• Property sold by Rupert Roberts to close for overhaul
• New owner plans to near-triple marina slips to 143
• Set to ‘take bull by horns’ on wide-ranging upgrade
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A well-known Bimini condo hotel has closed for a $10m overhaul that will near-triple existing marina slips and “polish a diamond in the rough”, its developer revealed yesterday.
Charlie Conigliaro, project manager and partner at Prestige Worldwide Resorts, told Tribune Business that the developer plans to “take the bull by the horns” and totally revamp every aspect of the Bimini Cove Resort and Marina that it acquired in 2019 from Super Value chief, Rupert Roberts.
Having renamed the former Bimini Sands, Mr Conigliaro said he and Prestige’s principals - the billionaire Asplundh family, named as America’s 103rd wealthiest family in 2015 by Forbes magazine - were now racing to transform the property’s buildings, marina, roads, landscaping, restaurants and other amenities over the next several months so it can re-open “before April 2023” in time to catch the island’s peak winter tourism season.
“We want to make it - I shouldn’t say a five-star resort, because it’s not a resort; these are condos in a rental programme - but we want to make it a premium property,” Mr Conigliaro told this newspaper. “I have been going to Bimini for 30 years, and I have to tell you it’s one of The Bahamas’ island jewels. The property has such character and charisma. It was like a diamond in the rough, and what we’re doing is polishing that diamond.
“We took it over right before COVID, and now it is called Bimini Cove. The project has been there for 20-something years, and has been pretty much neglected to a certain degree. The buildings need work; they need to be painted, we have a whole new landscaper ready to bring in 800 trees and shrubs, we’re resurfacing the roads, we’re rebuilding the marina. It’s been under construction for a couple of weeks, and will go from 53 slips to 143 slips.”
That represents a more than-doubling, or 169.8 percent increase, in Bimini Cove’s marina slips. “The marina alone is probably $4m if not more,” Mr Conigliaro said of the developer’s ongoing investment. “We’re probably looking at about a $10m improvement.
“COVID is what delayed the renovation part of it. This is the first year we can get things done. It’s been quite difficult prior with the regulations in The Bahamas. It discouraged a lot of people from coming. It was just a hassle. Now everything has opened up and that’s made it a lot easier.”
Prestige acquired the 53 unsold condo units at Bimini Cove, out of a total 216, together with the marina and associated amenities in that 2019 deal with Mr Roberts. Mr Conigliaro yesterday pledged that the upgrades will be more than just a renovation, telling this newspaper: “When we get done with it it’s going to look like a brand new development.
“It needs it. It was neglected in so many ways for various reasons. We’re taking the bull by the horns and going to get it done. It’s going to be something that everyone’s proud to go to when it’s finished.... We have a lot going on, a lot going on. It’s going to be non-stop for the next few months.”
Bimini Cove, in announcing its temporary closure, said in a flyer: “We look forward to seeing you in 2023, but.... Every property needs renovations from time to time, and our time is now. The property will be closed starting today [December 1] until May 1, 2023. Fuel sales will continue.
“During this time we will be upgrading water power supply, rooms, restaurants and other needed upgrades. In addition, new docks and power pedestals are being installed. We are also building a beachfront tiki bar.” Bimini Cove’s fuel dock and offices will remain open to its 163 homeowners and boats requiring fuel during the renovation period, but the property will be closed to vacation and rental guests.
“We don’t want them to have a bad experience,” Mr Conigliaro said of the closure to rental guests. “We’d prefer to keep it closed until we’re ready, which will be in the Spring. We’ll have a grand opening, and welcome everyone with open arms.
“It would only be hurting us by letting people stay there. There are a lot of problems, a lot of issues we have to work through, and don’t want people coming in here and having a bad experience because they’ll tell ten other people. You have a bad experience and it spreads like wildfire.
“We want it to be right. It will cost us money to close it down, but that’s the price we have to pay for doing it right. I’d like to be finished before April. You’re dealing with crews and bringing people in. That’s the challenging part. I think we can accomplish, if not all of it, 90 percent of it before the season starts. This is the offseason. It’s the perfect time to get it done,” he continued.
“A lot of people are upset with us for closing down, but they’ll understand once they see it open and what we’ve accomplished and achieved. They’ll be happy. At the moment it’s bittersweet but I’m confident it’s going to be beautiful when it’s all done.”
Mr Conigliaro said he would be present in Bimini every week, for several days at a time if needed, to oversee the construction work. He added that Bimini Cove had hired, and obtained a work permit for, Kyle Penniston who will live on the property as a full-time operations manager.
Writing in a December 5, 2022, letter to Bimini Cove’s homeowners, Mr Conigliaro apologised for “all the issues and problems” encountered over the past year but voiced hope these could be placed “in the rear view mirror”. He said: “Kyle and I are very aware of all the issues and problems that occurred this year and would like to take this time to apologize to you, family members and friends for any problems or inconvenience you may have experienced this past year.
“We make no excuses and feel it is important to keep you informed of the future of Bimini Cove. Just this year we formed and set up a dedicated working group, including our managers and resolute homeowners, to help make decisions that will have a positive impact on our property.
“It is safe to say there have been a fair number of challenges this year, and I hope we can all agree to put them in our rear view mirrors. I want to assure all of you that we are committed 110 percent engaged with our property’s success.”
Confirming that more full-time staff will be hired, Mr Conigliaro added: “We have made a big decision to cease all operations as of December 1. That means we are temporarily closing the store and petite conch and marina. The fuel dock and offices will remain open to our homeowners and customers needing fuel; rental reservations will halt until March or April for obvious reasons.
“The ongoing construction of our marina and our inlet needs dredging, plus a list of other improvements scheduled this year. Please understand why this decision is so important. The property needs renovation and the last thing we need is to have guests on site with no amenities and disrupted by heavy equipment during these changes which will be starting shortly.”
Promising a new rental programme, he concluded: “We know this is a bold plan.... These improvements are necessary and long overdue, especially if we are to restore confidence in our abilities.” The upgrades also include beach restoration and “changing the colour scheme of the whole property”.
Mr Conigliaro did not specify whether the contractors and workers hired will all be Bahamian. He added, though, that the upgrades will make it easier to sell the remaining 53 condos, some of which are available for purchase in the low $200,000 range.
“We think we won’t have a problem selling them,” he added. “It’s been hard to sell them in the property’s current state. It’s just not appealing. It looked like a development built in the desert; it didn’t have any character or appeal. They [the previous owners] had the right idea but never followed through with it.”