Massive Bahamas Resort Set to Open 2014, Celebrates Milestone

Sky-filling fireworks were cascading down from the highest rooftop at Baha Mar, at $3.5 billion said to be the western hemisphere’s largest current resort project, and the most ambitious ever built in the Bahamas — Atlantis, visible across the water, notwithstanding. Massive pyrotechnic flower blooms and vivid multicolor spikes and streamers burst seemingly right on top of us, so close that occasional warm ashes hit our faces and embedded themselves in our hair.

I turned to my friend, The World Traveler, shoulder-to-shoulder with me in the jostling crowd and shouted, “This is so astounding!!”

She shouted back, “This is so Chinese!”

Oddly enough, here outside Nassau on the island of New Providence, that’s exactly what it was. Though the project is headed by a local businessman, Sarkis Izmirlian, much of the construction work and the financing — like the fireworks — is straight out of the Mainland.

Baha Mar’s labyrinth of skeletal buildings swarms with blue hard-hatted workers from China’s State Construction Engineering Corporation, and the construction site is festooned with banners in Mandarin and English, featuring such exhortations as “Warmly welcome our gracious leaders to review and guide us,” and “No violence to rules and regulations.”

The ceremony I attended in late February as a guest of the resort was a “topping off,” celebrating the pouring of the concrete for the highest floor (the 25th) of Baha Mar’s main hotel. That milestone, for a project so massive it is expected to directly boost the GDP of Bahamas when it opens in December 2014, received a suitably outsized commemoration.

Several hundred invited guests, all wearing the blue hard hats, took construction elevators up to a top floor to stare out over the turquoise water, sip similarly colored cocktails and hear a speech or five.

Bahamian Lenny Kravitz was on hand — he has a contract to perform at the hotel when it opens, and the fireworks show was choreographed to “Are You Gonna Go My Way?” and “Fly Away.”

Izmirlian a surprisingly youngish man with a charmingly disarming manner, spoke about the resort’s goals. The Chinese ambassador was proud that his country was associated with the project. Bahamian Prime Minister Perry Christie spoke discursively and at some length. The takeaway was that his country had a lot pinned on Baha Mar, which he called “the largest investment ever undertaken in the region.”

Among other things, the resort was a major motivation behind the government’s $400 million expansion of Nassau’s Lynden Pindling International airport, and is projected to provide 8,000 permanent jobs. You got the impression that Christie was nearly as anxious for December 2014 as Izmirlian.

Everything about the 1,000-acre Baha Mar is a big deal. A few numbers: There will be 2,200 hotel rooms spread between ventures from Rosewood, Grand Hyatt, Mondrian, Morgans and the centerpiece Baha Mar Casino & Hotel, the latter with a 100,000-square foot casino, the Caribbean’s largest.

There will be 30 restaurants and bars, a 2,000-square foot performing arts center and a 30,000-square foot ESPA spa, and…Well, you get the idea: A Vegas-like self-contained recreational world, only with 3,000 feet of beach frontage.

Among the happy consequences: The resort’s commitment to displaying and promoting local artists may mark a major turning point in recognition for Bahamian painters and sculptors, who, from what little I saw, are definitely deserving of the scrutiny…

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