Sol Kerzner tipped as frontrunner to take over stalled Baha Mar casino project

baha-mar-sol-kerznerThe founder of South Africa’s largest hotel and casino operator has reportedly emerged as the frontrunner to take control of the Baha Mar resort in the Bahamas.

The Bahamas Tribune reported this week that Sol Kerzner, who founded South African leisure operator Sun International, and his partners were among the parties negotiating with the Chinese bank that controls the stalled $3.5b resort casino project.

Developer Sarkis Izmirlian’s Baha Mar Ltd filed for bankruptcy in June after falling out with its main contractor and its main financial backers, the Export-Import Bank of China (EXIM). With the project still unfinished and no work having been done since the spring, EXIM foreclosed on the property last month and immediately began looking for new developers to help salvage EXIM’s $2.45b investment.

An unidentified Bahamian government official told the Tribune that Kerzner and his partner Andrew Farkas, founder of the Island Capital Group, were among the “number of parties” negotiating with EXIM about taking over the project, although the official cautioned that he didn’t believe “there’s a done deal.”

However, Kerzner has a history in the Bahamas, having taken over the bankrupt Paradise Island Resort in 1994 and transformed it into the popular Atlantis Paradise Island. Gowon Bowe, chairman of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation, said Kerzner was a “known commodity” and therefore was likely to have a “head start” over rival bidders.

Farkas would likely be called upon to provide the $600m or so the Bahamian government has estimated will be required to see the Baha Mar project through to completion. Island Capital already has a role in this drama, having been appointed the restructuring agent for China Construction America, the project’s main contractor, following Baha Mar’s bankruptcy filing.