By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A Bahamian developer yesterday warned Immigration-related "uncertainty" is threatening to deter him from initiating further multi-million dollar projects once his current crop is completed.
Jason Kinsale, the developer behind properties such as Balmoral, ONE Cable Beach and Thirty|Six on Paradise Island, told Tribune Business he needed "more certainty" on the permanent residency investment threshold and process.
He added that the nine-12 months being taken to process permanent residency applications was simply "too long" for his potential client base, giving them a negative impression of the Bahamas.
And Mr Kinsale said there had been "rumours" that the Minnis administration was discussing increasing the permanent residency threshold for foreign real estate buyers from $500,000 to a $1 million property investment.
This proposal, originally initiated by the Christie administration's Ministry of Financial Services, appeared to have been shelved following opposition from developers and realtors over the likely negative consequences for the Bahamas and its real estate market.
Should it be revived it will be especially damaging for Mr Kinsale, given that his developments target foreign buyers in the $500,000 to $1 million price range.
Warning that the Bahamas can ill-afford any mistakes given the intensifying global and Caribbean competition to attract foreign real estate purchasers, Mr Kinsale said continued uncertainty would also undermine this nation's ability to grow through "responsible Immigration".
"I think we need to see some certainty around the residency process and improvements there," he told Tribune Business. "Right now, it's taking up to nine months to a year to get permanent residency applications processed, and that's too long.
"For me to invest and do another $40 million project, I need to know people coming here will go back to their friends and say: 'We had a great experience', rather than go back and say: 'We didn't have a great experience; they lost our file. We just need to get better."
Mr Kinsale praised the Minnis administration for recognising that the Bahamas needed to improve its 'ease of doing business' in many areas and on numerous levels.
Yet he added: "Something as silly as getting a basic company open is just exhausting. It's a very tiring process. You 'high five' each other when you open a bank account; it's like you've accomplished a major feat.
"I'm thankful the Government recognises this, but it takes time to get systems in place and turn people out. When people have to do the same thing 10 times, it causes them to give up and not do things. It causes inertia."
Mr Kinsale also expressed concern about sudden government policy changes without warning, recalling how the previous administration's plans to increase the permanent residency threshold to $1 million threatened to destabilise a market accounting for 50 per cent of the Bahamas' real estate sales.
"I heard a rumour they were discussing it again," he told Tribune Business of the threshold. "You just need to know that when you start a project, nothing's going to change. You cannot be going through a $40 million project and, half-way through, find the residency programme has changed."
Both ONE Cable Beach and Thirty|Six, which have total construction costs of $45 million and $25 million, respectively, were endangered by the former Christie administration's proposed policy change while in construction midstream.
Mr Kinsale warned that the ongoing uncertainties threatened to undermine the best method for growing the Bahamian real estate market, which he described as "responsible Immigration".
He added that the Bahamas could not afford to stand still on its residency processes and timelines with Caribbean rivals, and even the US, all targeting wealthy foreign real estate investors as a way to expand their economies.
"It's really a matter now of the Bahamas going through what I call responsible Immigration," the developer told Tribune Business. "It's fairly simple if you break it down.
"If 10 more people live on the island, 10 more people need houses, and 10 more people need lawyers, cars, architects. One of the biggest issues we have is that there are not enough people in the Bahamas. We're not seeing the Immigration we need."
Mr Kinsale said cities such as Miami, Toronto and Vancouver were all enjoying real estate and economic growth via Immigration. Disclosing that Toronto developers had seen a 75 per cent increase in condo sales as a result, he added: "It so shocks me every time I go back to see 40 cranes over multi-storey properties, and there are just two-three projects in the Bahamas and they are still not sold out.
"Same thing in Vancouver; homes sell in one day. I really believe the only way we're going to grow this economy is by having more people buying. The Bahamas does not have a product where people are beating down the door to buy real estate. We like to believe they are, but that's not the case."
Pointing to the increasing ferocity of the Bahamas' competition, Mr Kinsale added: "When I looked at all these programmes for permanent citizenship and residency, I can go and invest in an EP5, put $500,000 in the US and get a 'green card'.
"For us to sit here and think we are better than in the US makes no sense to me. Are we better than New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Boston? We have a lot of competition.
"There are four to five Caribbean destinations offering passports for $300,000," he continued. "That's why I say we should be doing a better job of generating activity through responsible Immigration. I don't believe in selling passports, but I believe in getting more people, and the right people.
"They don't want jobs. They buy a home, keep to themselves and spend money. That's what we want. When you boil it down, it's fairly straightforward."