By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The proposed $250m Long Island cruise port will handle up to 12,000 persons daily at full build-out, one of its principals revealed yesterday, adding: “Our goal is to help Long Island flourish.”
Sherif Assal told the Long Island Business Outlook conference that the $250m Calypso Cove project is “not a cruise line project” or typical private island destination, and pledged: “Our objective is not to suppress the locals; it’s to help the locals.”
Reaffirming that Long Island residents will have first eights to all job and entrepreneurial opportunities, he added that a “ball park” date for the development’s initial opening was some two-and-a-half to three years away in November 2025. Much depends on how rapidly planning, construction and environmental approvals are obtained, with much to be worked out from a logistics and infrastructure standpoint since it is a “greenfield” site.
Asserting that plans to raise the necessary financing are “coming along very well”, although providing no details, Mr Assal explained how himself and his business partner, Carlos Torres de Navarra, a former head of port and destination development for Carnival Cruise Lines, and also an ex-chief executive of Holistica, the joint venture between Royal Caribbean and ITM Group, selected a location in close proximity to the settlements of Gordon’s and Mortimer’s.
A provider of security services to the global cruise industry for 22 years, Mr Assal said the duo first acquired some land on north Elizabeth Island in the Exumas but quickly realised “it wasn’t big enough for what we wanted to do”. Eager to capitalise on the cruise industry’s forecast growth, with 75 new vessels projected to launch from shipyards over the next ten years, and to provide alternative destination to Nassau and other established ports, they resumed their search.
“We said: ‘Let’s look at at an independent cruise port and develop one of the Family Islands,” he added. “We were guided by our attorney, Thomas Dean; he’s of Long Island. We said: ‘Let’s come down’. On January 26 we flew down to Long Island, close to Gordon’s settlement, and walked the beach. It was calm. The beach was serene. There was no comparison to other beaches, with all due respect to people from Nassau.
“It was a peaceful, quiet beach. We walked all the way to the point. We had an architect with us. They did some drawings on a napkin. We looked at it again, and realised this could work provided it passed the environmental” approvals. Bahamian environmental engineer, Keith Bishop, of Islands by Design, has been hired to complete an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study, while Bahamian engineer and Long Island native, Lambert Knowles, has also been engaged.
“The goal is to accommodate two Oasis-size vessels,” Mr Assal said. “We know we’ll get 70 percent of guests coming off [the ship], 30 percent won’t.” Of 5,000 total passengers, that means an average 3,500 cruise visitors will disembark when they arrive. Calypso Cove will be built-out in multiple phases, with the principals ultimately looking to attract partners to develop facilities such as a resort and health and wellness amenities.
“What we’re expecting is that we can accommodate up to 12,000 people at this location,” Mr Assal added. “Once it’s fully operational and up and running, we anticipate up to 200-250 full-time employees. To start with we thought we would only get ships from Miami, Port Everglades, Port Canaveral, Baltimore and New York. People said: ‘No. You’ll get cruise lines from Galveston, Tampa and New Orleans. It fits with a lot of their itineraries.
“We’re working with the locals, understanding what they are looking for and what they would like to see from this project. This is not a cruise line project; this is a Long Island project more with a development team looking to help the island and for a development plan. At the beginning we anticipate most guests will come from the cruise ships.
“Our role is not to make it like some other destination. We’re going to give locals an opportunity to be entrepreneurs and come on-site and do their own crafts and businesses. Unlike the private islands, where they do their own excursions, no, we’re going to partner with a Bahamian company and get it going.
Some 1,066 acres of the 1,566 acre project consists of private land that the Calypso Cove developers will close on once all necessary approvals and financing are in place. And, while the developers have requested a Crown Land grant for 500 acres critical to Calypso Cove’s build-out, along with a 50-acre seabed lease, the spokesperson revealed the former deal will not be activated until “specific performance thresholds” have been met by investing $100m in the project.
Mr Assal yesterday said the developers are acquiring another 216-acre site north of the project for employee housing, and are also exploring the possibilities for introducing renewable energy at the site as well as environmentally-friendly ways to generate and recycle water and wastewater.
He added that the developers are financing the EIA work and other studies themselves, and hinted that discussions between the cruise lines and project principals have focused on how the former can help finance Calypso Cove’s development.
“Our goal is not to suppress the locals; it’s to help the locals,” Mr Assal added. “The locals tell me they’ve seen a lot of things from a lot of people, but they’ve never seen someone get this far. Our goal is to work with the locals, local Long Islanders, and support them in every which way.”
Tribune Business previously reported that besides committing to a workforce that is at least 80 percent Bahamian, the project’s principals have also agreed to put Long Island residents first when it comes to jobs and hiring. Using a sliding preference scale, existing residents will be called first, with Long Island descendants getting the second go before the project casts its net wider to all Bahamians.
The Bahamas Investment Authority (BIA), in confirming that the National Economic Council (NEC) had given its blessing to the project via a July 7, 2022, letter to the developers, affirmed that work permits would be granted to key management personnel and specialised workers provided they adhered to “the Government’s 80:20 ratio (Bahamian to foreign) labour policy”.
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