The Prime Minister has hailed the upcoming $80m investment in Bimini’s airport by a private consortium as “a big step forward” in boosting both tourism plus entrepreneurial and job opportunities.
Speaking at the signing of a public-private partnership (PPP) agreement with the Bimini Airport Development Partners group, Philip Davis KC promised that the deal’s terms will “ensure that Bahamians in general, and Biminites in particular, benefit the most from this development”.
“Bahamianisation, my friends, is in full effect,” he pledged at the signing ceremony. “Ownership and operation of retail businesses and concessions at the Bimini airport will be restricted to Bahamians. The airport will also provide new opportunities for Bahamian job seekers while maintaining existing employees with similar, if not more, favourable terms.
“In short, the airport will employ Bahamians and promote Bahamian businesses. With the upcoming signing of this airport agreement we don’t just want planes to take off. We want businesses to soar, too.” Mr Davis added that the PPP will facilitate increased airlift by improving the runway and terminal experience, while also providing the platform to increase trade and foreign direct investment (FDI) to Bimini.
Several sources yesterday suggested the planned $80m investment “seems very high” given the island’s size, and that initially the figure of $40m – half this amount – was talked about when outsourcing of the South Bimini facility was mulled under the former Minnis administration.
However, double the latter sum will now be invested by Bimini Airport Development Partners over two phases, the group having secured a 30-year lease concession to operate and manage the facility. The first phase involves a $30m outlay on airside and terminal improvements to facilitate international commercial flights.
This will involve planning and design; initial runway improvements; temporary terminal improvements; access road modifications and apron expansion; equipment, maintenance, storage and cargo facilities; and a fixed base operator (FBO), including fuel farm and apron.
The second phase, valued at $50m, will see the construction of a new airport passenger terminal and other facilities, including apron and FBO expansion, to support airport operations. The PPP signing comes as Bimini received 805,380 total arrivals from January through September 2023. This represents a 138.4 percent increase over the same period in 2022, and a nearly 840 percent increase over 2019.
“We fully anticipate the improvements from this agreement giving this island an economic boost,” Mr Davis said. “An airport is the gateway to a locale. It is the first experience visitors to this island will have, making a first impression long before they get to experience the rest of this beautiful island.
“As we improve the airport experience, we are ensuring that we make a good first impression for those visiting Bimini and a great final impression for visitors as they depart…. New transportation infrastructure means so much more than a few extra flights. It promises a more connected and more prosperous Bimini.
“More connected because this airport will bring the world to Bimini, and Bimini to the world. And more prosperous, because this airport will generate new jobs while sustaining old ones, spur greater market access and attract more foreign direct investment.”
Chester Cooper, deputy prime minister, and minister of tourism, investments and aviation, said of the Bimini airport deal: “We see that Bimini is growing exponentially and is really the gateway to The Bahamas being our most proximate island to the US, our largest consumer market.
“Therefore, it’s fitting that we find a partner who can bring Bimini’s airport up to a standard that can not only meet the demand and growth of the destination but also give our residents and guests an incredible experience while providing jobs and business opportunities.”
Mr Cooper said the PPP model of government-owned airports being managed by private entities has proven successful in The Bahamas with the right partner. “We’ve found the right partner that brings a combination of financial wherewithal, construction experience and management expertise,” Mr Cooper added.
“This speaks to the meticulous work of the Airport Authority, the Department of Aviation, the Bahamas Investments Authority, the Office of the Attorney General and the ministry. It also signals the commitment of the Government to revolutionise our country’s airport infrastructure.”
Bimini Airport Development Partners is owned by Phoenix Infrastructure, a US-based infrastructure advisory and investment firm with offices in Washington D.C and New York, and Plenary Group, another US infrastructure group. An airport and fixed-base FBO operator called Avports will be the Bimini airport’s management and operating partner.
“We are extremely pleased to be part of this project, and proud to be working in partnership with Plenary Americas and Avports as we deliver a world-class airport to the people of Bimini and the Commonwealth of the Bahamas,” said Jeremy M. Ebie, founder and chief executive of Phoenix Infrastructure Group.
“As world travel continues to rise beyond pandemic-era levels, now is the perfect time to deliver enhanced access for air carriers to this beautiful part of the world through an upgraded facility that this island deserves.”
“The first phase of this project is to design, plan and implement critical safety and airside improvements as well as provide interim upgrades to the existing terminal facilities, all to enable additional and more reliable commercial air traffic to more destinations,” said Mike Schutt, senior vice-president with Plenary Americas.
“We are excited to work closely with members of the Bimini community and the Government to help improve access, safety and services on the island in support of continued economic, small business and career development opportunities.”
“We at Avports are proud to support as the operations and management partner to Plenary Americas and Phoenix Infrastructure to bring best-in-class operations and improved connectivity to the Caribbean gem of Bimini,” said Jorge Roberts, chief executive of Avports.