If the Baha Mar resort in the Bahamas ever gets built the way its designers foresee, it will be the largest resort of any in the Caribbean region. And China will play a huge role.
Mammoth is the only way to describe the $1.6 billion Baha Mar resort, which is to include 3,550 hotel rooms, a big casino, a Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course, shopping entertainment venues and lots of tropical drinks with little umbrellas in them. It will go up on New Providence Island, the most populous of the Bahamian isles and site of the capital, Nassau.
Problem is, in this economic climate, it’s not so easy to get bank lending. So China has stepped in, not only with cash but also construction know-how. And maybe laborers.
Two months ago, the chief executive of the project, Sarkis Irzmilian, let drop at a conference in Nassau that the project was facing, shall we say, a few setbacks. A press release at the time hinted that Chinese investors might come to the rescue:
Baha Mar Resorts is currently in discussion with Chinese investors regarding the future of the mega resort project. Later this month, the company will host an important delegation from China visiting The Bahamas to continue talks.
“Our Chinese friends have recognized that the current slowdown provides us with a once in a lifetime opportunity to build this project at a greatly reduced cost, and be ready to open when the recession ends and the world recovers. As we move ahead, I look forward to being guided by their wisdom and long term strategy.”
A new press release from Baha Mar has just hit my desk. The State Construction Engineering Corporation signed a contract this week in Beijing to build Baha Mar, and the Export-Import Bank of China will provide project financing. Both are government entities.
“While there are various next steps we must take together with our Chinese counterparts before the project’s financing is finalized, this marks a significant milestone for the future of the project and for the growth of Bahamian tourism overall,” Baha Mar President Don Robinson said.
So will the Chinese actually own part of Baha Mar? That’s not clear to me. But what I do find rich in symbolism is the juxtaposition of the resort – to be built by state-owned companies of a nation ruled by a (nominally) Communist Party – a short boat ride away from Miami, the bulwark of Cuban-born anti-Communists. Times do change.
Also curious is a line in the latest press release promising to “to hire as many qualified Bahamians as possible to work on the project during its 2-3 year construction phase.” That is probably coded language for the following: China will ship in lots of its own laborers but will try to keep it low-key and not let them off the site. Bahamians will get some jobs, too.
Some 500 Chinese laborers were brought in to Grenada a few years to build the national stadium on that Caribbean island, stirring up some local resentment even though the stadium was a gift from Beijing. China has also sent laborers to build stadiums in Jamaica and Antigua. Then last October, some Chinese laborers kidnapped several Israelis in a pay dispute on West Caicos Island, not far from the Bahamas.