AN EASTERN New Providence Island real estate development could create more than 100 full-time jobs when completed, its newly-appointed chief executive telling Tribune Business he was "very confident" that the 350-400 unit project would be sold out within the next four years.
Richard Browning said Palm Cay's UK-based investors had "committed to continue to invest" to make the project a success, having spent "just shy of $40 million to get us where we are" - a position that is now allowing the Palm Cay development to start marketing to Bahamas based buyers in earnest.
Palm Cay wanted to first build "a local community" from among the Bahamian professional and middle class market, Mr Browning said 50 lots in the Ocean front development had already been sold. In addition, six townhouses and five oceanfront homes were also fully built, the former now all occupied.
"We've done that without even being in the market, so what can we do if we get out there?" Mr Browning asked, telling Tribune Business that marketing efforts in the Bahamas were set to begin in earnest in November 2011.
Although Palm Cay was making the transition from construction site to sales and marketing, its chief executive told Tribune Business that some 200-300 construction workers, and eight Bahamian contractors, were still employed on site. The tennis court amenities were currently under construction, and Palm Cay had just hired nine Bahamians for its security team and a landscaping company with 20 workers, was also at the development site on a full-time basis.
"Those numbers will increase as security becomes more important, as landscaping becomes more important," Mr Browning said. Looking towards the full-time posts that would be created when Pam Cay's marina, restaurant and clubhouse become fully operational, he added that the latter two facilities might create "maybe another 50 jobs".
As for the marina, it would need a harbourmaster, employees to look after the boats and maintain the facility. The marina, in turn, could create opportunities for bait and tackle and yacht chandlery businesses.
"If the need is there, it will create some businesses off that, so there will be spin-offs," Mr Browning told Tribune Business. "There will be repair work on the boats. If you get your foundation right, you can build some really strong activities around it, and the wheel will keep on rolling.
"We could end up with 100 people just trying to maintain the development and provide the services."
With Palm Cay's club house and restaurant, and associated 194-slip marina, built and set to act as the project's "heart", Mr Browning said the latter facility would have fuel in six-eight weeks and be a 'full service marina' by year-end. The Palm Cay development had "infrastructure 100 per cent", with water, sewerage and electricity facilities all in the ground.
And Palm Cay was also looking for a Bahamas-based restaurant entrepreneur to run the clubhouse restaurant, the developers targeting year-end or early in the 2012 New Year to have this facility fully operational.
"I'm looking at the moment for a restaurateur," Mr Browning told Tribune Business. "We'd like to find a restaurant entrepreneur who sees this as a long-term opportunity.
"There's no critical mass to start with, but we'd like to open at the weekend to serve residents and visitors As Palm Cay opens, it will become a vibrant hub....... I've had a few people give me proposals, but made no decision. We're still looking." Reiterating that Pam Cay was looking for "the right person", and was very close to selecting a harbourmaster to run its marina, Mr Browning added: "We'd [the developers] be foolish to open it ourselves, not offering the right sort of amenities.
"The restaurant business is a specialist business. Ideally, we'd like to find someone here that can run it as a satellite and expand as needs demand." Emphasising that he was "selling a lifestyle", namely the boating/yachting experiences offered by the Bahamas and associated living, Mr Browning said Palm Cay would do this at price points between $500,000-$2 million, making properties affordable to middle class and professional Bahamian buyers.'
"We're not in the Albany game, but are still there between $500,000 and $2 million in current values," Mr Browning said. "We're going to market strongly to increase our visibility, but are not going to increase prices. We know the market situation.
"We've got a fantastic lifestyle product, and it's not out of reach of the ordinary person. We're not a mega boat marina, we're not for mega yachts. We're here for the person who wants a 40-foot fishing boat, a 20 foot cruiser, or a small boat for the family. It's a family lifestyle, and we provide a great opportunity for people to explore yachting, fishing. We're a great location for exploring the Family Island, with Exuma 40 minutes away."
Townhouses in Palm Cay will start at a $500,000 price point, going up to $850,000 for oceanfront townhouses. While offering turnkey construction, Mr Browning estimated that total construction costs - lot purchase together with building prices - could run up to $2 million.
The Pam Cay chief executive said the developers were also looking to reduce development density, hence the potential plan to reduce the project from 400 home sites to 350.
As a result, they were looking to "change the mix slightly to introduce a cottage-type product", built on 2,000 square feet of land, as a family home option. With the townhouses "a fantastic product for young professionals", Mr Browning said Palm Cay was also exploring a rental market offering.
"Our target for build out is four years to sell it out and build out," he told Tribune Business. "The developers have invested just shy of $40 million to get us where we are. They are committed to continue to invest to make this a success.
"They've invested in me, provided the resources for me to take this forward. It's a significant sign that the investors are serious about this by putting me on the ground, and the resources on the ground, to move this forward. We are moving forward even in this difficult economy."
Palm Cay had been about to ramp up its sales/marketing effort back in 2007-2008, just as the 'credit crunch' and recession hit in full. The UK-based developers were forced to take stock and adjust their plans, before settling on the current way forward.
Asked why Palm Cay had decided to move now, with local marketing set to start next month, Mr Browning said: "There are good opportunities here, and we can deliver.... In a market that is sluggish, you either stagnate or get up and shout. "We feel there are a lot of discerning property owners out there that see it as the time to invest, and we offer the product they're looking for. It's a bold move, but if you don't move you don't get the results. Over the next four years I'm very confident we will sell this out."
If Palm Cay proceeded well, Mr Browning said the developers would look to do more projects in the Bahamas.
"Once we've got this successful, we will look at other opportunities in the Bahamas," he told Tribune Business. "We're here for the long. We're not a 'quick in and out' developer, and this will probably be one of our developments in the future. It's a good flagship, and the next one becomes easier if there's a track record."
Mr Browning told Tribune Business the developers wanted Palm Cay to be a 'Lights on' community, rather than one populated solely by winter residents and second home owners, something that would leave it relatively empty for large portions of the calendar year.
As a result, Palm Cay was looking for a 60/40 mix tilted in favour of full-time, Bahamas-based residents.
Meanwhile, Mr Browning said of Palm Cay's international marketing plans: "We'll look to that once we feel we've got the life, soul and heart ticking in here with the local marketplace.
"We will only go out to the international community with something that works. We will probably go out to them in the middle of next year, although we will have a small presence at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. There is a market there for people visiting the Bahamas, and we hope they will come down here on a regular basis."
Sandwiched between Port New Providence to the east and Gerardo Capo's Treasure Cove to the west, Mr Browning described Palm Cay as "the best kept secret" in eastern New Providence. As the only development of its size in the eastern end of the island, especially one that offers a marina and boating access, Palm Cay has some exclusivity to help its sales effort, especially given the rush to western New Providence.