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Freeport Needs a Mega Resort - 5-, 2005 – 11: 2
Many Grand Bahamians in the tourism sector have said they would like to see a mega casino resort on that island to boost its generally lacklustre tourism arrival figures.

If an Atlantis-type resort is built in Freeport, Grand Bahama's tourism product would get a much-needed shot in the arm, according to outgoing Central Bank governor, Julian Francis.

Many Grand Bahamians in the tourism sector have said they would like to see a mega casino resort on that island to boost its generally lacklustre tourism arrival figures.

Additionally, a feeling of neglect by the Central government on that island is very real, as successive governments have placed more emphasis on developing the tourism product in New Providence when many tourists who island hop have said on guest comment cards that they prefer the less congested islands.

Mr Francis believes that Freeport, with its good-quality infrastructure and reliable utility services for the most part, is more than able to accommodate a mega casino resort to rival Kerzner International's Atlantis, and the soon to be developed $1.2 million Cable Beach Resorts.

"I suspect that what one needs in Grand Bahama is some party who can really drive that sector in a way today that is analogous to Atlantis in Nassau," he said.

With full understanding of the mechanics of The Bahamas economy, Mr Francis is now studying the inner workings of The Grand Bahama Port Authority after accepting the Port's Co-chairman and CEO position, which was offered to him by Edward St. George the former Chairman who died on Dec 20. Mr Francis assumes his new post at the Port on June 1.

"Clearly, the Nassau tourism picture is evolving and I'm not suggesting that it's always going to be as it is today but our tourism sector here in New Providence today, is largely a result of the contribution of Atlantis to tourism in The Bahamas. And we need an Atlantis in Grand Bahama."

Since 1999, more than $600 million have been invested in new resort developments on Grand Bahama - home to approximately 75,000 people. And with the country's tourism demand growing, the need for more resorts on that island is also growing.

Fortunately, a major development that was planned for west Grand Bahama this year is about to get started. The preliminary work on that development, an upscale 35-acre residential resort and marina in the Deadman's Reef area just west of Holmes Rock, is already underway.

However, the $1 billon development at West End that was supposed to transform that settlement into a first-world destination is still on the drawing board.

Minister says West End project coming

Minister of Financial Services and Investments, Allyson Maynard-Gibson, did not give a timeframe for the signing of the Heads of Agreement for the West End project but indicated Monday that it was imminent.

"What is going to make a huge, immediate, positive impact for Grand Bahama is the West End project. It is a transaction which I am negotiating right now and I expect to be able to have answers within a short period of time."

The project is a proposal by the Orlando-based Ginn Development Company, which includes the development of over 2,150 acres of the Old Sammons Estates into world-class resorts, condominiums and yachting facilities.

It would consist of two 18-hole golf courses, 3 marinas, 600 dry storage racks, 3,880 density units and the reopening of the West End Airport as a private non-commercial airstrip.

Prime Minister Perry Christie excited a large crowd at his party's November 2003 Convention by announcing that negotiations for the West End project were underway. Nearly two years later, Minister Gibson was asked if the project was overdue.

"Well I would not say it's overdue because it is not a small project, and negotiations of this size and complexity take time. But we will imminently be able to announce that we have come to an accord with the developer."

She said there were other projects on the table in Grand Bahama, including the airport (Grand Bahama International) rehabilitation project, the Marriott resort project and a resort/ residential community a few miles east of the Port area.

"We are happy to hear the Port Authority addressing Grand Bahama as a whole and not just Freeport. And we have agreed that that is what is needed for Grand Bahama."

By MINDELL SMALL, Nassau Guardian Staff Reporter