Developer gives Bahamas boost with $100M buy

FREEPORT, the Bahamas -- A Hong Kong-based developer said it will buy two government-owned hotels and one privately owned property for $100 million.

Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. said it will renovate and redevelop the government-owned hotels: the 247-room Lucayan Beach Resort & Casino and the 500-room Grand Bahama Beach Hotel.

Officials said they expect the revitalization to do for Grand Bahama Island what Sun International's enormously popular Atlantis resort did for Paradise Island. "The privatization of these prime properties is the key step toward repositioning Freeport and Grand Bahama Island" as a more diverse, more upscale destination, David Johnson, executive vice president of the Grand Bahama Island Promotion Board, said.

The Hong Kong-based firm also will buy the 175-room Clarion Atlantik Beach Hotel; a seven-acre beachfront site; the Lucaya Golf and Country Club, which is affiliated with Clarion Atlantik, and the Bahama Reef Golf Course. The open beachfront site also will be developed, the firm said.

The Lucayan Beach will close for renovations on July 15, and guests will be reaccommodated at the Grand Bahama Beach Hotel and the Clarion Atlantik Beach Hotel, according to Carnival Hotels & Casinos, which operates the Lucayan Beach.

Phase two of the project, slated to begin in July 1999, will include the refit of Clarion Atlantik and Grand Bahama, said Kristal Bethel, marketing manager of the Grand Bahama Island Tourism Board.

She added that at least one of the hotels would close during that time. To promote the destination, Hutchison Whampoa and the Bahamian government each pledged to contribute $2 million per year for five years, creating a $20 million fund.

As a result of needed improvements and a loss of air lift, the number of overnight guests on Grand Bahama Island dipped 6% from 1995 to 1996, according to a spokeswoman for the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism in New York. The island is not expected to experience any further loss of air service during the redevelopment phases, the Grand Bahama Island Tourism Board said.

The Grand Bahama Island Promotion Board said it has been in talks with carriers that have "assured us of their commitment to the destination during this time."

The sale is part of the Bahamian government's plan to divest itself of hotels. When the acquisition is complete, the government will own just three hotels: the 700-room Radisson Cable Beach Resort & Casino in Nassau; the Lighthouse, and Emerald Palms by-the-Sea.

Hutchison Whampoa is the owner of the Freeport Harbor Company, which operates the commercial port in Freeport and holds a 51% stake in the Grand Bahama Airport Co., which operates the Freeport Lucaya Airport.

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