• Six Senses partner aims to be in ‘top level conversation’
• Seeking to be ‘catalyst’ to revive Grand Bahama brand
• Encouraged by GB airport’s ‘first handshake’ progress
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The developer behind Grand Bahama’s $250m Six Senses project yesterday said he wants it to be viewed “at the top level of resort development in the world” with a construction start targeted for early 2024.
Marc Weller, Weller Development’s founding partner and president, told Tribune Business the partnership behind the investment will help re-establish Grand Bahama’s brand as “the best of the best” in tandem with other investors it will help attract to the island.
Speaking after Weller unveiled its second Six Senses resort project in the western hemisphere, which will be located in California’s picturesque Napa Valley, he confirmed that the Freeport venture will serve as the “prototype” to the company’s further expansion of luxury hospitality and residences in North America.
Mr Weller, though, would neither confirm or deny that Weller’s Grand Bahama plans extend beyond the Six Senses project. Tribune Business understands from multiple sources that the company has obtained an option over 2,000 acres of prime land for further real estate development in the Barbary Beach area, which is thought to be linked to the “ambitious masterplan for change” referred to recently by Rupert Hayward, Sir Jack Hayward’s grandson.
“We are really excited about the future of the island, and are looking to continue to invest in the island in similar fashion to what we have been doing,” Mr Weller responded, when asked about the Barbary Beach option by this newspaper. Mr Hayward had previously spoken of a “new partnership already proposed to government... that can attract billions of dollars in investment, create thousands of jobs and deliver the expertise and infrastructure for The Bahamas to build a truly climate-resilient future”.
Mr Hayward’s Blue Action Lab is functioning as the local partner and adviser to both Weller and Pegasus Capital Advisors, the $10.6bn private equity group focused on investing in sustainable projects, and the only such group accredited as a fund manager by the Green Climate Fund, on the Six Senses venture.
While conceding that the resort development, to be located at the 30-acre Barbary Beach site previously owned by Marriott, cannot solve all Freeport and Grand Bahama’s woes by itself, Mr Weller nevertheless voiced optimism that it will serve as a “catalyst” to attract similar high-end investors who, together, will transform the island for the better.
Disclosing that only environmental permits remain to be obtained, from the Department of Physical Planning (DEPP) and Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) respectively, before the project can move towards a construction start, he added that Weller was further encouraged by signs that the redevelopment and transformation of Grand Bahama International Airport into a facility able to offer the “first handshake” to visitors is moving forward.
“I think we want to make sure this project is in the conversation at the top level of resort development in the world, and certainly in the Caribbean,” Mr Weller told Tribune Business of the Six Senses project. “What we’d like it to become is the number one hotel in the world, and certainly the number one hotel in the Caribbean. We’d like Grand Bahama to host that project. Any other goal can’t be shorter than that.
“The reason we have the first Six Senses project in Grand Bahama is because it does represent the best of the best, and we think that’s where the brand of Grand Bahama needs to track... to start with a project of this magnitude and privilege. We think starting from high and going from there will be a real plus.”
Mr Weller said he first visited Freeport and Grand Bahama in 2020, having been enticed to make the trip by Mr Hayward’s description of “how incredible the island was”. Everything he was told by Sir Jack’s grandson proved “accurate”, including Grand Bahama’s “natural beauty” and the development opportunity.
And the warm reception from Grand Bahamians proved a further attraction, Mr Weller revealing he was “blown away by how optimistic they were about the future” and the possibilities afforded by the Six Senses development. “I just really immediately fell in love with the island, the people and the opportunity there,” he said, noting also Grand Bahama’s proximity to the US and high net worth markets such as West Palm Beach.
While unable to provide exact figures for the number of construction and full-time posts that the Six Senses project will create, the Weller chief pledged that the employment impact would be significant, as well as the effect on Grand Bahama’s economy and the Government’s tax revenues.
“There’s a special opportunity on tap, and I’m really excited to be a part of it,” he added. “There’s an opportunity to rebrand and think about Grand Bahama as a luxury destination for hotels, hospitality and dining. You’ll start to see a luxury brand take place around the conversation for Grand Bahama, and on the island, because people from other places will start to think about Grand Bahama. It helps the brand of Grand Bahama as a place to visit from the US, Europe and Canada.”
Mr Weller said the developer partners believe they “have all the agreements [and permits] that we need right now for the Six Senses project” apart from the environmental approvals. Suggesting that Grand Bahama has “so much upside”, he voiced optimism that the Government will find a buyer for the Grand Lucayan resort such that it is “restored and put back on line”.
Airlift, and visitor access, are vital to the success of any tourism-related development, and Mr Weller said he was confident progress is being made on resolving Grand Bahama International Airport’s fate. Tribune Business revealed previously that an investor group featuring Bahamas Hot Mix chair, Tony Myers, and CFAL chief, Anthony Ferguson, is the likely front-runner to take on the airport’s reconstruction, financing and management.
“It appears the airport is moving ahead. There are a lot of good conversations about it. We know the Government understands and appreciates how important it is, and we’re excited to see the outcome,” Mr Weller said. “Just like any other project or existing business on the island, a good airport is always important for the first handshake of introduction to Grand Bahama.
“I’m not going to hide my excitement about a new, modern facility. The first handshake to Grand Bahama will be this new, modern airport and that’s a really positive thing.” Weller had brought multiple people to visit Grand Bahama since becoming involved with the island, he added, “and there’s not a person who’s come from the US and Europe that’s not said this isn’t a place they’d like to invest or come back to”.
Weller Development has spearheaded the largest US urban regeneration in Baltimore via the 235-acre Port Covington site, a project that is now nearing completion. Mr Weller voiced confidence in his team’s ability to handle both the Six Senses and Napa Valley projects at the same time.
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