A Cabinet minister yesterday hailed two multi-million dollar investment projects as providing a much-needed boost for Grand Bahama’s Dorian and COVID-19 ravaged economy.
Kwasi Thompson, minister of state for finance, told the Senate during the mid-year budget debate that the Western Atlantic School of Medicine will invest $33m in the first phase development of its East Sunrise campus with construction work having just begun.
And he also confirmed Tribune Business’ exclusive revelations about the Weller Development project by revealing that the US-based developer plans to invest $100m in a mixed-use resort project at Discovery Bay.
“I am pleased to announce that construction has commenced on the state-of-the-art Western Atlantic School of Medicine on East Sunrise in Freeport, Grand Bahama,” Mr Thompson said. “The project, which should see the completion of its first phase by year-end will consist of a 26,000 square foot building occupying some ten acres of land with a projected enrollment of some 200 students by 2022.
“This translates into some 100 full-time construction jobs for the first phase to the tune of some $33m of investment into the Grand Bahama economy. Additionally, the second phase of this investment is slated to begin in January 2022, and to be completed in December 2022 to the tune of some $15m.”
Tribune Business understands that the Western Atlantic school has secured its property lease, and all necessary approvals from the government and Grand Bahama Port Authority. Mr Thompson said the second- phase will involve another 100 jobs, including 75 construction jobs and an extra 24,000 square feet of facilities. Enrollment will reach 500 students.
“Both phases will see the construction of state-of-the-art medical education and medical tourism facilities,” Mr Thompson added. “Western Medical is also committed to providing internship and scholarships to qualifying Bahamian students, and have also committed to working with the Ministry of Tourism to put together a medical tourism portfolio and marketing strategy for Grand Bahama.”
Elsewhere, Mr Thompson - without naming the developer - turned to the Weller Development investment at Discovery Bay which is “in the process” of being approved by the government. “The company intends to develop a mixed-use resort consisting of a 25-key boutique hotel and restaurant; 30 residential estate lots; 12 townhouses; 12 bungalows; a beachfront rental pavilion; a 30-slip marina (to be situated in the existing canal system), and a back of house facility. It is estimated that this investment at the end of all its phases will exceed $100m,” he added.
Grand Bahama businesses yesterday reacted positively to Mr Thompson’s confirmation of the Discovery Bay project. James Rolle, general manager of Dolly Madison, told Tribune Business he would “really need to see some things happening on the ground”.
“Anything that comes to the surface now, I take it within the context of an election promise,” he added. “After four years you wait to have all of these things springing up out of the ground. Even though it is wishful thinking, I hope it does happen.
“I just hope this $100m will go to persons on the ground, because I want to know where the money is going. It will probably still end up in the pockets of a few, but there are always crumbs that fall off of the table.
“I really need to see things happening on the ground, where my people actually leave home in the morning and go to work and, at the end of the day, take a pay cheque home. That’s the bottom line.”
Brent Collins, Power Equipment’s chief executive, said: “This sounds awesome. Anything is welcomed, but I will believe it when I see it. I heard about this briefly, but I didn’t read too much into it, but anything along those lines will be awesome for The Bahamas in general.”
Mr Collins said he does not want smaller businessmen like himself to be crowded out by larger companies who typically receive all the investment dollars spent. “I’m out here. I’m selling a lot of generators, but something along the lines of Discovery Bay, a lot of times the people who get awarded the contract get them because they knew someone who knew someone,” he added.
“But I’m hoping to get something out of that. The $100m only speaks about the project, but what about the workers and companies that will benefit from that $100m? How will they benefit?”
Weller Development, which is presently spearheading a 235-acre waterfront redevelopment project in Baltimore, is negotiating the acquisition of the 30-acre tract owned by Marriott as the cornerstone for its project.
Tribune Business, though, was told that this investment could be just the first stage in a much bigger vision that could potentially see Weller Development fill the vacuum created by Hutchison Whampoa, and its Grand Bahama Development Company (Devco) affiliate, when it comes to real estate-based ventures that could regenerate Freeport’s and, by extension, Grand Bahama’s wider economy.
Several meetings are understood to have been held with the prime minister and the government, with Dr Hubert Minnis pledging that his administration will “do whatever it can” to help bring Weller Development’s vision and ambitions to life given that Freeport desperately needs an economic “game changer” with several cruise line-led projects stalled due to COVID-19.
This newspaper was told that Rupert Hayward, grandson of the late Sir Jack Hayward, is pushing the project from the Grand Bahama Port Authority’s (GBPA) side, with Fred Smith QC, the Callenders & Co attorney and partner, representing Weller Development. Erica Paine, of Graham, Thompson & Co, is acting for Marriott, with Robert Adams understood to be looking after the GBPA’s legal interests.
Elsewhere, Mr Thompson said Clean Marine Group’s facility for processing “a large volume of waste” generated by ships visiting The Bahamas will launch during April’s first-half from within the Grand Bahama Shipyard.
The company received matching $3.6m funding from the Inter-American Development Bank’s (IDB) “Blue Tech Challenge” Award in 2019 to aid its creation, and Mr Thompson said: “I am advised that this will be followed by a second announcement in relatively short order of their completing on a further $10m of investment from a world-renowned sustainable ocean fund for the development of phase two.
“This investment and development has just been approved by the Bahamas Investment Authority and the National Economic Council, and will see the commencement of their developing a new site in basin three of Freeport Harbour in the second half of this year that will be capable of serving even the largest crude carriers and other tankers that visit Freeport.”