The Bahamian prime minister has said he expects the stalled $3.5bn Baha Mar resort to be completed early this year after writing a "very strong letter" to the Chinese bank that provided most of the scheme’s financing.
Prime Minister Perry Christie did not give a specific date for the restart of construction at the 97% complete resort, which became the focus of bitter legal disputes last year, nor did he say when the property might open.
He added that he is "not prepared to accept" that Bahamian contractors, who say they are owed $74m by the Chinese contractor charged with building the resort, will be paid anything less than all they are owed.
"About two days ago I wrote a very strong letter to the president of the China Export Import Bank setting out the fact that a very significant number of world-class operators have gotten involved and made applications for the property to assist to put money into the property to bring it to a conclusion and an opening," Christie told reporters on 26 December, according to newspaper The Tribune.
"These are big American companies. We have seen some of China’s biggest companies themselves and they have indicated a preparedness to buy in to the development."
I’m anticipating that 2016, very early in 2016 that we’re going to have a major move for Baha Mar– Perry Christie Bahamian Prime Minister
Christie also put the contractor, China Construction America (CCA), in the spotlight, saying: "So for the Bahamas we have a situation where the construction company has taken the position that it does not want to start construction without paying their subcontractors and that includes the Bahamian subcontractors. And I’ve argued that I’m not prepared to accept that those contractors will be paid less than a dollar for a dollar for the work performed."
"So I’m anticipating that 2016, very early in 2016 that we’re going to have a major move for Baha Mar," he added.
On a number of previous occasions Christie has predicted a resolution to the standoff, which broke into open legal warfare on 29 June last year when developer Sarkis Izmirlian sought protection from creditors under Chapter 11 of the US Bankruptcy Code.
A huge casino and resort complex, Baha Mar was due to open in December 2014, but missed that and a later deadline.
Izmirlian, whose family invested up to $900m in the scheme, blamed CCA for delays and poor workmanship, while CCA countered with accusations of mismanagement.
In October 2015, the Bahamian Supreme Court approved the the China Export Import Bank’s request to have the property placed into receivership.
In November reports emerged of other investors being interested in buying into the scheme and bringing it to completion, including veteran developer Sol Kerzner, but a deal has yet to materialise.
Earlier last month the China Export Import Bank issued a statement through its receivers claiming to be "actively working with relevant stakeholders to seek proper resolution of the issues that the project is facing".
"Currently, there is a preliminary plan concerning the future arrangements and this will be launched as soon as practicable," the statement said, according to The Tribune.
It continued: "In addition, our bank has been in contact with a number of potential investors and they have expressed initial interest in the project. The bank will continue to communicate with parties who have expressed initial interest in the project, and other parties who could potentially be interested in the project, as it seeks to formulate a comprehensive solution as soon as possible."
Meanwhile, one small part of the Baha Mar resort is planned to be put to use in April.
These are big American companies. We have seen some of China’s biggest companies themselves and they have indicated a preparedness to buy in to the development– Perry Christie Bahamian Prime Minister
A conference facility there will play host to part of a meeting of the governors of the Inter-American Development Bank, 7-10 April.
Prime Minister Christie used this to argue that progress is being made in his 26 December comments.
"I’m content with the fact that the receivers and the bank have agreed for a partial mobilisation of construction," he said, "and that in itself will suggest to me that once they partially mobilise, they will expand themselves to completing it early in the New Year and so again, you’ll hear more about it as we progressed into the year."
The resort, billed as the biggest of its kind in Caribbean history, is a hot political issue for Christie, who faces an election next year.
The lay-offs in October last year of more than 2,000 people hired to staff the Baha Mar resort pushed the unemployment rate of the tiny island nation up 2.8%, to 14.8%.
Photograph: On left, Bahamian Prime Minister Perry Christie with supporters (Myplp.org)