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‘Smooth sailing’: Resort’s $30m annual GB boost

Six Senses habitat concept.

Six Senses habitat concept.

• EIA release eases Six Senses delay fears

• Weller halt concerns on Gov’t/GBPA ‘spat’

• 100 jobs for construction and operations

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

Fears that a major resort development may have stalled were eased yesterday after it was revealed the project will generate a $30m annual boost for Grand Bahama’s ailing economy once fully operational.

James Carey, the Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce’s president, told Tribune Business he hopes Weller Development’s $250m Six Senses project will enjoy “smooth sailing from this point on” after the release of its Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) indicates progress towards obtaining all necessary permits and approvals for construction to proceed.

Speaking after it was disclosed that the public hearing and consultation on the EIA will be held on September 7, 2023, at the Pelican Bay hotel, he added that himself and others “were beginning to wonder if this was another announced project” that then fails to move forward given Grand Bahama’s recent history of much-touted developments that ultimately failed to materialise.

The GB Chamber chief, reiterating his concern that the recent dispute between the Government and Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) could deter investors and freeze their plans, voiced relief that Weller is still moving ahead with its Discovery Bay plans and described the forecast economic impact as “huge” given Freeport’s still-struggling economy.

The EIA, drawn up by Bahamian environmental engineer, Islands by Design, and its principal, Keith Bishop, disclosed that the Six Senses project will inject an estimated $50m per annum into the Bahamian economy over the two to three-year construction timeframe. Marc Weller, Weller Development’s founding partner and president, previously told this newspaper that he was targeting a construction start in early 2024 with completion and an operational start in 2026.

Some 100 construction tradespeople, of whom 80 percent will be Bahamian, will be required for the construction phase with “100-plus” local created by a full-operational resort that will 70 resort keys (units) and 29 branded residences. “It is estimated that the number of persons required for the construction phases will be approximately 100 trade workers, of which 80 percent will be of Bahamian nationality and 20 percent will require work permits,” the EIA affirmed.

“As previously mentioned, Weller Development Company’s priority is to employ Bahamians. The development team anticipates a need for approximately 50 employees to run management and day-to-day operations, of which ten will need work permits.” The document, which has already been submitted to the Department of Environmental Planning and Protection (DEPP), pledged that the economic impact and benefits to The Bahamas from the project will be “significant”.

“It is estimated that the project will contribute about $50m to the Bahamian economy during the construction period and about $30m per year after the completion of the project and commencement of operations,” the EIA said. “It is conservatively estimated that the project will impact the local economy by generating approximately 100-plus local jobs, of which 70-plus percent will reflect on-going jobs created by the operations phase of the project.”

Describing Six Senses as “arguably the number one hotel brand in the world with a sustainability focus [and] locations across many of the world’s most sought-after remote locations”, the EIA added that its arrival on Grand Bahama will help shift the island’s tourism product upmarket by appealing to a higher-spending, more discerning visitor market.

“Each of the various project components are anticipated to positively impact the local economy and allow it to grow as a more prominent destination in the Caribbean with the growing sophistication in tourism and residential product in Grand Bahama,” the document said, adding that it will increase visitor spending and also boost a variety of government tax revenues including VAT, tourism departure taxes, work permit fees and National Insurance Board (NIB) contributions.

Giving an insight into Weller Development’s plans, the EIA said: “Six Senses Resort at Discovery Bay, Grand Bahama, is a development of 70 resort keys, 29 branded residences and [includes] a wellness and spa centre, three restaurants, an event space and a beach club....

“Site development will seek to utilise low-impact development principles to increase climate resiliency. This will be accomplished through restoration of the dune landscape along the beachfront, and lush natively landscaped open spaces integrated throughout the site.

“All built structures will be raised to respond to regular storm surges and flood conditions. In addition, site circulation seeks to minimise paved surfaces and automotive uses for predominantly pedestrian experience in and around the resort development.”

All hotel villas will be low-scale and single storey, and the EIA said: “The development team is pursuing a zero-waste strategy for the pre-fabrication of these structures while ensuring that the vast majority of the assembly is done locally with the talented Bahamian carpenters and trades people in mind to promote job growth and economic impact to Grand Bahama.....

“Materials for the 70 villa resorts and 29 branded residences are to be ethically sourced to meet both sustainability goals of the resort and meet the sustainability criteria inherent to the Six Senses brand standards. Worn timber, natural stones, board formed concrete and lush local endemic plant species will create the visual palette that will bring together the resort and branded residences proposed throughout the resort.”

Some 22 hotel villas will be constructed on a rebuilt jetty structure. “Each villa is being proposed over a 25-foot wide ‘jetty enhancement area’, supported on structural piers with a designated finish floor elevation of 10 feet. Sewage/waste will be handled on the land side and run much like a roadway below the centre of the jetty until reaching the force main within the resort core,” the EIA added.

Little has been heard publicly of Weller’s Six Senses project since the Grand Bahama Business Outlook in February this year. However, Mr Weller previously told this newspaper that the environmental permits from both the DEPP and Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) are the final approvals that the development needs to obtain before it can move to physical construction at the 30-acre site it previously acquired from Marriott.

That stage appears to have now been reached, with the GB Chamber’s Mr Carey yesterday voicing relief that Weller had not halted its plans amid the uncertainty created by the Government’s recent criticism of the GBPA and its shareholders, the St George and Hayward families, and demands for changes to Freeport’s quasi-governmental authority and the Hawksbill Creek Agreement itself.

“That is very positive at this point,” he said of the EIA’s release and hearing date. “We were beginning to wonder if this was another announced project for a bit. These things go through quite a process, and in Grand Bahama it’s a dual process with the Port Authority and the Government.

“This is very positive news, and we hope that once this is done it all goes ahead. I’m happy to hear it and I hope it will be smooth sailing from this point on. I expect there will be some environmental concerns when it goes public, but that’s normal and we just hope it goes sailing ahead.”

Acknowledging fears that the Government’s attacks on the GBPA could have a potentially chilling effect on investment targeted at Freeport, Mr Carey added: ‘“There was a concern, in light of the Government having a go at the Port Authority, which I previously talked to you about when I said I wonder if some things will pause to see what happens.

“There was a concern about the Weller Group project; about whether it would pause or go ahead. It’s one of those things that happens when there are public spats of those charged with oversight of development. I hope it all goes well now, along with some other things.”

Speaking to the Six Senses project’s forecast $30m annual economic impact, Mr Carey told this newspaper: “Given where we are currently, that is huge. Once those dollars are put into the local economy it means they are circulated and add to the whole structure of the economy. That’s exactly what we need.”

He added that the arrival of Weller, and like-minded developers, was essential to rebuilding Freeport’s critical population mass which has been lost due to 18 years of economic stagnation plus the fall-out from Hurricane Dorian and COVID-19. “It would be great to see that population return and grow,” Mr Carey said. “Projects like Weller’s add to the development we are waiting for. The bottom line is that this is significant.”

Freeport and Grand Bahama, though, now need to prepare for tourism’s potential shift upmarket and the higher-end visitors that Six Senses will attract. “We appreciate that a high-end product certainly brings high-end expectations and higher dollars,” Mr Carey said.

“We’ve been having a conversation with the Port Authority and, by extension, the University of The Bahamas in terms of looking to get programmes and certification courses going under the management of the university in terms of customer service. If we’re going to have high-end customers and residents coming, we’re going to have to up our game in terms of service and be mindful of everything we do and say.”

Terence Gape, a Freeport-based partner with the Dupuch & Turnquest law firm, told Tribune Business of Weller’s Six Senses ambitions: “It’s very critical because they have a plan that encompasses development of the waterway. It’s going to be very beneficial for Freeport because we have to rebuild our tourism product. The attraction of a Six Senses hotel, which is the number one brand in the world, is a major accomplishment.”

Suggesting that Six Senses could have the same impact for Grand Bahama’s tourism industry as Atlantis had for New Providence in the mid-1990s, Mr Gape added: “It will prove that Freeport can provide the highest level of service, which is now more or less the norm in the industry and what Atlantis and Baha Mar provide. That’s what we need.

“There’s no sense in catering to a low-level market because we cannot rebuild the product with that. We are already at zero. We can only hope and pray.”

Comments

birdiestrachan 11 months, 1 week ago

Neil I hope these buildings are not to close to the sea unless the storm surges will take them out,

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