Bahamas megaresort at impasse over opening

Nassau, Bahamas — The Baha Mar megaresort in The Bahamas and its main contractor are facing an impasse, with the developer of the $3.5 billion project unable to get word on an opening date, and the contractor failing to commit to such a date until Baha Mar makes certain payments, Prime Minister Perry Christie revealed on Wednesday.

“It is not my view that it is a money situation, that the financing has run out or that the Izmirlian family is without money,” said Christie when asked for an update on a matter that is creating growing worries nationally.

“That is not the issue. I think the parties got caught into two very strong positions that represented the developer, the Izmirlians, wanting to have a certain date to finish and the contractors wanting to have payments, installment payments, toward being able to arrive at a date that they can finish, and so clearly they needed to have an intermediary talking to both of them and the strongest intermediary you can have is those who represent the people of the country.”

Christie said he is focused on saving the thousands of Bahamian jobs at Baha Mar.

“We cannot allow that (job losses) to happen in this country,” he said. “It would be absolutely wrong, both for the construction company and for the developers to have the country placed in that position. You know where two elephants fight, the ground suffers? It’s that kind of situation.”

He added, “I was advised late last night that they are very close to a settlement, very close to fixing the matter, very close to where the three parties — the construction company, the development company, that is the Izmirlian family and the government of The Bahamas — will be able to sign off all in agreement that we could now race to the finish line and get Baha Mar [open].”

The project has faced three delays. It was initially scheduled to open in December 2014, then March 2015. Days before the March opening was expected to take place, Baha Mar announced that it was delaying its opening until the first week of May.

But in a letter to staff on May 1, Baha Mar CEO Sarkis Izmirlian advised that the company had been unable to get a commitment from its contractor, China Construction America (CCA), on the opening.

Since then, there have been increasing concerns over what is causing the delays.

Frustrated

Christie said yesterday he believes Izmirlian has been frustrated.

The prime minister was responding to a question from The Nassau Guardian about Izmirlian’s comments at the second annual Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation Conclave last month.

At that forum, Izmirlian expressed that the “discontent and concerns” surrounding the project are now felt across nearly all sectors of the country.

“As Baha Mar has been developed, we have had to do so with less than ideal support and a less than best-in-class business climate, which are critical to The Bahamas’ success,” he said, adding that a number of promises important to the future of The Bahamas have not come to fruition.

“All of us must be concerned about the unfulfilled promise of improvement in the reliable supply of power and the reduced costs of power.

“We all should be concerned about the gap in necessary education and training programs that would allow workers to be better prepared for jobs, and we all should be concerned that the growth incentive commitments are not viewed as reliable.”

Responding to these comments on Wednesday, the prime minister said, “I think it reflected his frustration. Most certainly, it wouldn’t have helped for me to respond to him, but for me to understand that [he] has invested that kind of money and has put the family’s fortune on the line because this is an enormous undertaking, one that has never been undertaken before and most certainly by a family, this is not some huge corporation doing this.

“This is family interest, and so I think he allowed frustration to overtake him and say some things on reflection he ought not to have said and most certainly I would have wished for him not to have said, but having said it, we have passed that stage now.

“We have met several times and all of the meetings have let us reach a point, led by Mr Izmirlian, where not only will we reach agreement but we will reflect the spirit of that in all that we do.

“So there’s very, very strong collaboration going on now and I think a deeper understanding between the parties and I’m satisfied, as we have the Chinese ambassador there that the parties are working in good faith in order to make this happen quickly.”

Christie also said yesterday the government and Baha Mar have “an understanding” over the issue of the government’s payment for its portion of the costs for the new West Bay Street and accompanying infrastructure.

At that April forum, Izmirlian also took lead contractor CCA to task over construction delays, claiming that the short-term success of the resort was ultimately in its hands after one too many black eyes in both the local and international press.

When Baha Mar announced its delay in March, it made similar comments about CCA.

The contractor responded, saying, “The statements by the developer of the Baha Mar project laying blame upon CCA (Bahamas) for its decision to delay the announced opening of this project are wholly inappropriate and inconsistent with the history of the project.”

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