• Considered as a visit/beach stay site for tourism rebound
• One of them says that “makeover” can create up to 100 jobs
• Investments could vary between 1 million and 2 million dollars
By NEIL HARTNELL
Editor-in-chief of the Tribune
Several Bahamian investors yesterday confirmed they were targeting Athol Island with proposals for tourist destinations and beach vacations which one said could create up to 100 jobs if approved.
Al Collie, developer of West Bay Street’s Club Luna and formerly of the zoo, told Tribune Business that the Bahamas needed to “up things” with renewed excursions and attractions for cruise ships and stopover visitors, as he confirmed his intention to develop existing Crown lands. land he leases from the government.
With a sea wall already under construction (see photo), he added that he was now seeking the necessary planning, environmental and other approvals to develop the plot through an investment that could now reach $2 million and create around 100 jobs for Bahamians.
However, Mr Collie is far from alone in considering Athol Island as a beach holiday destination. Tribune Business’ interest in the island, which lies 0.75 miles east of Paradise Island and was once considered by former Atlantis owner Kerzner International as a potential location for a golf, was prompted when it obtained an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), dated November 29. , 2021, which was conducted on behalf of a company called Sand Dollar Tours Ltd.
A Google search for a company with that name proved fruitless, but several sources suggested it was done for Mr Collie and his project. The well-known businessman did not disagree with this when contacted by this newspaper but, subsequently, Mike Darville, nephew of Sunshine Cruise operator Chris Darville, told this newspaper that Sand Dollar Tours is his company and that he commissioned the EIA.
The EIA, carried out by JSS Consulting, said: ‘The island is 960 acres and two miles long, but the proposed project is on one acre near the eastern part of the island. The site is currently inhabited and is used for recreational purposes such as beaching, jet skiing and a floating bar.
The project, he said, is seeking relevant government approvals to build a 1,900 square foot timber dock; an 800 square foot floating dock; 3,200 square foot deck; and a surveyor’s track. The beach where this activity will take place is indicated as being located on the north side of Athol Island.
Mr. Darville, after saying his project was separate from Mr. Collie’s, said it had been scaled down slightly to focus on building the wooden deck and floating dock. After walking away from initial plans to build another wharf on the southern shore of Athol Island, he told Tribune Business that his likely investment – if the project gets the green light – will be “a bit less than $1 million” as he aims to “hire as many people as possible”.
Meanwhile, this newspaper has learned of a third project proposal for Athol Island, two miles long and part of the National Marine Park. Tony Knowles, managing director of Pirate’s Revenge, operator of the pirate-themed ship Blackbeard’s Revenge, said yesterday he had submitted an application to create a “Treasure Island” destination for guests who embrace ecotourism while preserving historic ruins in the area.
All three told this newspaper that they aim to harness the revival of tourism and the reopening of the post-COVID economy, especially with the 20,000 to 30,000 passengers expected to pass through the Nassau cruise port daily. to improve New Providence’s tours and attractions offerings.
“All we’ve done is build a seawall,” Mr Collie said of the progress made so far on his site. “The old [Minnis] the government gave me permission to start with things that involved no engineering… We won’t have swimming pigs. There are probably enough around.
“It’s a tourist destination. My feeling is that we need new things for tourists. This can give tourists more opportunities and places to go. If they’ve been here two, three, four times, they’ve probably seen it all. It’s good for us once in a while to spruce things up. The cruise ships want us to do something and we need places for them [passengers] to go.”
Mr Collie said ‘we have quite a few approvals, but not all of them yet’ in order to continue. “We will employ probably around 100 Bahamians,” he added. “We are not going to install a swimming pool. It will be a seaside destination. There will be two sections; one on the east side of the beach and one on the west side.
While he originally intended to invest around $1 million, he added, “Since the pandemic and all that, I guess it can go twice as much with the dock and all that stuff. People go there, and it’s amazing how the locals put garbage everywhere. We just started cleaning up there.
Mr Collie also leases Spruce Cay, better known as Pearl Island, to the government, which is also a beach holiday destination for visitors. Tribune Business also reported last year how the Supreme Court gave him 60 days to pay $734,222 in unpaid property taxes on his Club Luna property or see it sold to the government, and several sources yesterday asked why that didn’t happen. had no impact on his other Crown lands. leases.
The businessman, while declining to comment on the property tax situation, said he was in negotiations with the government to remedy the situation and would not say anything lest it jeopardize the talks.
Mr Darville, meanwhile, said of his business: “I’m going to be on the north side. It’s more of a tourist attraction. Cruise lines pushed, looking for new tour operators for Nassau. I’m trying to develop a new beach program for them. Guests in town for a few hours and don’t have time for a full day trip can do something other than Blue Lagoon.
“It’s going to be a beach tour. The plan is to make a quick 30 minute stop on the beach, lay down there, take pictures, then head back downtown and shop or hop on the boat. This is ideal for the Bahamas experience. It won’t be like a bar and food. They get that on the ship, and it’s hard to compete with that.
Confirming that he was working through the government approval process, Mr Darville added: “There are enough tourists for everyone. We will have 20,000 to 30,000 people per day at the cruise port. About 40% are looking for something to do, and right now in Nassau there’s a problem getting people off the ship.
“I have just bought a boat for the property, and between the payment of environmental and other fees, the investment will certainly increase. I expect just under $1 million. I have an investor involved. I’m trying to get up there, not like Blue Lagoon, but on an ecological scale. I was trying to convince Minnis to help me with 12 acres, all the way, but he only gave me one acre” of crown land.
“It’s my dream to own a small tour,” added Mr. Darville. “I grew up in tourism through my family, so I hope to establish operations here in Nassau.” Mr Knowles also said he had aspirations for the island of Athol via a project that would create an excursion destination to complement the Blackbeard’s Revenge ship visit.
“I have a project I want to do there: Treasure Island. I want to do something,” he added of Athol Island. “Since 2014 I’ve been working on a deal there, incorporating ruins dating back to the 18th century, making it a really nice tour, environmentally sensitive, giving Bahamians equal or greater access to the beach and creating pleasure.
“I want it to be fun for families in the Bahamas to go out and have fun. It will be something low density, respecting the ruins there and ensuring that Bahamians can have their own space, set up and have picnics. Mr Knowles said he was ready to allow Bahamians to invest via an initial public offering (IPO) and also planned to work with the Antiquities, Monuments and Museums Society (AMMC) to preserve the historic ruins.