By Fay Simmons
Tribune Business Reporter
The Prime Minister yesterday unveiled the revival of the long-awaited Cat Island Partners project with a "scaled down" $160.45m investment that aims to create 150 Bahamian construction jobs and up to 300 permanent posts.
Philip Davis KC, addressing the Cat Island Business Outlook conference, confirmed that the revised project has been approved by his administration with a a focus on developing a mixed-use golf resort, residential and marina project.
He said: “Back in 2009, the Cat Island Partners broke ground on their proposed mixed-use golf, resort, residential and marina project for Old Bight. The developers at the time encountered delays due to a number of factors, including that the Port Howe site identified for [their] proposed marina lacked available Crown Land nearby to make the site viable.”
“The developers have recently reapplied to my government with a scaled down redesign proposal, and I announce this morning that new proposal for the Cat Island Partners' $160.45m mixed-use golf resort, residential and marina project at the PGA Village in south-east Cat Island has received government approval.”
The project has suffered numerous delays since 2009, with issues involving design, airport construction financing and construction. The project was being developed by a consortium headed by Southworth Development, the US-based firm that subsequently acquired the Abaco Club at Winding Bay in conjunction with a group of homeowners there.
The Prime Minister yesterday said the existing Heads of Agreement with the developers will be amended, and that they plan to employ 150 Bahamians during the construction phase and up to 300 in operations.
He added: “We intend to amend the existing Heads of Agreement with the developers. Phase one of the project is earmarked to provide 150 Bahamian jobs during the construction phase, and 150 to 300 Bahamian jobs during the operational phase.”
"Phase one is slated to include the construction of 125 single family residential lots, 11.6 acres of multi-family residential pads, six and nine holes of original Rees Jones golf design, and an additional nine to be added in phase two. A village that includes a Welcome Centre as well as a full-service restaurant, a pro-shop, 12 private one and two-bedroom cabanas and a multi-use pavilion.”
The Prime Minister also suggested that San Salvador is reaching full employment and "bustling" with job opportunities since the re-opening of the Club Med resort. He added that many San Salvador residents have left the public service in favour of working at the hotel.
He said: “On San Salvador, we were successful upon coming to office in getting the Club Med resort re-opened and getting Bahamians back to work. San Salvador is bustling with robust job opportunities, perhaps even reaching full employment, as numerous Bahamians have several jobs, while others have made the decision to leave the traditionally sought after security of the public service to work at Club Med.”
Elsewhere, the Prime Minister touted a 175.4 percent increase in air arrivals to Cat Island in January 2023 compared to the same pre-COVID month in 2019. However, while the percentage increase looks impressive, the reality is that Cat Island has only been receiving several thousand air arrivals per annum in recent years.
"We are seeing positive indicators of economic rebound and growth for Cat Island and several of our other Family Islands," Mr Davis said. "In 2021, Cat Island, San Salvador and Rum Cay collectively recorded a nominal GDP of $34.2m. Just over 45 percent thereof ($15.5m) was driven by real estate and rental activities, with industries including accommodations, food services and the arts generating $4.4m.
"Economic activity for the islands grew by 2 percent between 2020 and 2021. In 2019 - prior to the COVID-19 pandemic - some $88.6m in economic activity was recorded. This level of activity can be achieved again, and there is potential for even greater economic gains through expansion of existing and new industries.
"We expect continued growth as we work to support Bahamian entrepreneurs, attract viable foreign direct investment projects, and secure greater numbers of stopover visitors. We opened our tourism office here in Cat Island last year, and the dedicated work of the Ministry of Tourism is yielding remarkable post-pandemic results."
Mr Davis continued: "Tourism statistics indicate that of the five islands last year whose foreign air arrivals exceeded 2019’s pre-pandemic numbers - those being Andros, Cat Island, Eleuthera, Exuma and Long Island - Cat Island led the way with a close to 70 percent increase in foreign air arrivals in 2022 compared to 2019.
"Equally as exciting are the arrivals numbers for January of this year. Cat Island experienced a nation-leading 175.4 percent increase in foreign air arrivals compared to January 2019. This increasing interest in Cat Island as a destination augurs well not only for local businesses, but for current and prospective foreign direct investment."