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2004-01-26 22:35:44

Phase III On Hold

Construction of the $650-million Atlantis Phase III is off until Nassau International Airport is upgraded, says Butch Kerzner, CEO of Kerzner International Ltd.

He told The Guardian on Friday he is "disappointed" that there were "no visible signs" of upgrading NIA, which he deemed crucial to the Atlantis expansion.

Paradise Island is home to the head office of the business, and according to the executive, expects to remain so for some time.

"We've tried to get an indication from the government, but I have not seen any visible signs of progress.

"It's going to be a big disappointment to us and there's not much we can do about it," Mr. Kerzner told The Guardian on Friday.

When Phase III is completed, Kerzner International would have invested an estimated $1.7 billion in The Bahamas. Atlantis employs about 6,000 workers or eight per cent of the country's total working force. The aim of Kerzner International is to make Atlantis one of the largest entertainment resorts in the world, rival only to Disney.

"The airport is the first and last impression customers have and frankly without improvements, Phase III would not be able to take place," Mr. Kerzner said.

He said the company has tried to get an indication from the government as to when the upgrading will begin, but it has not seen any visible signs of progress.

Asked whether it is a gamble to delay construction of Phase III until the NIA is upgraded,

Mr. Kerzner said the government knows the company's position, and has publicly acknowledged the need for improvements to the airport, not necessarily for Kerzner but for tourism in general.

"Tourism in The Bahamas has a lot of potential (an estimated 60 per cent of gross domestic product), and one of the primary assets is getting tourists in and out of the country.

"It would make more sense that the country would do something about its airport," he said.

Asked whether Kerzner is prepared to offer financial assistance to the government in this venture, Mr. Kerzner said its investing focus will be on Atlantis.

"We have enough challenges ... our company is busy building projects in a number of locations ... We are building a $650-million project in Dubai, several hundred millions invested in the U.K. in the gaming industry... that's the stuff we have announced."

The Bahamas Government has pegged an estimated $200 million for complete refurbishment of NIA, with the greatest urgency being the repair of the major runway, at a cost of $20 million.

During ground-breaking ceremonies last year for the first segment of the Phase III expansion, Sol Kerzner, chairman of Kerzner International and father of Butch Kerzner, challenged the government to upgrade NIA, which he called "the worst airport in the world."

Prime Minister Perry Christie said then that the government was well aware of a number of concerns voiced by Kerzner International, the first being the state of the airport.

On the possibility of dropping Phase III totally, Butch Kerzner said he was "extremely excited" about it and that it would be a shame not to pursue it, but he did not think that would happen.

"Atlantis Paradise Island is still the flagship of the business, and I expect that it would remain so for some time.

"I really believe that The Bahamas has enormous potential. It is the closest to the largest economy in the world. We've got beautiful beaches and ocean, the people are very warm, which is key in the service sector, and whichever party is in power, the government has demonstrated for that it's stable and very focused on tourism."

By Lindsay Thompson, The Nassau Guardian 

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