The third time wasn’t the charm for the star-crossed Bahamian mega-resort Baha Mar. Originally slated to open in December 2014, the resort missed three scheduled openings before the April 21 ribbon-cutting for the first hotel in the complex, the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar, and a 100,000-square-foot casino.
Prime Minister Perry Christie, who participated in snipping the blue ribbon marking the soft opening of the first phase of the 1,000-acre Baha Mar complex, said this time the launch isn’t a “mirage.”
Currently 300 rooms in the 1,800-room Grand Hyatt Baha Mar are open for previews and invited guests. An 18-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course, the casino, which features 1,140 slot machines and 119 gaming tables, an ESPA spa and some shops and restaurants are also open, but the Grand Hyatt won’t begin receiving paying guests until May 8. The convention center at the property has been completed for some time.
At the ribbon-cutting, the hotel announced it would be accepting reservations for stays beginning May 29, but last week it allowed guests to make reservations for arrival on May 8 — two days before the Bahamas general election.
Rates at the Grand Hyatt, including taxes and fees, begin at more than $440 a night. The next hotel scheduled to open at the resort on Cable Beach is the SLS Baha Mar in the fall. The luxury Rosewood Baha Mar with 185 rooms and five beachfront villas is expected to open in the spring of 2018.
“Baha Mar’s opening is not a mirage. It is real and it is the most significant economic development event ever to occur in a single phase within the Bahamas and the Caribbean,” Christie said at the ribbon-cutting. Although Baha Mar, which had an initial price tag of $3.5 billion, was conceived as a single-phase development, it appears that with staggered openings for various facilities that is no longer the case.
And coming so close to the election, some Bahamians are calling the ribbon-cutting a “sham opening.”
Getting the Nassau complex, which was built with the help of Chinese financing and more than 4,000 Chinese construction laborers, open has been a priority for Christie’s government.
But since the Feb. 11, 2011, ground-breaking for the project, Baha Mar has been plagued by problems. Not only did it miss three previous opening dates — the most recent in May 2015 after it had been accepting reservations for weeks — but it also has faced a bankruptcy filing and protracted legal wrangling. The developer blamed China Construction America for missing construction deadlines; CCA countered that it wasn’t responsible for the delays and blamed the developer for mismanagement.
Some 2,000 workers who had been hired for the resort were terminated in October 2015. Although the Bahamian workers were eventually compensated for wages due, severance and other benefits, a group of former foreign workers at the resort say they still haven’t received anything.
Baha Mar Ltd. and original developer Sarkis Izmirlian eventually lost control of Baha Mar and Hong Kong-based Chow Tai Fook Enterprises, a conglomerate with interests in the hotel, casino, jewelry, property development, transportation, port and telecom industries, signed an agreement to own and operate Baha Mar. Its jewelry group with a market capitalization of more than $8 billion is one of the largest jewelry retailers in the world.
“CTFE will dedicate significant, ongoing investment and resources towards the pre-opening and opening of Baha Mar Resort,” said Graeme Davis, president of Chow Tai Fook’s Bahamas subsidiary. “We will also ensure that the Bahamian people and the region benefit fully from the project, which will create tremendous job and economic stimulus opportunities.”
This week he told The Tribune, a Nassau newspaper, that CTFE had hired 1,600 workers and that hiring was continuing.
When Baha Mar is fully operational, Christie said it is expected to have a direct economic impact of $700 million a year, fill an additional 315,000 air passenger seats annually and revitalize Bahamian tourism. From January to September 2016, the Bahamas reported 1.2 million visitors.
As Baha Mar prepares to open, Atlantis — the Paradise Island resort that features the world’s largest marine habitat — plans to take on the competition with a new advertising campaign and music video featuring Bahamian groups. The new campaign launches May 8.
Follow Mimi Whitefield on Twitter: @HeraldMimi