$7m project combines key PI tourism assets


Tribune Business Editor


A veteran hotelier is planning to invest $7 million in recombining two key Paradise Island tourism assets, in a venture that will create at least 30-40 new jobs.

Chris Illing told Tribune Business that he and his business partner aimed to create “a happening place with an Out Island feel” following their acquisitions of the Paradise Harbour Club and Marina and the Columbus Tavern.

The former general manager and investor in A Stone’s Throw Away, the West Bay Street-based property, disclosed that they plan to “tear down and rebuild” Columbus Tavern into a renamed, modern restaurant once they obtain clear title to the property.

Mr Illing explained that it would complement the adjacent resort and marina, which he described as one of the few Nassau harbourfront locations still accessible to Bahamians and locals.

He plans to adjust the Paradise Harbour Club and Marina’s business model away from timeshare to that of an independent, boutique resort, adding: “Paradise Island is definitely ready for something outside Atlantis.”

Mr Illing and his fellow investor, “who wants to be on the quiet side”, were attracted both by the location and opportunity to return the resort and Columbus Tavern to common ownership.

He was approached by the Paradise Harbour Club and Marina’s then-owners, Festiva Management, who were already seeking an exit route, and realised the extent of the opportunity upon learning that the adjacent Columbus Tavern was embroiled in a bank foreclosure.

Emphasising that the project will be pitched as “a boutique resort without Ocean Club prices”, Mr Illing told Tribune Business: “I truly was inspired by the location, and we were able to acquire Columbus Tavern as well.

“When that fell into place, we felt the combination of the hotel and the restaurant would be a nice happening place for Paradise Island, and Nassau in general.

“I always had this vision when Mr [Peter] Kugler owned the whole complex. At the end of the day, he separated Columbus Tavern and the Paradise Harbour Club and Marina,” he continued.

“I saw that as a mistake. I got wind the bank was foreclosing on the Tavern, and that’s when we also acquired the Harbour Club and brought the two pieces back together.”

Both assets are among the most recognisable, and valuable, properties on Paradise Island’s Nassau harbour side. Mr Illing, who is also the Harbour Club’s manager, said around 50 per cent of the investment budget remained to be spent.

“We had budgeted at $7 million, including the complete rebuild of Columbus Tavern, as well as the acquisition of the hotel,” Mr Illing told Tribune Business.

“We have another $3-$4 million to spend, of which 80 per cent at least will be allocated for the restaurant.”

Mr Illing said three new staff had been added at the Paradise Harbour Club and Marina once the acquisition closed in early April 2016, and estimated that the ‘new’ restaurant would create 30-40 posts “for sure”.

He added: “Once we get permission to tear down the old Columbus Tavern, we will rebuild it and make it a more contemporary design.

“In conjunction with the rebuild of Columbus Tavern, we will refurbish the hotel rooms and give a more modern and contemporary design - an Out Island feel on Paradise Island.”

Mr Illing said the Columbus Tavern will take a new name once it is rebuilt, but one has not been selected yet.

He disclosed that no ‘start date’ for the demolition and construction had been set, because he and his partner were working with attorneys and the bank to ensure the property had clear title.

Mr Illing explained that the land upon which the Columbus Tavern is situated is subject to a Crown grant, which was never properly recorded in the Registry of Records.

“Believe it or not, the bank never had clear title,” he explained. “The land was created from the dredging of the marina, and the Crown grant was never recorded.

“I’m in the process of getting clear title with the lawyers and the bank. Until we get the title clear, we will sit still and wait for the lawyers to do their job.

“The application and approval was made in the early 1990s. It’s just a matter of recording the Crown Land grant. At the moment, we will concentrate on the hotel to ensure there is a seamless transition.”

Mr Illing said he and his partner had already constructed a pool bar and barbecue facilities at the Paradise Harbour Club and Marina, “so guests don’t have to venture off property to get a bit to eat”.

The new owner/manager of the property, which has 24 rooms and 22 marina dock slips, is familiar with the look and feel of a Family Island resort, having been involved with the Cat Island-based Greenwood Beach Resorts for the past 25 years.

“I always thought that with Paradise Island, since it’s our closest small island to Nassau, there’s a niche for a boutique resort without Ocean Club prices, offering personalised service and where the front desk staff knows every guest by face,” Mr Illing told Tribune Business.

“There’s nothing really on Paradise Island other than the big hotels, Atlantis and the Melia. This is the last commercial spot on the harbour where locals can go, other than the Green Parrot, and we will try to be more upscale than the Green Parrot.

“Hotel wise, I’m lucky enough to have a partner that has a keen interest in Paradise Island, and who also is a resident of Paradise Island, and just wanted a place outside Atlantis that had some style and class.”

Mr Illing said the Paradise Harbour Club and Marina was currently enjoying occupancy rates in the 80 per cent range, and had a strong customer and staff base upon which to build.

Many timeshare clients had been visiting the property since 1992-1993, while the 13 staff inherited by the new owners had all been with the resort for 10 years or more.

Pointing out that the Paradise Harbour Club and Marina’s full capacity was 60 guests, plus marina residents, Mr Illing said its business model would shift away from timeshare.

“For me, timeshare is something new,” he explained. “I personally think it is an outdated model, as no one wants to be tied down to the same vacation spot for 20-30 years. I think we can run it successfully as an independent hotel.”

As for the restaurant, Mr Illing said it would target Nassau and Paradise Island residents, plus the hotel’s guests and other tourists, once the rebuild was completed.

“Our vision is to make it a happening place for locals and residents of Paradise Island,” he told Tribune Business. “I think disposable income, for Paradise Island residents, is pretty good on a monthly basis. That’s our game plan.”

Mr Illing said the new owners planned to build “a little spa” underneath the new restaurant, along with administrative offices. The restaurant would be on the second floor, with the roof-top bar above intended to “create a club atmosphere for locals”.


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