by Roy R. Morris
Two days after dissolving Parliament and calling elections for February 21, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart will sit with his Cabinet to “agree” to buy back the Almond Beach Village and its brand name for almost $110 million.
The plan, being piloted by Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy, calls for a US $10 million refurbishment project, after which the sprawling 400-room facility will be turned over to former staff, who have submitted a plan to operate it.
In so doing, Government has effectively rejected three private sector proposals to the current property owners, Neal and Massy Ltd of Trinidad and Tobago — from Paul Doyle of Crane Resorts, real estate developer Bjorn Bjerkhamn and Sandals Resorts International of Jamaica.
According to sources, while the Doyle plan would eventually lead to an upgraded 500-room facility, the “build-out could take years and depend on the sale of time share and will not protect the island vital airlift from the United Kingdom or significantly increase long-stay visitors.
And while Bjerkhamn plans to demolish the property and build a high-end hotel and condos around a marina, with public recreational facilities and high-end shopping, it would not protect airlift or significantly increase long-stay traffic.
On the other hand, while Government appears disposed to the Sandals option because of its capacity to increase long-stay visitors, protect airlift and increase the island’s tourism visibility, while injecting almost US $800 million into the economy over five years, it was worried about the negative impact of demolishing the property and taking three years to rebuild it. Government also has reservations about the fact that it calls for a US $248 million injection from Government.
Listed as Option 4 — Government’s proposal, Cabinet is expected to be told:
“The Ministry of Tourism believes that the proposal by Sandals Resort International is the best of the three… However, there is now an even more urgent need to bring the Almond room stock back into production as recent estimates show that as many as 1,000 rooms in Barbados are currently out of production. This will make it difficult to achieve growth in the 2012/13 winter season and beyond.
“In view of the urgency of this need, it is now proposed that Government seek to immediately acquire Almond Beach Village property and the Almond brand name with a view of reopening in an effort to supplement room stock for 2013 and beyond and to achieve the twin objectives of:
“Increasing the number of long-stay visitors that come to Barbados each year; and protecting existing airlift in critical source markets.”
Minister Sealy is expected to tell his colleagues that while prominent hotelier Bernie Weatherhead has expressed an interest in running the property, “the proposal from former employees is to reopen the entire hotel under the Almond brand after renovations over a three-month period. It therefore represents a
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