By FAY SIMMONS
Tribune Business Reporter
THE developer behind Grand Bahama’s $250m Six Senses resort project says it will struggle to succeed without “really meaningful” participation by Bahamians in all aspects of its build-out.
Marc Weller, Weller Development’s principal, was responding to questions from attendees at the project’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) public hearing over how much active involvement Bahamians will have in the project as employees, service provider and even part owners.
One resident, asking about potential Bahamian participation in the project’s economic structure, queried if the project would be willing to partner with locals in similar fashion to the commitment made by Royal Caribbean over its pro- posed Paradise Island beach club.
He said: “To what extent are Bahamians going to be directly involved? On Paradise Island, where they are developing [the Royal Beach Club], they had to come back and make an offer to the Government and the Bahamian people that Bahamians are going to be involved in the economic structure of that whole affair. Are Bahamians being included in that regard in this development?”
That refers to the fact that, while Royal Caribbean will hold a majority 51 percent ownership interest in the Royal Beach Club, the remaining 49 percent equity interest will be held by Bahamians via a combination of the Government and private investors. The Government’s portion of the 49 percent will be based on the value of the four Crown Land acres it is con- tributing to the project.
Mr Weller, in reply, said there will be multiple opportunities for Bahamians to obtain jobs, invest and provide services to the resort. Noting that Grand Bahama has a relatively small population of around 30,000, he added participation by local residents is critical to the project’s success amid hopes it will eventually entice those who have relocated for employment and other needs to move back to the island.
“There’s all kinds of opportunities for Bahamians to work here. Quite frankly, work here, participate, make investments, be the providers of different services and so on. Could be everything from cloth- ing to crafts, have small stores in there, a museum. I mean, it’s endless the types of things that can go on in and around this Six Senses project,” Mr Weller added.
“But I think that there’s almost no way to pull it off without Bahamians benefit- ing from this project. This isn’t an island with 350,000 people or 500,000 people that are not Bahamian. This is a smaller island, still bigger than a lot of the Out Islands, but it’s a small island with give or take 30,000 people on it.
“We need.... we must have Bahamian participation in a really meaningful way for us to be successful. If we don’t I just don’t know how you can really do this, quite frankly. So we actually are hoping to bring other Bahamians back here to Grand Bahama or encourage people to leave, maybe, other places that aren’t as great places to live as Grand Bahama is and maybe move back.”
Residents also voiced concern over whether the project could further stress Grand Bahama’s existing water supply and quality issues after fresh groundwater sources were contaminated as a result of Hurricane Dorian.
One attendee said nearby residents already face low water pressure, and questioned what plans Weller Development has to ensure an adequate supply of port- able water for guests.
He said: “Right now, because of the invasion of Dorian and hurricanes over the last ten years, our water table has been significantly compromised.
I’m wondering whether this development has any plans afoot...because right now the little bit of water we’re getting through the reverse osmosis system, if you live on the second floor, you hardly get enough pressure to take a shower.
“We have to conserve the water to supply the many people that need it now on Grand Bahama. With a development like that, what are your plans for either producing fresh- water or how are you going to handle that particular phenomenon? People who come here have to take showers, and if they go and one little drip coming out, they’re going to go back home and say ‘Hey, there’s no water in The Bahamas’.”
Six Senses’ development manager said the project has been in contact with Grand Bahama Utility Company, the water supplier, to determine if they have the capacity to provide potable water to the resort. Weller Development is also prepared to install a reverse osmosis plant on-site.
She said: “It’s a good [question] and it’s one that we’re actively thinking about. What we’ve done so far to-date is engage with the utility company to figure out whether or not the capacity to bring that level of water needed for the resort is available.
“And, whether or not it’s available, what we’re going to be doing, we’ll be putting a water treatment plant on site and figuring out how much water we can store, how we can control the flow and what is already avail- able to us. And so we’re working with the utility company right now as we further our design to deter- mine the level of piping needed to accommodate that.”
The Six Senses resort project is aiming to start construction this summer if it receives the necessary environmental approvals.
The property’s 50-acre site will feature 64 resort villas and 28 branded residences, a wellness centre and Six Senses Spa, multiple restaurants, event space, beach club and oceanfront pool.
Weller Development announced last month that sales of the Six Senses residences are set to begin in the 2024 first quarter. H G Christie will handle the sale of the branded residences while BeSpoke, which specialises in marketing and promoting high-end properties in areas such as New York and the Hamptons, will also be involved in broking these deals.