|By Douglas Hanks III, The Miami Herald|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Apr. 8, 2005 - A rival to the Bahamian mega-resort Atlantis will rise across the harbor in Nassau with a Las Vegas-style casino, developers announced Thursday. It would mark the first real challenge to Atlantis' dominance atop both the Nassau skyline and the Bahamian tourist economy.
Baha Mar Development says it will spend $1.2 billion building a new resort on Nassau's Cable Beach, a strip of sand that's about 20 minutes by taxi to Nassau's Paradise Island, home to Atlantis and other resort properties owned by Kerzner International.
The new, unnamed resort would bear a well-known hotel brand and have 2,700 rooms, more than Atlantis' current total of 2,317. But Kerzner has launched an 1,100-room expansion close to its signature twin-towered, pink castle.
"It will be another Atlantis on Cable Beach," said Barry Benjamin, an executive with Peace & Plenty resorts in George Town, Exuma.
The announcement comes as discount airlines like JetBlue, Song and Spirit are adding flights to Nassau amid a strong tourism rebound in the Caribbean. Adding another Atlantis-style resort to Nassau will be the biggest test yet for the island city's popularity among Northeast travelers seeking a quick flight to island environs.
"We don't consider it competition since there is room enough for all of us, and we welcome help in driving more business to Nassau as a favored destination," a Kerzner spokeswoman said in a statement.
A Baha Mar executive, Michael Sansbury, also downplayed the notion of competition between the two, but Thursday's announcement noted that the resort's 75,000-square-foot casino will be the Caribbean's largest -- a title currently held by Atlantis. Sansbury is a former executive of the Loews Hotels at the Universal Orlando Resort, but he declined to describe Baha Mar as anything more than a Nassau-based corporation with U.S. and European investors.
The developers have acquired three Cable Beach hotels, including the government-owned Radisson Cable Beach and the Wyndham Nassau. The Wyndham and Atlantis hold the only two casino licenses allowed in Nassau, though the Atlantis is regarded as far superior to the Wyndham.
As a sprawling resort separated from the mainland by a massive toll bridge, Atlantis offers guests a self-contained vacation destination.
It is also Nassau's biggest tourist draw.
"It will make Nassau and Cable Beach more equally competitive with Paradise Island," said Basil Smith, communications director for the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism. "Their product on Cable Beach is in need of refurbishment, and this is the answer to that."
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