• Top luxury brand Six Senses teams with Weller
• Project to give ‘hundreds of jobs’ to Bahamians
• Just ‘start of bigger plans’ with 2026 hotel finish
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A $250m investment that will bring one of the world’s top luxury resort brands to Grand Bahama was yesterday hailed as “the catalyst” that will drive the island’s “phoenix from the ashes” rebirth.
Rupert Hayward, grandson of former Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) co-chair, Sir Jack Hayward, told Tribune Business that the multi-party deal to develop a Six Senses resort at the 30-acre Barbary Beach site previously owned by Marriott will “raise many, many eyebrows around the world and put Grand Bahama on the map” for high-end tourism.
He voiced confidence that the agreement featuring Weller Development, which is spearheading the largest US urban regeneration in Baltimore, and Pegasus Capital Advisors, the private equity group focused on investing in sustainable projects, will “change the narrative on Grand Bahama” and restore its reputation as a location that attracts high-quality investments by both foreigners and Bahamians.
Mr Hayward, whose Blue Action Lab is functioning as the project’s local partner and adviser, told this newspaper that while “I don’t have the figures in front of me” the Six Senses development will create “hundreds of direct and indirect jobs” - as well as construction posts - with completion and opening targeted for 2026.
Hinting that the Six Senses resort is just the first step in Weller’s plans for Grand Bahama, he added: “This is the start of bigger plans.” While Mr Hayward would not be drawn further, other than to indicate more details will be released imminently, Tribune Business reported in March 2021 that Weller’s ambitions could extend to a project similar to the 235-acre Port Covington redevelopment of Baltimore’s waterfront.
Confirming that the Six Senses project has received the Government’s blessing, via National Economic Council (NEC) and Bahamas Investment Authority (BIA) approvals, Mr Hayward said the resort brand’s arrival will also place Bahamians “at the forefront” of sustainable development via education and training.
And the resort’s development should also be a “catalyst” for the revival of airlift to Grand Bahama, given that Six Senses will stimulate visitor demand, while creating further impetus to swiftly redevelop the island’s main airport which still remains in poor condition more than three years after Hurricane Dorian.
Noting Weller’s track record in developing high-end hotels, such as the award-winning Sagamore Pendry in Baltimore, Mr Hayward said of the project: “Finally we’ve got there. It’s got the right team and the right brand. It’s really the relaunch for Grand Bahama and the catalyst for change. They [Weller] understand how to execute and change the narrative. They’ve really changed the narrative around Baltimore.”
Disclosing that it had been three years since he and Marc Weller, Weller’s founder, enjoyed a Sands Beer “and decided this was the place to focus a huge amount of energy and capital”, Mr Hayward recalled: “I said to them: ‘You won’t believe it when I say there are real comparables between Grand Bahama and Baltimore. Both are port cities built around water, they have an image and reputation issue, and need large-scale urban revitalisation. You can do the same thing in Grand Bahama’.”
He then introduced Pegasus Capital Advisors, as a financing partner, to Weller some 18 months ago. Tribune Business sources, speaking on condition of anonymity because they did not have permission to speak publicly, told this newspaper that the Six Senses development is fully funded and that then total investment will likely amount to $250m.
“Pegasus Capital Advisors is the only private equity group accredited as a fund manager by the Green Climate Fund, which has $10.6bn in capital for developing countries to fight climate change,” Mr Hayward said, pointing to its environmental credentials. “They are leading the conversation around sustainability and have very deep pockets.
“Pegasus is the sort of socially and environmentally responsible private equity group that should mean the world to us. They believe in community, believe in responsible development, and we’re going to benefit from their investment here. We’ve got world-class developers, both development and capital, and we’ve delivered the number one hotel brand in the world for seven consecutive years.
“You’ve got Six Senses here, and then below it you have your Amans and Rosewoods. They’re in a league of their own and they are coming to Grand Bahama. That is the catalyst. That is the narrative change Grand Bahama needs. This could be the greatest hotel in the world; it really could be.”
Six Senses, in a statement yesterday, said its Grand Bahama resort will feature 45 waterfront and canal villas with 2,400 feet (732 metres) of combined beach frontage and water on three sides. Besides the guest accommodations, plans are afoot for a restaurant, beach venue, boathouse and pool bar. Future development of the 36-acre site will involve direct access to a new marina.
The resort village will host an Experience Centre along with artist studios, relaxed meeting spaces, a fitness centre and Six Senses Spa. In addition to the Earth Lab, there will also be a Marine Research and Dive Centre focused on coastal resiliency, native plantings and land restoration. Additional land and sea areas will be designated as preserves, further enhancing the biosphere.
Mr Hayward said the extent of Grand Bahama’s achievement in luring Six Senses to its shores could be seen from the fact this is the resort brand’s first presence in the Americas region. He added that its properties are currently all located in Europe, the Far East and Middle East, but the Grand Bahama property will be within relatively short flying time from major US cities such as New York and Chicago as well as “a stone’s throw” from Florida.
“We don’t really understand the Six Senses brand in this country. It’s not well-known,” Mr Hayward said of a resort chain that was last month named the world’s top luxury hotel by Luxury Travel Intelligence for the third successive year. “But this will raise many, many eyebrows around the world, and put Grand Bahama on the map, not least because we have serious, serious developers and investors. They are doing the largest urban revitalisation project in the US.
“They are very serious people... Pegasus is right at the forefront of the sustainable development community. It’s a whole new iteration of sustainable development, and how development can happen in the region to protect our natural environment going forward. This is massive. It really is. I think this is the catalyst for much more. I think it’s definitely the catalyst for the phoenix from the ashes.
“It changes the narrative and perception of Grand Bahama that high-end projects with quality partners can be successful. It creates hundreds of jobs for Bahamians, it actually opens up the training and education of Bahamians in the whole sustainability space, the sustainable hospitality space, which is probably the main growth sector in the world, and puts Bahamians through their interaction with Six Senses at the forefront of that.”
Besides NEC and Bahamas Investment Authority (BIA) approvals, the Six Senses project already has exchange control approval from the Central Bank of The Bahamas as well as its GBPA business licence. Mr Hayward said the next step was to obtain the required construction and environmental permits/approvals from the GBPA and Department of Environmental Planning and Protection (DEPP) respectively.
Seeking to manage expectations, given that it will be some months yet before a groundbreaking takes place and construction work begins in earnest, he added: “There’s likely ten to 12 months of design and planning.” A formal launch, scheduled for December 12, will herald Six Senses’ arrival and seek to educate Grand Bahama residents on what the brand will bring to the
Mr Hayward both praised and thanked Prime Minister Philip Davis KC; deputy prime minister, Chester Cooper; and Ginger Moxey, minister of Grand Bahama, for their support of the project to-date. “This will be the catalyst for further foreign investment and large-scale development,” he added.
“It’s on prime land. It’s got water frontage from both the sea side and the canal side, and frames all internal land development in east Lucaya. Everything gets framed by this particular development.” Tribune Business understands that, when constructed, the Six Senses property and its restaurants will be open to the public,and there will continue to be public access to the beach.
Six Senses chief executive, Neil Jacobs, said in a statement: “We’re eager to reflect the authenticity of Bahamian lifestyle, culture and landscape through organic pathways and architectural design to create a community blended with our signature ethos of wellness, sustainability, crafted guest experiences and emotional hospitality.”
Weller and other representatives of the project parties are understood to have briefed segments of Grand Bahama’s business community on their plans in recent days. One source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “It’s big. I think it could save Freeport. It’s a massive development and very well funded. They have a hotel component, and that makes all the difference because that’s where the jobs are.
“This thing could go right away. They’ve [Weller] done it before, but without the airport that will not happen. The lack of an airport will slow them down.” The Government has been seeking a public-private partnership (PPP) for Grand Bahama International Airport (GBIA) with an investor who will finance, redevelop and operate the facility, with the Prime Minister saying in his recent national address that a decision on the winner from two remaining bids will be taken before year-end.
Asked whether the airport’s condition will impact or delay the Six Senses project, Mr Hayward replied: “For those high-end resorts, airlift is important but not critical. A lot of it will be done through private aviation.” Suggesting that the resort will stimulate the rebuilding of airlift to Grand Bahama, he nevertheless acknowledged that the airport’s revival is vital to Grand Bahama’s future.
The island’s economy has been moribund since 2004, when the Royal Oasis closed in the aftermath of hurricanes Frances and Jeanne with the loss of 1,200 jobs. Further storm-related blows in subsequent years, especially Hurricane Dorian in 2019, have further depressed Grand Bahama and contributed to a slow but steady depopulation as persons leave for Nassau and other islands in search of work - something that remaining residents and businesses are desperate to reverse.
The Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) and its affiliates yesterday hailed Six Senses’ unveiling. Charisse Brown, chief executive and senior legal counsel for Grand Bahama Development Company (DEVCO), said: “A project of this magnitude will provide a significant stimulus to the real estate market and will enhance market value of surrounding properties. We hope this development will be the catalyst for a new era for the island of Grand Bahama.”
Nakira Wilchcombe, the GBPA’s vice-president of building and development services, added: “We will be working very closely with the project to ensure proper permitting, environmental stewardship and engagement of our pool of professional licensees during the engineering, design and construction phases. We are impressed by Six Senses’ track record on creating a carbon-friendly footprint and commitment to eco-sustainability.”