Costing $3.4 billion to develop, the Baha Mar resort at Cable Beach five miles west of Nassau on New Providence in The Bahamas bills itself as the largest single-phase resort development anywhere on the planet.
Born in 2004, the massive project – ground for which was broken on February 21 – will be a decade in gestation before it is completed, with the aid of $2.6 billion of Chinese-bank debt financing, in 2014. Even more remarkable than the resort’s planned 1,000-acre size and its cost is the huge ambition of Baha Mar’s developers – the Izmirlian family and Bank of Nova Scotia – in trying to building the resort in one single, enormous push.
While some 6,000 Chinese workers are being imported to build Baha Mar – as usual with Chinese-financed projects, the banks insist on using Chinese labor – at least 4,500 Bahamians will also be employed in the resort’s construction. So says Robert ‘Sandy’ Sands, senior vice president of administration and external affairs for Baha Mar Resorts Ltd., the company which is directly handling development, adding that when Baha Mar is complete, 9,000 Bahamians will work in its hotels and facilities.
“The idea is to create a new resort … [which will be] a one-of-a-kind destination in the world,” says Sands. Baha Mar is intended to complement the Atlantis resort just five miles or so away on Paradise Island. Atlantis is equally big – but it is being developed in multiple phases, with four of nine phases completed to date since development began in 1998.
Development of Baha Mar starts with construction of a new four-lane semi-circular road around the southern perimeter of the resort, connecting it via an access road and roundabout to John F. Kennedy Drive, which leads directly to Lynden Pindling International Airport a few miles to the southwest. John F. Kennedy Drive and its continuation into the centre of Nassau is also being developed into a four-lane road, but that is a government project not under the aegis of Baha Mar.
Another early step in the resort’s development is demolition of the former Nassau Beach Hotel, built in 1958 as the first hotel at Cable Beach. Two other existing hotels at Cable Beach – the 702-room Sheraton Nassau Beach Resort and the big Wyndham Nassau Resort – are officially within the boundaries of Baha Mar, but are not being marketed as Baha Mar resorts.
However, since construction of Baha Mar is expected to affect guest-occupation levels at the Wyndham in particular – since it is close to where all the new construction is taking place – two of the Wyndham’s towers will be used to accommodate the project-management staff for the new venture. At a suitable time, the two towers will be knocked down, leaving the Wyndham as a 550-room resort, says Sands. All construction near the Sheraton will be completed within 10 months, leaving the hotel and its guests otherwise unaffected by Baha Mar development work.
Baha Mar itself will be built along 3,000 feet of beachfront and will feature four hotels, which will together contain a total of 2,250 guestrooms. These hotels – a 300-room Morgan Hotel, a 250-room luxury Rosewood, a 700-room Hyatt convention hotel and a 1,000-room casino hotel for which a brand partner has yet to be agreed – will be marketed as the resorts of Baha Mar, according to Sands.
The resort will feature many other facilities. They will include a 200,000-square-foot convention center, the largest in the Bahamas, which will also host entertainment and sporting events. The casino associated with the casino hotel will be 100,000 square feet in area and will be the largest in the Caribbean. Baha Mar will also have about 50 time-share accommodation units, but no fractional-ownership partner has been identified yet.
Additionally, a 50,000-square-foot retail village round Baha Mar’s “show lake” will feature unique shops, restaurants, Bahamian nightclubs and food-and-beverage outlets. The resort will also feature a Jack Nicklaus-designed, championship-standard golf course and Baha Mar already owns 450 acres of land near the airport, 10 minutes’ drive away, to give it the option to add a second golf course if desired.
While original plans for the resort included an option for a seaside marina, development of such a facility was found to be unsuitable environmentally. Instead, Baha Mar has an option to use land at Arawak Cay a couple of miles away to build a marina. A 50-acre site on Gladstone Road on the southern, inland side of the resort will contain its back-of-house facilities and employee car parks. (Employees will be bused into the resort itself.)
Baha Mar is taking environmental conservation and sustainability practices seriously, says Sands. The land in which it will be built already contains a protected wetlands area and this will be expanded to 70 acres.
The resort company is contributing $1 million in seed money and $1 million in maintenance payments to The Bahamas National Trust to protect the eco-system in the wetlands area for its flora, waterfowl and other fauna. The company is also contributing $8 million to the Bahamas Training and Service Academy – which will be located inside the perimeter of the resort – for facilities to help train its future staff.
All the companies operating hotels within Baha Mar will invest in eco-sensitive sustainability practices, according to Sands. Deep-water wells will be sunk to provide cooling water, reducing energy costs by a third and substantially cutting the requirement for diesel fuel. Renewable-energy concepts will be introduced and the hotel operators will also adopt their own sustainability measures.
Along with the planned renovation of downtown Nassau over the next few years, Baha Mar represents “a metamorphosis” for The Bahamas, says Sands. Yet even after the huge Baha Mar project is completed, New Providence won’t have more than 10,000 hotel rooms and the entire nation of The Bahamas will only have 17,000. This will help The Bahamas, and Baha Mar, maintain a reputation for high-quality tourism, the developer believes.