Fishing haven Walker's Cay poised for comeback

By Gay Nagle Myers

An aerial view of Walkers CayWalker's Cay, a 69-acre island at the northern tip of the Abacos chain in the Bahamas, plans to reopen for business after a six-year closure.

"This news resonates well with devotees of Walker's Cay, especially in South Florida, where generations of families have summered, fished and dived in those waters," said Diane Jenkins of Florida's Jenkins Realty, the U.S. referral agent for the seller.

The cay enjoyed a reputation as a hot spot for world-class deepwater fishing and diving until it was slammed and shuttered by back-to-back hurricanes in 2004.

It now has a buyer, a development plan, approval from the Bahamas and a construction timeline, according to Scott French, president of Atlanta-based AlphaCRE, a commercial real estate firm. AlphaCRE is serving as the broker for the offshore purchaser, Victoria House IBC, a Turks and Caicos company.

The project and the purchaser have been approved and endorsed by the Bahamas Investment Authority, which acts as a kind of zoning board in the Bahamas.

Of particular appeal to the BIA was that the project would employ a minimum of 200 Bahamians during and after construction.

Walker's Cay is less than a four-hour boat ride from West Palm Beach, Fla., 110 miles due east, and a 15-minute flight from Freeport, Grand Bahama, via Regional Air, which operates both scheduled and charter services.

"Walker's Cay has a 2,800-foot-long airstrip that can handle twin-engine, 15-passenger planes," French said. "There's no tower. Pilots circle the strip and announce their location over a common radio channel. There's a small customs and immigration facility both at the airstrip and the marina because Walker's Cay is designated as a port of entry for the Bahamas."

With the access by sea and air already in place, the first priority is a marina so that boaters can refuel and fish once they arrive.

"We hope to have this open within six to eight months. It won't be fully developed at that point, but there's an existing infrastructure so that it will be operational enough to serve the boating and fishing community," French said.

Fishing off of Walkers CayLong-term marina plans call for a 258-slip facility and a marina village and yacht club with retail shops and restaurants.

Two hotels offering 100 rooms and a resort spa are planned to open by the end of 2011, followed by 28 condominium units, office space, 18 half-acre beachfront properties and 26 bluff lots for sale.

The residential lots will be available for purchase following the official document signing and closing on Oct. 26. Rates start at $300,000 in the condo units.

"This will be a concierge island resort with a casual, shorts-and-flip-flops atmosphere offering top-shelf service at reasonable prices," French said.

The purchaser already is in talks with five hotel groups to serve as management agents.

What makes Walker's Cay such a rich fishing ground is its exposure to the Atlantic on the north and east and its proximity to Matanilla Shoal, which attracts gamefish looking for baitfish.

The smudge of land was owned by the Abplanalp family from New York for the past 50 years and was originally named Walker's Cay, after a judge who was banished to the island in the early 1900s.

Over the years it became known as a fishing village whose waters were teeming with record-setting gamefish. The Abplanalp family built it into a fishing mecca beloved by vacationers, politicians and statesmen.

The hurricane season of 2004 ended all that.

"The family was not interested in rebuilding, and it sat there for several years until it went on the market," French said.

"The developers have created a solid plan for Walker's re-emergence. The legend of Walker's Cay will continue for generations to come."

This report appeared in the Aug. 16 issue of Travel Weekly.

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