But it was hard to consummate a deal with a firm on the other side of the world. “I couldn’t pursue it on a daily basis,” Capo said. “When you’re trying to make a woman fall in love with you, it takes perseverance.”
Ultimately it may have been the similarities between the two families that drew them together. Like Lim’s father, who built his first casino resort Genting Highlands in Malaysia on a then-untouched mountain top, Capo has worked to turn 750 acres he purchased in 1995 for $3 million into a resort destination. Over the years, he’s invested nearly $40 million of his own money in the $200 million project.
Bimini Bay opened its first phase in late 2007, bringing a luxury resort to the typically rustic island that was once a haunt of author Ernest Hemingway and where Martin Luther King wrote his famous “I have a dream” speech. Today Bimini Bay boasts more than 480 luxury homes and villas, the largest yacht marina complex in the Bahamas and a shopping village.
“The old man (Lim) struggled the same way I have and they can relate to that,” Capo said. “They also see a lot of future potential; otherwise they wouldn’t be coming here.”
The difficulty in previous negotiations with RAV Resorts came down to logistics, Leibovitz said. Until recently, Genting was based only in Asia. With its new focus on expanding in the eastern United States in New York and Miami, the company now has offices in this hemisphere.
“We’re now a much more worldwide company,” Leibovitz said.
The timing of the Bimini announcement comes only months after Genting lost its efforts to get the Florida Legislature to approve an expansion of casino gambling beyond tribal lands and pari-mutuel facilities. Genting has spent $500 million in just over a year purchasing real estate in Miami for a future resort casino, including the site of The Miami Herald.
“This is a totally separate project and has nothing to do with Florida and what we’re doing there,” said Leibovitz, who was the only member of the Genting team to talk to the press on Friday. Genting executives Colin Au and Jessica Hoppe, who lead the Florida efforts, were both also present for the Bahamian press conference.
A key part of the future success of Resorts World Bimini lies in the ability of the Bahamian government and private industry to work together to improve access to the tiny island only 48 nautical miles off the coast of South Florida. It’s only a half hour plane flight, but currently service is limited, access is difficult from anywhere beyond South Florida.
Wilchcombe says he is currently in discussions with Bahamas Air and two other major national airlines about adding services to Bimini. The government is also looking at the long-term need to extend the airport runway and expand the facility.
“We have these wonderful islands and they don’t have enough airlift,” Wilchcombe said. “We need an additional 100,000 seats to get the numbers we want in Bimini.”
The government has talked with Genting about contributing to the airport and infrastructure expansion, but no agreement has been reached, he said.
Currently many Bimini’s 50,000 annual visitors get to the island by boat — a 2 ½ hour trip. During the winter, not a prime boating time, arrivals are limited.
Capo is a partner in a high-speed ferry venture that will make the trip from South Florida in 90 minutes. Boats could carry about 450 people and make three or four trips per day. Dredging is underway.
, By improving transporation and adding a casino, government officials hope to lure visitors to Bimini for more than just the fishing that has long been the area’s main attraction.
“It’s about giving people an opportunity to see what Bimini is all about,” Leibovitz said. “It’s the magic of Bimini that is really what drew us there. It’s just a beautiful, beautiful island.”