Hotel planners shoot for Moon in Bahamas

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NEW YORK -- Tourism in the Bahamas may take a giant leap forward if plans for the worlds largest resort -- a multibillion-dollar, lunar-themed complex just north of Grand Bahama Island -- get off the launchpad.

Set for completion in 2010, Moon Bahamas -- pitched by Canadian developer RJH Holdings as the largest, most expensive, most exclusive and most spectacular resort in the world -- would sit on five man-made islands built off Grand Bahamas northern coast.

After some $4.5 billion worth of construction, facilities would comprise a series of superlatives: the worlds largest casino and largest wine cellar; its biggest mega-yacht marina; and its largest and tallest hotel, with 12,000 suites stacked in a 100-story tower.

The complex also would include some 50 restaurants, 10 cruise ship terminals, four golf courses; a huge convention center and 22,000 condominiums, all encircled by the worlds biggest artificial coral reef.

By comparison, the biggest hotel currently in operation in the Bahamas, the $850 million Atlantis on Paradise Island, has 2,317 guest units along with what are now the largest casino and largest artificial marine habitat in the Caribbean.

A lunar theme would dominate throughout the 10-square-mile resort, which is being billed as a tribute to Earths closest celestial partner.

For example, a 400-foot-high scale model of the moon, nestled between wings of the 100-story hotel, is planned to house a Moon Casino and a Metropolis Discotheque.

A 500-foot wave pool will feature a black moon sand beach and a lunar-lander lounge accessible by underwater walkways. A Crater Cafe will be one of many five-star dining options.

In addition, the resort will have a Planet Ice winter-sports center for those seeking diversionary breaks from the heat.

According to RJH Holdings chairman, Michael Henderson, the company settled on the lunar theme -- and near-planetary scale -- in response to the belief that most North American architecture is not very exciting, especially when it comes to resorts.

Searching for a revolutionary idea, developers wracked [our] brains for something different, and, lo and behold, the most obvious thing, the moon, became the project centerpiece.

The enormous scale of the endeavor was a logical response to the lunar theme, because if you brought the Moon to Earth on a small scale, it would backfire, he said.

Although several other locations -- Las Vegas; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Singapore; and Phuket, Thailand -- were considered for the project, RJH Holdings settled on the Bahamas due to its proximity to the U.S., environment and tourism infrastructure.

Fundamentally, we were interested in the infrastructure, said Henderson. We werent sure the island could handle something the size of Moon Bahamas, but it turns out it can.

RJH Holdings said it entered into a memorandum of understanding on development with the Grand Bahama Port Authority; launching Moon Bahamas requires final Bahamian government approval. Construction could begin by late 2005.

Asked for comment on the  prospects for Moon Bahamas, a spokesperson for the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism said the agency is studying the proposal.

Meanwhile, in an official statement, Port Authority Chairman Edward St. George called plans for the resort ambitious, bold and unique.

Over the next few months, a detailed feasibility study will be conducted, in addition to finalizing funding, brand leveraging and corporate partnering.

Henderson has already enlisted 84 partner companies and individuals, from caterers and decorators to architects, programmers and space experts.

Specific travel trade partners have not yet been selected, but the six-year construction timeframe gives us lots of time to put together our marketing scheme, said Henderson.

One idea is to ferry travel agents from around the world through the resort during the first six months of operation.

More information can be had at www.moonbahamas.com.

To contact reporter Kenneth Kiesnoski, send e-mail to [email protected].

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