It is my firm position that Bahamian investor Toby Smith has a legal expectation to receiving a valid lease for Crown land at Paradise Island (PI) and should be granted it. The apparent difficulty is that Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines (RCL) also has an interest in several of the parcels which Mr Smith expects.
Here is the difficulty. Smith says that his project is worth around $2 million or so and will employ about 30 to 50 Bahamians full-time once up and running. RCL intends to construct a beach club and other amenities near to where Smith wants to develop his own project. No problem here except that RCL intends to spend around $50 million or more on the beach club and to employ well over 200 Bahamians in a depressed job market.
With the homeporting of several of RCL ships, starting with Adventure of the Seas last week, retail vendors, transportation specialists (taxi cab drivers and tour operators), the Freeport straw market downtown over there and hundreds of Bahamians on Grand Bahama will be able to make a few dollars and place food on their tables. TCL and Carnival will also be doing some substantial redevelopment of the Freeport harbor to the tune of B$350 million, according to the PM (prime minister). RCL is also proposing to purchase the Our Lucaya hotel.
I understand that RCL has now received the executed lease for the sought-after Crown land on PI. If this is true and a portion of that grant overlaps what Smith is/was expecting, then Smith’s only recourse is to continue his legal battle. Of course if I were at the Bar and advising him, I would recommend going for an Injunction of the purported lease granted to RCL. But keep in mind that even if the court were to rule in his favor at the end of the day, one thing is clear: the Minnis administration badly needs the partnership with RCL.
Yes, Smith is important, but with less than a year out before the general election, it is highly unlikely that Minnis will buckle and risk losing the substantial proposed investments by RCL. The FNM (Free National Movement) regime has to dispose of Our Lucaya this year. It also must get the Freeport airport up and running as soon as possible, along with the redevelopment of the harbor over there. If the FNM were to lose the five seats on Grand Bahama, it could and will kiss the next general election goodbye.
What will be Smith’s recourse? Continue his action and seek general and special damages if he were to “suffer” financial losses? He may also be able to seek punitive damages, legal costs and loss of anticipated income from his project. Unless there is compelling evidence or something that we might not know of, it would appear that Minnis and crew have capitulated to RCL and realities on the ground. This would not be the first (possibly the last one) to declare and show that Bahamians need not apply.
Ortland H Bodie Jr,
Business consultant and talk show host
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