa. A further 20-30 cottages will be linked to a beach club house, while 44 residential lot/home packages will be offered to potential real estate buyers.
Bel Air’s total 56 acres is rounded out by a 5.41 acre parcel some 3.5 miles northwest of Gregory Town on Gaulding Cay. “The Gaulding Cay property is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen and and we’re going to do a bistro and beach club for our clients. We intend to recreate a pool beach on The Bluff property, but people also want a beach experience.” Mr Harari said.
Revealing that the CEC approval was received from the Department of Environmental Planning and Protection one month ago, the developer added: “We’ve already started the site preparation and have been in there for three weeks. It’s tedious work. We’re starting to push the roads down, and are preparing to start construction probably within five months.
“In phase one we’re going to do the clubhouse, luxury amenities and are going to start 15 cottages. Some $15m will be invested in the first instance on the hotel part, and we’re probably talking $40m-$50m over the life of the project for the hotel part. We will build to 70. Once we start with this, we will scale it up every year by building another 15 so that it’s sustainable.
“When the whole hotel part is fully completed, we anticipate 150-200 people will be working there. The construction part, we’re going to have sub-contractors, so there will probably be 50-100 people at all times.”
Having studied law at university, Mr Harari said he entered the construction and real estate business in Miami in 1999 with a focus on the short-term rental market prior to the evolution of vacation rental sites such as Airbnb. After deciding to exit the Miami market because it was over-saturated, he launched his first Bel Air - Bel Air Tremblant - in Canada as a 543-acre site located minutes away from Quebec’s Mount Tremblant Ski Resort.
Having initially thought it would take 15 years to build out, Mr Harari said some 133 lots spread across 400 acres have now been acquired by real estate buyers, with 120 of those sales occurring within four years. Some 40 homes have already been built, he added, while a 90-unit hotel was developed over the remaining 143 acres.
Besides Canada, his other focus has been The Bahamas. “I fell in love with Harbour Island,” he revealed. “I’ve been coming to The Bahamas for 40 years, and went to Harbour Island for the first time in 2001. I said it was beautiful, and would like to build a home for myself.”
While it took around more than a decade to find a suitable site, Mr Harari has now developed three high-end rental properties - the La Palmeraie Villas collection - two of which are next to each other on the pink sand beach. These two each have nine bedrooms, while the third has seven and is located 300 feet from the beach. Collectively, they can accommodate 50 persons.
Disclosing that some $25m has been invested collectively in these properties, Mr Harari said their development had given himself and his team the necessary experience to navigate The Bahamas’ approvals process more seamlessly than newcomers to this country.
“One of the big differences we have with other people... People say I’m a crazy guy, just another crazy guy. I don’t think I’m crazy. I understand how The Bahamas works. We got this project approved in nine months. It was complicated. We did it, and are moving along,” he told Tribune Business.
“When people tell me it’s complicated, it’s complicated. The Bahamas is very hard. It’s easy to fall in love, but is hard to execute because people do not know what they’re faced with. I know how this works.” Mr Harari said the boutique size of his company, with 50-60 persons split between Miami, Canada and The Bahamas, give it an advantage over larger rivals by affording flexibility as well as the chance to be innovative and creative with projects.