By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A Cabinet minister yesterday said the cruise lines "will not be barred" from bidding to take over Prince George Wharf's management, adding: "All offers will be judged on merit."
Dionisio D'Aguilar, minister of tourism and aviation, told Tribune Business that all-comers were free to submit proposals for taking over operations and management of Nassau's cruise port, with no contenders "pre-judged".
Asked whether the Government would allow the cruise lines to bid, he replied: "I'm not going to allow someone not to submit a proposal. Whoever wants to submit a proposal, I'm not going to pre-judge or bar anyone from making an offer.
"Anybody, any entity that wants to make a proposal, they can, and in the request for proposal (RFP) process and its vetting, we would come to our conclusion and make a determination. We'll judge every proposal on its merits."
Multiple Tribune Business sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, have confirmed to this newspaper that the major cruise lines which call on Nassau are indeed interested in the prospect of taking over the port's management themselves when the contract is put out to public bid.
This, though, was described by one source as equivalent to "putting the fox in charge of the hen coop", given the obvious "conflict" between the cruise lines' interests and those of the port and wider Bahamas.
They added that giving management of Nassau's cruise port to the lines, its customers, would likely end any prospect The Bahamas has of maximising the economic returns and benefits from the industry's frequent calls in this nation.
Many observers believe the cruise lines' main focus is to maximise passenger spending and returns for themselves, both on-board and on their multiple private island destinations. This is seen as depriving Bahamian entrepreneurs reliant on the industry, both on Bay Street and in Freeport, and their employees of most of the 'trickle down' effect from passenger spending, leaving this nation with a small share of the economic benefits.
The cruise industry has also embarked on a major expansion of its private island destination network in the Bahamas, with Royal Caribbean investing $200m to upgrade CocoCay; Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) developing Ocean Cay near Bimini; and Disney engaged in a controversial search for a second location involving Eleuthera's Lighthouse Point.
Asked whether he knew of the cruise industry's interest in Nassau's port, Mr D'Aguilar replied: "I'm sure they are. Everyone can make a proposal, and the Government will make a decision on what is the best plan for that port."
The Minister declined to commit to a date for when the RFP process will be launched, and when all bids will have to be submitted, along with a timeline for the contract's award.
"We're anxious to make happen," Mr D'Aguilar told Tribune Business of much-needed upgrades to Nassau's cruise port. "We want to see something happen expeditiously.
"We're in the process of constructing, and are about to release, an RFP. We're anxious to get the RFP out, and when the proposals come in we'll determine what the best way forward from there is."
Among the likely leading contenders in any RFP is the consortium headed by Global Ports Holding, which operates multiple cruise ports in Europe and the Far East, together with BISX-listed Arawak Port Development Company (APD) and CFAL (formerly Colina Financial Advisors).
That group's 49-page proposal, obtained by this newspaper, said its plans to transform Nassau's cruise port will give the economy a $16bn boost spread over 30 years. It added that a $285.7m upgrade of Prince George Wharf through a waterfront entertainment park would inject an extra $216m into the Bahamian economy in the first year alone.
Mehmet Kutman, Global Ports Holding's chairman, wrote in a letter to the Bahamas Investment Authority (BIA) that this nation urgently needed to improve a "greatly underperforming" infrastructure asset if it was to capitalise on the cruise industry's anticipated growth and increase passenger spending yields to the benefit of local businesses.
"Currently, the Nassau cruise port greatly underperforms as a national asset," Mr Kutman wrote. "Its infrastructure ought to be significantly improved to ensure the growth of the cruise business by providing a more fulfilling passenger experience in Nassau..."
That consortium, though, faces competition from Culture Village (Bahamas), the 50-strong Bahamian investor group headed by former Family Guardian president, Gerald Strachan.
Their proposal for reviving both Prince George Wharf and the surrounding area would focus on development consistent with this country's heritage.
"To date we have been fairly quiet about our submission because, as far as we can tell, it alone captures the culture, history and heritage of the Bahamas, which will give visitors to the redeveloped Prince George Dock a sense of place while solving the most critical problems expressed by our residents, our visitors and the cruise companies," Mr Strachan told Tribune Business earlier this week.
"Beyond that, we see our proposal as a critical catalyst for the redevelopment of the downtown area, and its elements will provide an invitation for our residents and for our visitors from both Cable Beach and Paradise Island to frequent a far less congested city centre."