Bahamas Luxury Developers Look to US Buyers for Comeback

The bahamasNature trails, a yoga platform on a rocky cliff overlooking crashing waves and a starry midnight blue sky are among the hooks for potential buyers at the Schooner Bay resort community in the Bahamas.

?I walk that beach at night and I?ve never seen so many stars in my life,? said Mark Pordes, whose Aventura, Fla., company is doing the sales and marketing for the laid-back boutique residential project.

It?s the perfect weekend antidote for the hustle and bustle of South Florida, he says.

But the developers of the Albany, on the southwestern tip of New Providence Island, have another vision.

?Our goal is to become a Monaco in the Caribbean,? said Christopher Anand, managing partner at the 600-acre luxury oceanfront community that is jointly owned by Tavistock Group ? a Bahamas-based private investment firm ? and golfers Tiger Woods and Ernie Els.

From New Providence, location of the Bahamian capital Nassau, to the outer Family Islands, new hotel and second-home projects are coming out of the ground or are expected to get underway soon. Established properties also are making significant upgrades.

Although Florida has its own abundance of sunshine and sand, a number of the new resorts and residential communities are courting Florida residents. For some, the draw is more affordable prices for waterfront getaways. When price is no object, proximity, convenience and luxury on the ocean are the draws.

When Sidney Torres IV began prospecting for guests for The Cove, his 75-room high-end resort on Eleuthera, he targeted Florida.

?I asked what?s the easiest and quickest place to get to and from,? he said. He estimates that about 45 percent of visitors at The Cove, which opened a year ago, come from South Florida.

?We lost some numbers in Florida and New York, and we want to reintroduce ourselves in Florida in particular,? said Bahamian Tourism Minister Obediah Wilchcombe.

It?s time for a tourism resurgence in the Bahamas, he said.

While other Caribbean islands were adding hotel rooms, Wilchcombe said, the Bahamas wasn?t building and the inventory of rooms actually declined. Ministry of Tourism figures show there were 14,836 hotel rooms last year ? a 4 percent decline from a decade earlier and fewer than in the 1980s.

But Baha Mar, a $3.5 billion resort and casino on Cable Beach that is expected to open for guests in December, will do a lot to change those statistics with its 2,200 new rooms and 700 refurbished rooms.

Robert Sands, a senior vice president of Baha Mar Ltd., said that the resort and its marketing campaigns will benefit the entire country. ?This is business that no one else has at this time,? he said. ?The reality is that we?ll grow stop-over arrivals to the Bahamas.?

But there is plenty of building going on in the Bahamas beyond Baha Mar and beyond New Providence Island, including the new Marina Hotel at Resorts World Bimini and a Club Med expansion on San Salvador.

Canada?s Sunwing Travel Group and Hutchinson Whampoa partnered in a complete renovation of the former Reef Village in Freeport. Rebranded as the 500-room Memories Grand Bahama Resort & Casino, a Blue Diamond resort, it officially opened March 24.

There are also smaller boutique projects on islands such as Eleuthera, Exuma and Grand Abaco. ?There are so many islands and we are seeking economic sustainability for each,? Wilchcombe said.

The 2008 global meltdown hit tourism in the Bahamas especially hard because so many visitors are from the United States. ?A recession in the U.S. is a depression in the Bahamas,? said Eddie Lauth, one of the developers of French Leave Harbour Village, a seafront cottage project in Eleuthera.

The economic downturn prompted massive layoffs of hotel workers, paralyzed work on some projects and wiped out others.

?Many of the projects that we were entertaining before the recession were heavily dependent on institutional financing,? said Khaalis Rolle, minister of state for investments. ?Lehman Brothers was quite active here. When Lehman went, a number of these projects went, too.?

Now many of the projects going forward are self-financed and free of construction loans at a time when U.S. second-home buyers are returning to the market.

Source: MCT Information Services