Stalled Baha Mar casino project offered new hope as contractor returns

baha-mar-cca-izmirlianThe stalled Baha Mar resort casino project in the Bahamas got a glimmer of hope last week when the primary contractor returned to the unfinished work site after a prolonged absence.

According to a statement issued by the provisional liquidators appointed to oversee the project, representatives of China Construction America (CCA) visited the project site last week to assess how much work remains to be done on the $3.5b resort.

Baha Mar Ltd, the developer led by Sarkis Izmirlian (pictured), filed for Chapter 11 protection in a Delaware bankruptcy court at the end of June after falling out with CCA and the project’s primary financier, Export Import Bank of China (EXIM). Baha Mar Ltd then sued CCA over the contractor’s alleged failure to finish the project in a timely manner. In turn, CCA claimed that it hadn’t been paid by Baha Mar Ltd since February.

The project is rapidly slipping out of Izmirlian’s grasp. The developer had attempted to convince the Delaware bankruptcy court to approve a restructuring plan that would have voided CCA’s deal and the $72m the contractor claimed to be owed. Instead, on Sept. 15, the Delaware court sided with CCA and EXIM and dismissed the bankruptcy case, putting the matter back in the hands of Bahamian authorities, who had already claimed they wouldn’t be bound by any decision made in a US court.

Izmirlian had a meeting on Monday with Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie, after which Izmirlian professed to be the “only hand clapping” to negotiate a resolution to the situation. Christie was more upbeat, claiming that the developer, contractor and banker were all working to resolve their differences and restart the project, which is estimated to be 97% complete.

While CCA’s return is a positive sign, a group of 120 local companies claiming to be collectively owed $74.3m say they won’t return to work until they’re paid in full. The Bahamian Contractors Association (BCA) told the Bahamas Tribune that many of its members wouldn’t be able to perform any duties until they were paid what they’re owed. It’s been six months since work on the project ceased and many local firms are facing their own bankruptcy without immediate payment.

It’s still anybody’s guess when the troubled project might actually receive its first guests. The would-be resort has been forced to repeatedly delay its launch and at least two of its hotel partners backed out of their commitments as the project’s missteps multiplied.