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October 10, 2013updated Jul 31, 2015

What If?

By Chris Boyle

What if Monaco’s glamour and sophistication joined together with the adult fun of Las Vegas and met in a country where 700 tropical islands ensured perfect year round weather for golfing, boating, beaching or perhaps a conference?  What if you had a budget of $3.5 billion to make it happen?  And how about if the Great Recession put things on hold long enough you were able to re-think everything and make some tweaks?

In raw numbers there will be 3.3 million square feet of buildings, including resorts managed by Rosewood, Mondrian, Grand Hyatt and a self branded casino hotel on 3,000 feet of beachfront.  A Jack Nicklaus golf course featuring a 55-foot drop from the first tee, a Peter Burwash tennis camp and ESPA spa will compliment 32 restaurants and bars, a Convention Center and private island.

In sum it will be the largest integrated resort in the Western Hemisphere. To paraphrase those IBM television commercials, “that’s what the owners and executives of Baha Mar are working on.”

When the Minister of Tourism says your project is going to “change this country” and that country is already home to a resort called Atlantis, expectations are going to be high.

Bahamas mega-resort Baha Mar is officially in the pre-opening phase, according to executives, and with have pied pipers like Sir Richard Branson and Lenny Kravitz, there is already glitz and buzz.

Clearly executives want to make Baha Mar the next “it bag” of World hospitality, and they plan to spend $40 million on media to ensure they get the attention they want.  They will have 2,300 hotel rooms and suites to fill and over 300 uber-luxury residential condominiums and villas to sell.

Tom Dunlap, the president (his projects include Cacique in Costa Rica, The Highlands at Northstar in Lake Tahoe, Disney Vacation Club resorts and ships for Disney Cruise Lines) says wherever he goes the two questions he is asked constantly, “Are you on schedule, and will you make it?”  The answer, he says, is a “resounding yes.”

With a deep bench of All-Star talent (for example, former Las Ventanas General Manager Luis Fernandes will oversee the Rosewood property, Venetian, Palms and Hard Rock veteran Paul Pusateri has just been named Chief Operating Officer), top design firms, supported by some 2,400 imported workers and over 2,000 locals, construction is about two-thirds complete. The tallest building was topped off in February 2013 at 26 floors, a mere two frenetic years after groundbreaking.

Denise Godreau, a veteran executive from Proctor & Gamble and Disney says the goal is to be “the new getaway destination for the affluent traveler” and the “go to” place for gaming “bringing back grace and glamour to vacations.”

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She expects Baha Mar to have “global appeal” and wants to tap into a population of some 100 million within three hours flying.  She says the resort will be complimentary to Atlantis, which she describes as family focused.  Reports suggest Baha Mar could bring as much as $1 billion per year in revenue to The Bahamas.

For Swiss born Owner and Chairman Sarkis Izmirlian, the homestretch has to be sweet.  He spoke of having to regroup when his casino partner pulled out a week before ground breaking as the recession brought things to a stop, before getting back on track.

Godreau, during a New York media event, said, “Only a few witness the long road.” Come December 2014 when Baha Mar opens, the team is hoping lots of elite travelers make the journey as well, and perhaps even buy some real estate while taking a break from work or play.

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