Miami, Get Ready. The Bahamas will Rival Vegas.

Bahamas building boom

From Nassau to the Out Islands: A guide to what’s coming

Palm Beach Post Travel Editor

Sunday, October 15, 2006

NASSAU — Forty-six miles off the coast of Miami is Bimini, Bahamas, a fishhook-shaped spit of sand made famous by Ernest Hemingway, who wrote Islands in the Stream there. Men play dominos at the Sand Bar and watch the occasional yacht or fishing boat that stops by.

But big changes are coming to Bimini and many of the Out Islands, as well as Nassau and Grand Bahama. Buyers are snapping up brand new condos in a gated community in north Bimini, where a Conrad Hilton soon will be built. Another hotel just opened on the island and yet another condo-hotel and a fashionable boutique inn are on the way.

A new hotel and casino is coming to Grand Bahama as well as a $4.9-billion, 4,500-room resort complex inspired by the Palace of Versailles. The enormous size of the resort is expected to make Atlantis on Paradise Island look small by comparison.

Atlantis, meanwhile, is building an all-suite hotel — you can see the cranes and scaffolding from downtown Nassau. And new hotels are springing up on Eleuthera and Abaco.

The $1.6 billion Baha Mar resort complex is coming to Cable Beach, west of Nassau and will include seven luxury hotels – a Westin, W, St. Regis, Sheraton, Wyndham, Caesars Resort & Casino, and a new Radisson. The 3,550-room beachside complex, owned by Baha Mar Development Company, Harrah’s Entertainment and Starwood Resorts, is expected to

rival Las Vegas with lavish shows and glamorous hotels when it’s completed in 2010.

It is a building boom the likes of which has never been seen in this island nation that usually plays second-fiddle to Florida. Even the Out Islands, the 30 islands beyond Nassau and Grand Bahama, which are known for small family-owned resorts, quaint fishing villages and empty white beaches, are getting mega-resorts.

The Bahamas’s new popularity is due to lots of undeveloped, cheap (compared to the U.S.) land with bluer water and whiter sand than the U.S. east coast, and an enthusiastic government, say developers.

Bimini

Bimini will soon be unrecognizable to long-time visitors. The Conrad Bimini Bay Resort and Casino, the luxury brand of Hilton Hotels, will be the first luxury hotel on the small island. It is Conrad Hotels’ first venture in the Bahamas or the Caribbean.

The 250-room hotel, spa and casino resort is scheduled to open in 2008 with subsequent projects including an 18-hole Robert Trent Jones Jr., golf course, 1,590 residential units spread over 700 acres, 500 marina berths; and 5 miles of white sand beaches. Condos are already going up in Bimini Bay. (www.conradhotels.com; 305-774-4534.)

Heritage Village, which will include three hotels and a boardwalk, will transform Bimini’s largest town, Alice Town. This one is a revitalization for residents as well as tourists. It is the brainchild of longtime Bimini visitor Stanley Levine, who was responsible for the revamp of Miami Beach’s Lincoln Road, the preservation of Miami Beach’s Art Deco District, founding chairman of the Miami Beach Cultural Arts Council and secretary/trustee of the $500-million new Miami Performing Arts Center.

The first phase of Heritage Village was the historic Big John’s Hotel and bar, which opened this year. It has taken the place of another landmark, The Compleat Angler, a watering hole for Hemingway and many others.

The Angler burned down last year, with owner Julian Brown dying in the fire, a tragedy that came on the heels of Chalk Airline’s seaplane crash on the way to Bimini. Eleven people died.

The Angler’s bartenders and band, Stevie S. and the Hypnotics are at Big John’s now. The new 300-foot seaside boardwalk, Brown’s condo-hotel on the site of the historic Brown’s Hotel, are coming soon. An upscale boutique hotel is also in the plans.

“I’ve been going there for 50 years,” Levine said in a phone interview last week. “I’ve enjoyed the culture and ambiance — it’s a small fishing village with a great deal of ambiance. We bought Brown’s Hotel in Alice Town, which was almost a rubble. It has a lot of history. I’m a developer but I’m also a preservationist and I wanted to preserve the culture and what was special about the island.”

The Bimini Bay development, he said, is “a gated community that could be anywhere in the U.S. That’s not what I wanted to do.” He bought and refurbished Big John’s, he said, because the community asked him to after the Angler burned down, and because he had known Big John, John Roberts, who owned it for many years.

“We have all the old photographs of Hemingway, and local people are donating artifacts. We’re preserving the part of Bimini that is disappearing,” said Levine. Big John’s has seven hotel rooms, and Brown’s Hotel will have 17 one-, two-, and three-bedroom condos that will operate as a hotel.

The boardwalk will connect those hotels, the End of the World Saloon (mentioned in Hemingway’s book), the Sand Bar, and eventually the new boutique hotel.

“The Bahamas government is very enthusiastic, he said, “and we are using Bahamian staff when we can, and Bahamian workmen.”

The first projects to be built will be a sea wall, the boardwalk and marina, then Brown’s Hotel apartments, which will range in price from $285,000 to $700,000.

Developers have descended on the Bahamas for several reasons, he said. “It’s close to the U.S. I can make it from Miami to Bimini in my boat, Bimini Bound, in under two hours. It has the prettiest water I’ve ever seen. Islanders call it ‘sweet Bimini’ and you can see why.”

Brown’s Hotel is a project that’s close to Levine — it’s where he always stayed when he came to the island.

“I think that we represent a very positive future and are retaining the best of the past. I asked for community support before we started. It’s a partnership with the people, it’s a labor of love. I’m trying to preserve the culture and lifestyle yet bring it into this century so it will be something we can all be proud of.”

The marina will be finished in three to four months, and the hotel is scheduled to open middle of 2008. (www.brownshotelandmarina. com; 242-347-3117.)

The Bimini Breeze, a fast ferry that will run between Miami and Bimini, will start service this month. Continental Airline flies from Miami and Fort Lauderdale to Bimini.

Bimini Airport will be enlarged to accommodate more traffic.

Abaco

Discovery Land Company is building Baker’s Bay Golf & Ocean Club on the northern end of Great Guana Cay, Abaco, which will include a golf course, deep-water marina, luxury spa, a beach club, beachfront home sites and marina villas on 585 acres.

The resort is selling 244 custom home sites and 115 high-end single-family residences. In 2008, an 18-hole ocean-front golf course designed by Tom Fazio will open. Amenities and infrastructure at Baker’s Bay will be in place in 2007. (www.discoverylandco.com; 415-676-5800.)

The Abaco Club on Winding Bay, a 520-acre, private members’ golf club and resort, has opened 20 new luxurious cabanas. The 650-square foot, octagonal-designed rooms were built along the club’s authentic Scottish Links course and near the club’s 2-mile sand beach. (www.theabacoclub.com; 888-303-2765.)

Eleuthera

Pineapple Fields, formerly the site of the exclusive Potlatch club, is a new development on a lush 80-acre property with 1,000 feet of beach front near the town of Governor’s Harbour and the airport in central Eleuthera.

Twelve units of a 32-unit condo/hotel named The Club at Pineapple Field are complete and available for rent. A 32-unit condo/hotel, a spa, cottages and single family homes are planned.

Pineapple Fields has Tippy’s, a popular restaurant and a new gourmet deli. Early next year, a cooking school will open. (www.pineapplefields.com; call 877-677-9539.)

Another resort, Cotton Bay Estates and Villas, will have two- and three-bedroom villas, 114 estate lots, and a 26,000-square-foot clubhouse. Completion of the 73 guestrooms is scheduled for December 2007.

Future projects include an 18-hole championship golf course, wellness center/spa, additional real estate and expansion of the marina. Currently part of the Audubon International Signature program, which acknowledges environmentally-friendly developments, Cotton Bay Villas will be home to a plant nursery and an on-site horticulturist dedicated to saving trees and other foliage from cleared land for replanting throughout the development.

Cotton Bay Estates and Villas is a member of Starwood’s Luxury Collection. (www.cottonbayeleuthera.com; 242-334-2826.)

Construction has begun on French Leave Resort, which will include Savannah Hill, an upscale residential community, and a luxury resort, condos, villas, and marina and spa built on the former Club Med site.

The complex will be designed by architect Bernardo Fort-Brescia of Miami’s Arquitectonica. Hotelier Paul D. Thompson, the former managing director of the exclusive Lyford Cay Club in Nassau for the last 24 years, has been selected to oversee all resort operations.(www.frenchleaveresort.com; 305-444-2165.)

The world’s first luxury sea floor resort complex in Eleuthera, the Poseidon Undersea Resort, will be a transparent acrylic on 60 percent of the exterior surface of each suite, allowing for panoramic sea life views. (www.poseidonresorts.com; 208-687-9057.)

Grand Bahama

After nearly two years of standing empty, the Royal Oasis and Casino now has a buyer, according to an announcement in June by Prime Minister Perry Christie.

The historic hotel, which adjoins the International Bazaar market place in Freeport, was put up for sale after damage from hurricanes Frances and Jeanne in 2004 forcing the layoff of 1,200 employees. Government officials have not yet named the buyer.

But the real news on Grand Bahama is the $4.9-billion mega-resort Ginn sur Mer, a project planned by Orlando investor Robert Ginn, which will span 2,000 acres along 10 miles of oceanfront land and take 10 years to build. The inspiration for the resort was the Palace of Versailles in France.

The mammoth scale is expected to rival Atlantis on Paradise Island. The plans for the resort in West End call for 1,400 home sites, 4,500 condo-hotel suites, a Jack Nicklaus oceanfront golf course, an Arnold Palmer oceanfront golf course, a grand canal with water taxis and gondolas, a 55,000-square food casino, full-service spa, fitness

center, two water theme parks, a 500-slip yacht marina, a private airport, championship tennis complex, equestrian facility, children’s club, convention space, fine-dining restaurants and upscale boutiques. (305-944-3090)

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