Last updated: 04:42 PM ET, Mon January 25 2016

Bahamas PM: Baha Mar Will Open this Year

Hotel & Resort | Brian Major | January 25, 2016

Bahamas PM: Baha Mar Will Open this Year

PHOTO: Perry Christie, the Bahamas’ prime minister (center) says Baha Mar will open this year. (Photo by Brian Major)

The long-stalled $3.5 billion Baha Mar resort will finally open this year. At least that’s the opinion of Perry Christie, the Bahamas’ prime minister, who says “five or six” potential investors are in discussions to purchase the star-crossed Cable Beach property.

Speaking at last week’s Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association’s Caribbean Travel Marketplace conference in Nassau, Christie said “major investors, hotel and casino operators” are in discussions with Baha Mar’s chief financier and owner, the Export-Import Bank of China (CEXIM), to purchase the shuttered resort.

Christie’s comments follow CEXIM’s Dec. 17 statement saying it was “actively working with relevant stakeholders to seek proper resolution of the issues that the project is facing.” CEXIM is maintaining “close communication and contact” with the Bahamas government during the negotiations.

“The efforts being made by the government will permit the stakeholders to achieve re-mobilization, completion and opening of the resort as soon as possible during the course of this year,” said Christie in an address to CHTA conference attendees.

He said major hospitality groups are involved in the talks and the government is prodding CEXIM to agree to a deal with one sooner rather than later.

“When you have a company like Hyatt, who has expressed an interest in taking over, when you have the Chinese company that is behind Club Med [Fosun International Ltd.] who has expressed an interest in taking over, then the government of the Bahamas has to tell the EXIM Bank that time is up,” said Christie. “It is now time to get this thing going.”

His comments were echoed by Joy Jibrilu, director-general at the Bahamas tourism ministry.  “The government and EXIM Bank have been working assiduously. I have been in a number of the meetings with interested parties who have expressed an interest in purchasing Baha Mar and I think that bodes well for us,” she said at a CHTA press conference.

“Five or six parties are interested in the stalled project because it is virtually complete,” said Jibrilu. “Everything is in place. It is 97 percent complete and all of the approvals are in place. It’s just ready to go. So this is something that is very, very attractive.”

Despite their optimism, neither Jibrilu nor Christie would say exactly when the mega-resort, now 13 months beyond its original opening date, might finally open.

“There is no time frame for identifying the preferred buyer to move ahead with the project and then to do the final completion that needs to be done, the finishing touches,” Jibrilu said.

Yet in a small sign of progress, the resort’s conference center will open by March said Jibrilu. “It will be functional because there is a major IDB (Inter-American Development Bank) conference taking place there. The bank is working to ensure that will be ready. I think what people are hoping for is that will lead the way to the formal opening of the property.”

Christie admitted the development debacle has had a harsh impact on the Bahamas. “The country’s economic growth forecast “was downgraded by Standard & Poor’s because of their belief that we cannot open the resort in a reasonable amount of time,” he noted. In addition, unemployment insurance is “running out” for former Baha Mar employees and Bahamian construction sub-contractors are owed “millions of dollars,” Christie added.

“I’m optimistic that there is going to be a resolution very soon because there has to be,” he said. “Not for one second did I doubt that Baha Mar would eventually open its doors.”

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