Long Island developers eye Diamond Crystal site revival

• Projects to split island’s one-time top employer

• 8,560 nature preserve to ‘change the narrative’

• Over ‘conservation and development at odds’


Tribune Business Editor


A developer aiming to transform the site of Long Island’s one-time largest employer yesterday pledged to “change the narrative” that “conservation and development are at odds” in The Bahamas.

Nina Pesavento, president of Diamond Crystal Properties, told the Long Island Business Outlook conference that the company is optimistic its proposed Salinas project “is poised to become the Bahamas’ signature luxury regenerative development project” once it receives all the necessary approvals to proceed (see other article on Page 1B).

The Salinas development, which is targeted at the site of the former Diamond Crystal salt ponds and plant in southern Long Island, was touted as “two world-class destinations in one”. It will be centred on the 8,560-acre Salinas Nature Reserve, with the intention of “putting Bahamian wilderness on the map on a global scale like never before” via an eco-tourism focus.

Covering around 10,000 acres in total, Ms Pesavento said Salinas will also feature a small scale “eco luxury” development component consisting of multiple boutique hotels, marinas and residential and estate lots that will be acquired by real estate buyers.

Diamond Crystal Properties is controlled by the Toronto-based Hamilton Group, which has investments in traditional equity stocks; residential resort communities; crypto currencies and a Canadian airline. It is headed by its president, David Young, whose family foundation focuses on philanthropic giving to environmental issues and causes.

However, it is not the only developer targeting the former Diamond Crystal site which, if all plans come to fruition, will see its 25,000 acres split between two nature-based tourism investments. While Diamond Crystal Properties will take the site’s northern part, Maritek Bahamas and its chairman, Geoff Fulton, are eyeing almost 15,000 acres at its southern end.

Mr Fulton, who also unveiled his butterfly-themed Chrysalis at the Long Island Business Outlook, previously partnered with Mr Young on an effort that began almost 20 years ago in 2004 to secure the property. They endured legal battles in the Bahamian and US courts to affirm their ownership, and are understood to have ultimately decided to develop separate projects as neighbours.

The Maritek Bahamas chair revealed that he, too, plans to segment his 14,720-acre parcel into two featuring a 11,720-acre environmental preserve and 3,000 acres for development. Pledging that Chrysalis will be “light on the land”, Mr Fulton said the concept will be based on the cottage resorts he has developed in Canada under the Great Blue Resorts brand.

Both developers thus share similar ideas and vision. “With Salinas, we really intend to introduce a new model of sustainable development; one that has not before been seen in The Bahamas. One we have not seen in The Bahamas,” Ms Pesavento pledged. “Our site is approximately 10,000 acres, so it is quite large. I guess that would be an under-statement.

“Our vision is two world-class destinations in one. First and foremost is the Salinas Nature Reserve. The idea is for the Nature Reserve to put Bahamian wilderness on the map on a global scale like never before with walking trails, kayaking and paddle boarding recreation, and a research centre.

“Alongside of that is our proposed development site, which consists of small-scale eco-luxury hospitality experiences.” While a master plan for the Salinas project was said to have been approved by the Bahamas Investment Authority (BIA) two years ago, it has yet to begin the process of obtaining the necessary environmental approvals - including a Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC) - from the Department of Environmental Planning and Protection (DEPP).

No figures on the precise number of jobs that will be created, or dollar amount of investment required, were provided by either developer yesterday. However, Ms Pesavento said Diamond Crystal Properties’ philanthropic arm, the Long Island Conservancy, was officially registered as a Bahamas-domiciled non-profit last week to signal that the project is progressing.

The Conservancy will be led by the former head of Nature Conservancy Canada, and she added: “We have throughout the last several years in planning for the Salinas Nature Reserve been working very closely with the Bahamas National Trust.

“This is not a traditional development model or one seen throughout The Bahamas to-date. When we look at the island of Long Island that is extremely self-sufficient and has grown not depending on tourism, we have a very unique opportunity to do things differently.”

Ms Pesavento explained that Diamond Crystal Properties planned to focus the Salinas development “on two critical assets” - the Long Island community and its geography, which she described as “entirely unique” and “cannot be replicated anywhere else”.

“Our role in developing Salinas is not to introduce a massive resort model that has been successfully played out elsewhere,” she continued. “In fact, we see our role as bringing out the best of what this destination has to offer. What makes Long Island so unique is what already exists here. The question for us is how can we excavate the inherent value of the site and bring financial value to the table through that.”

Ms Pesavento said the developer aims to achieve this by unlocking what she described as Long Island’s “sacred capital” through its own financial investment in the project. She defined “sacred capital” as a combination of the island’s existing human, social, environmental and physical resources, explaining that Diamond Crystal Properties will seek to “mobilise the community to true sustainable development”.

This, in turn, will develop a project aligned with the growing post-COVID tourism demand for sustainable, authentic, low-scale and ‘off the beaten path’ experiences. Ms Pesavento said the 8,500-acre Salinas Nature Reserve will feature lagoons, beachfront and mangrove forest, and also seek to pay homage to the location’s “cultural heritage” and past and current uses.

It will feature a hub for boutique salt harvesting and shrimp farming, with Diamond Crystal Properties promising to consult Long Islanders on “how they desire to use part of the salt pans that remain”. Renewable energy will also be incorporated into the development, although the developer has yet to begin remediation of a site previously used for aquaculture and industrial purposes prior to its mid-1980s closure.

Ms Pesavento said the developer will begin with “small interventions and see how the site responds”, such as improved lagoon flushing and other clean-up work. “Once this remediation work actually begins, there will be opportunities for species management and park management and operations, and eco-tours and hospitality programmes,” she added.

“We see this as critical to establishing a destination in Long Island in a way that puts the wilderness at the forefront of this destination,” the Diamond Crystal Properties president said. “Our ultimate goal is for Salinas Nature Reserve to link with a bigger marine management area. This would tie in with the Exuma Sound...

“We really do believe Salinas is poised to become The Bahamas’ signature luxury regenerative development project. We are focusing on small-scale, high-end development that we have not really seen throughout The Bahamas.

“This is a model that has been highly successful throughout Costa Rica, Mexico and parts of Central America. We’ve seen in The Bahamas the sense that conservation and development are at odds with one another. That’s the narrative we’re trying to change here.”

Mr Fulton, meanwhile, said Chrysalis will create a “transformative experience” even though he, too, does not yet possess all the necessary government approvals to proceed. His project seeks to create a community of 1,000 modular, already-built, homes divided into clusters of 25-100 properties whose parts just need to be shipped to The Bahamas. 

Activities such as boating and fishing will feature prominently. “The anticipated market we’re driving for is not the economic elite because the modular structures we’re looking at maybe reflect owners, people who are sensitive to nature and want to interact with Long Islanders,” he added. “They learn as much from Long Islanders as you do from them, and maybe more.

“They’re here to learn from you, not show you otherwise.” Suggesting that Chrysalis residents will be interested in buying from local producers and farmers markets, Mr Fulton said: “The concept is that the resort will be inclusive, not exclusive. The owners will engage with the wider community, go shopping, get their own supplies and get to know people.”

The Diamond Crystal site was, almost four decades ago, the main driver of Long Island’s economy, providing the biggest source of employment on the island. Diamond Crystal opened its plant in the 1970s and, after it closed due to its US parent filing for bankruptcy, was taken over by World Wide Protein (Bahamas), a shrimp farming company.

That venture, too, failed with the shrimp farming closing after several years of operations in the mid-1980s. World Wide Protein is understood to be the predecessor to Maritek Bahamas. The loss of economic activity and employment opportunities has contributed to the steady depopulation of Long Island ever since.


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