Disney project hailed as ‘start of new era’


Tribune Business Reporter


Disney’s $250-$400m Lighthouse Point project was yesterday hailed as the “beginning of a new era” by South Eleuthera’s MP despite activists’ concerns over a “secretive” deal.

Hank Johnson, who had been one of the cruise line’s most prominent backers, said its development represents “a new beginning” for an area that has long been economically depressed.

“The project is now moving ahead with the developer. As far as what it means for Eleuthera, it’s the beginning of a new era,” the MP said. “Over the years, 35-40 years, South Eleuthera has had no growth whatsoever. We have fallen through the cracks. Life was really difficult for many of our residents. Many of them have migrated to others places.

“Everything has declined, and the economy was in bad shape. All of this has also had an impact on families, with persons having to leave home and go abroad to look for work. We were losing families. We are also losing our younger generation.

“That has changed the life here on the island. With Disney coming in now it’s a new beginning. There is light at the end of the tunnel. I’m quite certain that the people and residents of South Eleuthera are grateful because we are now beginning to see the economy transform.”

The government and Disney Island Development Ltd last week signed a Heads of Agreement for the construction of a cruise port and entertainment facility at Lighthouse Point on Eleuthera’s southernmost tip.

The deal, announced by the prime minister during a recent town hall meeting on the island, calls for 190 acres of land at the property’s southernmost point - worth $6.29m - to be transferred to the government for the creation of a national park.

In a subsequent statement, the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) noted Disney’s “completed acquisition” of the 700-acre property from a “private seller” - previously revealed by Tribune Business to be The Related Group and Meritage Hospitality.

Jeff Vahle, president of Disney Cruise Line, said yesterday: “We are pleased to have finalised an agreement with the Government of The Bahamas that will enable us to create new and sustainable economic opportunities for the people of Eleuthera while celebrating the natural beauty and culture of this special place with our guests.

“Over the past few months, we’ve spent time in Eleuthera exploring its unique sites and culture, continuing to build relationships with current and future business owners who have an interest in working with us, and supporting philanthropic initiatives that benefit children and families.

“We have also been focused on the field work necessary for completing a comprehensive environmental impact assessment (EIA) and management plan. We expect to complete this work over the next few months in close consultation with government.”

The project, though, continued to come under intense scrutiny from environmentalists. Sam Duncombe, reEarth’s president, said yesterday: “We are a little bit concerned that a project they’re saying is so great was signed off on in such a secretive way.

“Why wasn’t this made known until now, and why was the press not invited to ask questions? We trust that the EIA will be up to international standards and be subject to review from all those concerned. I think the public has a right to know what the Heads of Agreement says. That could be a bombshell in and of itself.”


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