Antigua’s new casino project hopes to avoid Bahama drama

TAGs: Antigua, baha mar, Bahamas, yida international investment antigua

antigua-bahamas-casino-groundbreakingThe Caribbean nation of Antigua is celebrating the groundbreaking of the Yida International Investment Group’s new Antigua Special Economic Zone.

In June 2014, within hours of taking office, the administration of new Prime Minister Gaston Browne announced it had inked a memorandum of understanding with Yida to construct a $740m mixed-use tourism project. The Chinese firm says its project will include a casino, two five-star hotels, 1,300 residential units, a golf course, conference center, marina and other amenities.

In a speech to commemorate the event, Minister of Tourism, Investment and Energy Asot Michael said the project would “lead to the creation of an economic tiger that will be the powerhouse of the region and transform the destiny of our country.”

Chinese investors haven’t been as fortunate in the Bahamas, where the $3.5b Baha Mar resort has been plagued by delays. The project – featuring four hotels, golf courses and the region’s largest casino – ran aground way back in 2008 as the global economy crashed but was rescued by Chinese state-owned firms China Exim Bank and China Construction America.

The project was supposed to open its doors on the island of New Providence in December but five months later the property has yet to welcome its first guest. The revised March 27 soft opening and official launch in May have both been scrubbed and scuttlebutt has it that the property won’t officially be open for business until the fall.

Developer Baha Mar Ltd. blamed the delays on “our contractor” having failed to complete its work “with an attention to detail consistent with Baha Mar standards of excellence.” The Chinese firms called these comments “wholly inappropriate” and said the latest delay was the developer’s doing.

In mid-April, Baha Mar CEO Sarkis Izmirlian said the Bahamian government bore its own share of the blame, saying the developer had to deal with “less than ideal support and a less than best-in-class business climate.” Izmirlian said the gov’t had made “the unfulfilled promise of improvement in the reliable supply of power and the reduced costs of power” and had failed to close “the gap in necessary education and training programs that would allow workers to be better prepared for jobs.”

Bahamian parliamentarian K. Peter Turnquest fired back, telling Bloomberg that from the project’s inception, “there has been this concern that the developer was taking on too much at one time and should have used a phased approach. What people are wondering is if this developer now, considering the delays, will be able to bring this project to fruition in a reasonable amount of time.”


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