NASSAU -- Baha Mar, the largest single-phase, luxury resort project currently in development in the Western Hemisphere, is in fast-forward mode these days, moving right on schedule to open in Nassau's Cable Beach area in just under two years.
The media got a preview of the massive, 1,000-acre site last week during a bus tour that wove its way through cranes and construction workers high up on structures that will total 2,200 hotel rooms when completed.
The $3.5 billion development will debut its 1,000-room casino-hotel in December 2014, with three other properties opening by March 2015.
"We are one-third done now; we have 23 months to go before we welcome our first guest, and we will have our topping-out ceremony on the casino tower on Feb. 20, marking the 50% completion milestone," said Robert "Sandy" Sands, senior vice president, administration and external affairs for Baha Mar Ltd.
"There's no soft opening," Sands said. "We're opening, and we will be ready."
The brand for the casino-hotel will be announced within six months; the other three newbuild properties are the 200-room Rosewood at Baha Mar, positioned as the highest-end resort in the complex; the 300-room Mondrian at Baha Mar, described by Sands as "hip and edgy in the W Hotels style"; and the 700-room Grand Hyatt at Baha Mar, billed as the convention hotel.
Also in the Baha Mar development are the existing 550-room Wyndham Nassau Resort and the 700-room Sheraton Nassau Beach Resort.
Two towers at the Wyndham were demolished and four stories lopped off so that guests at the adjacent Mondrian would have ocean views from all rooms, according to Sands.
All told, when the last pillow is fluffed and minibar stocked, Baha Mar will total 3,450 rooms (2,200 new rooms and 1,250 rooms from the Wyndham and the Sheraton).
Atlantis on Paradise Island, six miles across the toll bridge from Baha Mar, will remain the largest property in the Bahamas and in the Caribbean region, with an inventory of 3,950 rooms spread among the Royal Towers, the Coral Towers, the Beach Tower, the Cove, the Reef and Harborside Resort Suites.
'The new address of glamour'
"We are targeting Baha Mar as an adult destination within a destination. It's the new address of glamour, the Bahamas Riviera, and it will redefine the whole lodging experience," Sands said. "It's a blend of Las Vegas and Monte Carlo, with a beautiful beach."
The first spadeful of dirt was turned only a year ago on the massive road-construction project required to reroute part of West Bay Street on the perimeter of the 1,000-acre site. That had to happen, and several banks and other nearby buildings had to be relocated, before workers and equipment could commence construction on the hotels in July.
Today, the enormous site sports row upon row of temporary construction offices, dozens of cranes, and six tall concrete batching tubs, which will churn out more than 250,000 cubic yards of concrete during the course of construction.
A large concrete structure near the front of the complex, designed to artfully blend in with site, is the Central Utility Pub, housing all the electrical components needed to power the complex.
When completed, the offerings at Baha Mar (the name means "shallow sea" and refers to the waters surrounding the beachfront site) will include:
- A 100,000-square-foot casino, the Caribbean's largest gaming facility, which will be located between the casino hotel and the Hyatt. The casino is slated to open in early 2015.
- A 200,000-square-foot convention center, opening by December.
- An 18-hole Jack Nicklaus golf course, opening by December.
- The 60,000-square-foot Waterside Place retail, dining, galleries and entertainment venues flanked by choreographed water fountains.
- Up to 40 restaurants and bars, a performing arts center, 14 pools and two spas, including a 30,000-square-foot destination spa.
- A 20-acre Beachfront Sanctuary with 3,000 feet of beach and lagoon pools, bordered by pathways and walking trails.
Although targeted at the adult market, Baha Mar will be family-friendly and some of the hotels will have kids' programs. It won't have a dedicated central kids' facility, Sands said.
"Baha Mar will be adult-centric while Atlantis is family-centric, and that works for both of us," Sands said.
Baha Mar also plans to build a hospitality and training center for its employees and prospective employees.
The Chinese workers, who currently number 1,500 but could peak at 3,500 as construction moves into high gear, have their own air-conditioned housing complex on site, complete with kitchens and small shops.
Signs in Chinese remind workers that "working safely is a touchstone" and that Baha Mar is "green construction and a safe operation."
Top priority: Air
"Airlift is the No. 1 priority for Baha Mar, for the government and for the Bahamas," Sands said.
"By 2015 we will need 300,000 more airline seats a year coming into Nassau, and this is not a pie-in-the-sky number," he said. "It is achievable, and all the partners are working to make sure that this is in place."
That sentiment was later echoed by David Johnson, director general of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism.
"We have a committee and are working with the airlines to plan for that with larger aircraft, more frequency, the addition of new routes from the U.S. and other gateways, and we could revisit and expand the role of our national carrier BahamasAir," Johnson said.
Baha Mar is all about reaching new audiences, according to Sands.
Looking at what is planned and what will open, it is evident that Baha Mar will offer the Bahamas a lot more ammunition to boost tourism and positively impact the destination's economy.
Follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly.
A rough road to development
NASSAU -- Baha Mar's timeline begins in November 2002, when the Baha Mar Development Co. was formed and its management team assembled.
It's not been an easy road, however, with setbacks, stalemates and hurdles delaying progress over the ensuing years at the 1,000-acre site in Nassau's Cable Beach area.
In April 2005, the Nassau Beach Hotel and the Wyndham Nassau Resort were purchased from American investor Phil Ruffin; the Radisson Cable Beach was acquired from the Hotel Corp. of the Bahamas.
The following month a $145 million revitalization program began at the Sheraton Cable Beach Resort (the former Radisson) and the Wyndham.
In 2007 Baha Mar purchased the Nassau Beach Hotel, another property on Cable Beach.
Renovations were deemed too extensive and expensive and the hotel was demolished in April 2012.
Baha Mar teetered on its architectural renderings in March 2008 when Harrah's Entertainment, then one of two joint-venture partners, bailed on the project to build a Caesar-branded resort casino as the anchor property in the megacomplex.
Harrah's had been a 43% minority partner in the project, with Baha Mar Development owning the remaining 57%.
In March 2010 contracts were signed between Baha Mar and the Export Import Bank of China, which stepped in to help finance the project, ending the two-year stalemate.
China State Construction Engineering Corp. was named as general contractor, paving the way to use thousands of Chinese workers during the construction phases, although the deal stipulated that once completed, Baha Mar would create up to 8,000 permanent jobs for Bahamians.
Hotel brands were announced with Rosewood Hotels & Resorts named in October 2010, followed by Hyatt and Mondrian, part of Morgans Hotel Group.
The casino hotel operator will be announced later this year.
Groundbreaking took place in February 2012 on road construction at the project's perimeter; hotel construction began in July. -- G.N.M.