Friday, March 17, 2023
• ‘Lifeline’ to unlocking multi-million investments
• Attorney: ‘We now have a future’ for the island
• ‘First of three legs’: Airlift, product fixes remain
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A prominent Freeport attorney yesterday hailed the “lifeline” provided by Grand Bahama airport’s imminent $200m redevelopment, saying: “We’d be doubly dead in the water without it.”
Terence Gape, a partner with the Dupuch & Turnquest law firm, told Tribune Business that numerous multi-million dollar investment projects targeted at the island were reluctant to proceed without the security of knowing there would be an airport capable of facilitating the necessary airlift and customer access.
Speaking after Chester Cooper, deputy prime minster and minister of tourism, investments and aviation, confirmed that a Bahamian investor group and their international partners will invest $200m to transform Dorian-devastated Grand Bahama International Airport, he said of the deal: “It means we have a future, which was very much in doubt without the airport.”
“The main thing it means is that we have the potential to increase tourism, which we don’t now, and we have the potential to cause a number of investments that are about to start, but wouldn’t start without knowing the airport was coming, particularly Weller Development, to move forward,” Mr Gape told this newspaper of the airport project’s importance.
“We had no choice but to move ahead with the airport. I think Carnival were saying they were nervous without it, and Royal Caribbean, if they intend to home port, wouldn’t come without it. It’s really a lifeline to future investment. We were doubly dead in the water without the airport. It’s very, very critical.
“With that here we can then move ahead with a lot of other potential investments that wouldn’t do it without the airport. Nobody could build a hotel here without the airport. It’s all good news from our point of view. It means we have a future, which was very much in doubt without the airport being there. Now we’ve got the other big problems to deal with.”
Tribune Business previously exclusively revealed that Bahamas Hot Mix (BHM) and its chairman, Anthony Myers, together with CFAL president, Anthony Ferguson, were involved in a bid for Grand Bahama International Airport that was one of the leading contenders to secure the deal.
Mr Cooper yesterday confirmed that all three, with BHM’s involvement occurring through its London-based international arm, were participants in the winning bidder. Messrs Myers and Ferguson are being joined by two other Bahamian investors, Anthony Farrington, an engineer, and businessman Greg Stuart, in the Aerodrome Ltd group that has teamed with UK-based Manchester Airport Group as its operating partner (see other article on Page 1B).
The joint venture partners are said to be planning a $200m investment that envisions, as its ultimate goal, developing Grand Bahama International Airport into more than just a tourism gateway by transforming into an international air freight and cargo hub for the Latin American and Caribbean region.
Magnus Alnebeck, the Pelican Bay resort’s general manager, told Tribune Business that the airport announcement “sets the tone” for reviving Freeport’s tourism and economy while also boosting investor confidence by confirming that work is set to shortly begin. However, he added that transforming Grand Bahama International Airport is only the first step in fixing the island’s economy.
“The important part is the Government is investing in the airport, and that shows they care about Grand Bahama,” he said. “It’s good news, and gets everyone upbeat and builds confidence that something is actually happening. But just getting a new airport will not solve the problem because we need airlift, and we need properties that are open so we get the airlift. This is the first leg of a three-legged stool, and let’s hope the other two legs happen.”
The Pelican Bay chief added that the airport redevelopment appeared to have a very aggressive timeline, with initial demolition work forecast to start within weeks by early April at the latest. “That’s what Grand Bahama needs to see; things actually happening,” he said. “We are constantly told things are going to happen.
“When we drive past the airport in the coming months and see things happening it will make us feel good, and the psychology is important. It builds up everybody’s good spirit. It’s the first thing that is happening, and it will hopefully set the tone for everything else. It definitely increases investor confidence that we’re about to get a functioning airport. Even though we are a few years away from that airport, they are seeing the Government is serious.”
Hurricane Dorian’s flooding and storm surge left Grand Bahama International Airport in a state of disrepair in September 2019. Mr Alnebeck, though, credited the Government for the improvements made to-date that have at least created a workable facility even though much more remains for the new investor group to do.
“Hopefully this is the turnaround point that has now started,” he told Tribune Business of Grand Bahama’s economic fortunes. “I think it was really badly needed. It’s a very strong signal, and will be even stronger when the earth is being moved and we see construction going on. Who would invest in an island that does not have a functioning airport?
“It’s been a long time coming. After Hurricane Matthew, when Memories and Sunwing left, we lost a lot of airlift, and after Dorian we lost the airport for pre-clearance and everything else. It’s the first positive thing relating to airports and airlift that we’ve seen in six-and-half-years. The airport needs to be able to accommodate the airlift.”
Mr Alnebeck said Pelican Bay, which is focused more on the corporate market, stood to benefit from “any increase in economic activity” on Grand Bahama including the airport project. He added that skilled expatriate professionals brought in to work on the latter would likely tend to stay at the resort.
Meanwhile James Sarles, broker and principal at James Sarles Realty, yesterday backed Mr Alnebeck’s position that Grand Bahama International Airport’s transformation is just the first step in reviving the island’s tourism product. “The airport is an integral part of the success and growth of Grand Bahama, but it’s not just the airport,” he said.
“It’s airlift. Putting money into an airport is the first step, but that airport needs airlift and to get airlift you need hotel rooms. It’s a good first step, it’s all very positive, but all these things work together.” Besides being the first and last impression for visitors, the airport is also critical to facilitating the airlift that drives tourism and other commercial activity on the island.
Its transformation goes hand-in-hand with the long-running, and so far unsuccessful, efforts to sell the Grand Lucayan resort as one needs the other to be financially sustainable. The redevelopment, led by the winning bidder, will also play a key role in attracting the US government to reinstate pre-clearance facilities in Grand Bahama.
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