By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
DEPUTY Prime Minister Chester Cooper said the level of interest from investors in the Grand Lucayan property is growing every day and the government is working diligently to achieve a positive outcome for the resort on Grand Bahama and its residents.
“We are confident already with the level of interest we are seeing,” affirmed Mr Cooper during a press conference at the resort yesterday.
So far six investors have expressed interest in the property, and he hopes it will attract Bahamian investors as well.
When asked about the six potential investors, Mr Cooper said: “Of course, I am not at liberty at this point to disclose those suitors for the property. I hope in due course we will be able to share that with you. But over the next, perhaps, six weeks we will be talking with all of them, and any other new potential investor that comes forward at the end of that period we hope to be able to enter in direct negotiations with one of them.
“So that is a process moving forward and hopefully in six weeks, we will be able to say more.”
In December, it was announced that the agreement between the government and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines/ITM Group for the acquisition of the resort had been cancelled. Mr Cooper, who is also Minister of Tourism, Investments and Aviation, felt the deal negotiated under Minnis administration was “a bad” one.
Speaking about those groups interested in the property, he said yesterday: “At least six of them and this list is expanding every day. People understand the value generally that exists on the waterfront and the opportunities here on Grand Bahama.”
Mr Cooper, along with Minister for Grand Bahama Ginger Moxey, toured the property and met with the newly appointed board for the first board meeting for 2022. Chartered public accountant Julian Russell serves as chairman of the board.
Other professionals making up the board include three attorneys and a veteran executive hotelier in the tourism industry.
Mr Cooper said yesterday’s meeting signals an important first step in the development and way forward for Grand Lucayan.
“This is an important step in the transition of this asset and hopefully to being a booming part of the tourism product here in Grand Bahama,” he stated.
“We have terminated that deal (with RCL) by mutual agreement, and we are moving forward to find a new partner and a new investor for this property. This is a fantastic asset on the waterfront here and this is an opportunity to strengthen the tourist product in Grand Bahama. “And the goal of this board is to ensure it comes to fruition in the shortest possible time frame.
“So today in our board meeting we will discuss the way forward. We will be talking about how we can cause this development to be reopened in the shortest possible time frame,” Mr Cooper said.
The Minnis administration purchased the hotel for $65 million in August 2018. Despite criticism over the move, the former government maintained it only planned to hold on to the hotel to preserve the island’s economy before selling it to a viable developer.
Mr Cooper indicated that Grand Lucayan has been the cause of great concern for some time to Grand Bahamians.
“I want to say to the people of Grand Bahama we will not tarry in our work. We recognise what is riding on the redevelopment here. And we are working expeditiously to cause there to be a positive outcome for this property, its employees, and the people of Grand Bahama.
“And we know the residents are looking forward to having jobs as well as business opportunities as a result of this endeavour. We know that the Port Lucaya Marketplace and the businesses there have suffered as a result of a lack of traffic.
“We know that there is a magnificent marina right behind the marketplace that has significant potential. We are going to be carrying the message of this property and surrounding areas to the world, and we are confident already with the level of interest we are seeing.
“We hope that we would be able to attract Bahamian investors to this property or joint ventures for the property.
“This is not just being marketed abroad. But, we hope that locals with interest in tourism will come forward either directly or as a part of a partnership with a foreign developer,” Mr Cooper said.
“One of the things we are consistently concerned about in tourism is that we are not investing enough in ourselves in our major industry. That would certainly be a major achievement if it could happen.”
He stressed that the ideal investor for the property is one not just with deep pockets.
“Significant resources, that is important, but also a vision for the property, a shared vision of the development of tourism, and the development of the island of Grand Bahama,” he said.
Mr Cooper also reported that tourism has rebounded significantly over the past several weeks and months. He noted that notwithstanding the challenges of COVID, the numbers continue to be very strong in Grand Bahama.
Members of the Grand Lucayan board include Mr Russell, former PLP senator; attorney Cassietta McIntosh-Pelecanos, deputy chair; Stuart Bowe, a former senior executive of Atlantis; attorney Merrick Storr; CPA Edward Rahming, a former board member who served as treasurer on the previous board, and attorney Carla Cleare.