Disney’s Lighthouse Point plans continue to come to light as The Walt Disney Company sails closer to closing a deal with Bahamian Government. Tribune 242 published an article this week with additional details on Disney’s Lighthouse Point development.
Days after Jeff Vahle, President of Disney Signature Experiences broke his silence on the project, Vahle expanded on the plans while speaking Tribune Business. Disney plans to transform the 700-acre property in South Eleuthera into a global cruise destination that will be mutually beneficial for Bahamians and Disney Cruise passengers.
Vahle told the Tribune Disney feels they can do more with Lighthouse Point than at Disney’s Castaway Cay. Disney’s plans call for a unique experience what Bahamian culture rooted in the global cruise destination. Unlike at Disney’s Castaway Cay and other private cruise destinations, Disney Cruise Line plans to allow passengers to travel outside of the Lighthouse Point property through eco-tourism giving guest the opportunity to explore more of Eleuthera. Disney would work with Eleuthera-based tour operators and excursion providers to develop off-property attractions for passengers.
The Lighthouse Point project would increase Disney Cruise Line’s calls to The Bahamas by just under 40% per year along with the current ports of call Nassau and Disney’s Castaway Cay. This would give DCL to offer three different Bahamian ports of call to passengers and diversify the Bahamian itinerary lineup.
According to the Tribune’s report, the plan would call for the creation of 150 permanent jobs at Lighthouse Point, with a further 100 jobs involved in the construction phase. Vahle said “as many as possible” would go to Eleutherans.
Disney Cruise Line has been actively looking for a second Bahamian destination to build on the successful business model created at Disney’s Castaway Cay and to provide and passengers with addition Bahamian destinations. Disney Cruise Line’s business is 40% Bahamian cruises. With Castaway Cay being as popular as it is with guests, Disney is looking to expand to bring guest to an improved relaxing day on the beach destination.
“As we look to expand, we’re looking to build on that business model and are looking for a second unique destination in The Bahamas that will allow us to build something comparable to or better than Castaway Cay.” – Jeff Vahle, President of Disney Signature Experiences
Vahle estimates that there would be between 200-250 cruise calls to Lighthouse Point annually. In turn, this would result in 540,000 to 1 million total passengers depending on the combination of DCL’s ships with the Magic-class (Classics) capacity at 2,700 and the Dream- and unnamed LNG-class sailing with 4,000-passenger capacity.
Lighthouse Point would roughly double the number of Bahamian calls by just under 40%/year while continuing to keep the same number of calls at Disney’s Castaway Cay. Under Disney’s intitial plan, Castway Cay would keep the same number of calls, Lighthouse Point would have between 200 and 250 calls/year and Nassau would have an overall increase of 40% likely coming from new itineraries steaming from a year-round ship at PortMiami.
The Walt Disney Company’s Board of Directors authorised funding for the property’s acquisition and cruise destination development. The total investment for Disney’s Lighthouse Point is currently estimated between $350 and $400 million. The property had been listed for $20 million, so this figure may bring into question Disney’s proposal of an environmental friendly development plan.
Vahle, addressed the investment total by saying that roughly 50% of this the total will be required to construct the pier linking the docked cruise ship to Lighthouse Point. The estimates are still up in the air as Disney is awaiting the results of an Environmental Impact Assesment (EIA).
“We’ve not done the full estimate as we’re waiting for the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to say what that looks like, but that’s the current projection,” – Jeff Vahle, President of Disney Signature Experiences
Disney reaffirmed that they are only looking to develope about 20% of the 700-acre property with their current development plan. Additionally, the 20% development is considered “low density.” Another 170-acres will be donated to the Bahamian Government for conservation and another 100-plus acres of salt ponds will be left untouched.
Disney is looking to create a new model for how companies collaborate with governments and local communities to protect the environment and create jobs, which are two of the main criticisms of Disney purchasing Lighthouse Point.
By 2023, Disney Cruise Line will nearly double the fleet with the addition of 3 new LNG powered cruise ships approximately the same size of the Dream-class. It sure sounds like the majority of the fleet will continue to sail from Florida ports with a strong focus on the Bahamas if DCL is expecting to keep the same number of calls at Castaway Cay, add a similar number of calls to Lighthouse Point, and increase calls to Nassau by 40%.
The Tribune article reveals The Walt Disney Company has “a sales agreement in place” with the current owner to purchase Lighthouse Point. Just like buying a house, the property is under contract pending government permits and approvals, and the ever important Environmental Impact Study. Vahle told the Nassau Guardian, Disney would like to add Lighthouse Point to cruise itineraries in 2022 or 2023.
Kim Prunty, Disney Cruise Line’s vice-president of public affairs, says Disney selected Lighthouse Point for its second Bahamas destination after an exhaustive search that scouted numerous locations for a low-density, minimal environmental impact project.
Prunty explained that Egg Island, and Morgan’s Bluff in Andros, were both rejected after Environmental Impact Assessments suggested that the dredging required to provide deep water access for the cruise vessels would negatively impact nearby coral reefs and marine life.
Preliminary environmental and marine navigation studies have shown that little to no dredging would be required at Lighthouse Point. The fact the 700-acre property is privately owned added to the allure of location meaning less stakeholders involve would result in a smoother sale.
“We’re sensitive to whether its Crown Land or privately owned,” she explained. “It’s been on the market since 2010; it’s been available for some time. We were able to do a preliminary EIA and navigation study that found it to be an appropriate location.”
Disney was “not comfortable” with the EIA study results for Egg Island and Morgan’s Bluff. Disney is also focused on challenging the perception that the cruise industry’s economic model is all take and no give when it comes to sharing the benefits with The Bahamas.
According to Prunty, unlike other cruise lines, Disney Cruise Line does not participate in the departure tax rebate incentive program which returns a portion of taxes collected to the ship owners if the line exceeds contractual berthing agreement passenger targets. Disney Cruise Line also collects VAT at Castaway Cay, and Disney pledged that the same model will be used at Lighthouse Point.
The report states that Disney would provide Bahamians full, continued access to the 700-acre site while brining significant amount of business to local tour operators.
Disney Cruise Line executives mentioned 80% of the passengers sailing with DCL are looking to experience new places. Disney wants to bring passengers to experience Eleuthera by allowing cruise passengers to explore the area outside of Lighthouse Point to see sights such as the Caves.
DCL also wants to integrate into the site design the ability for locals to selling goods rather than pushing them out but the property line.
One of the largest opponents of Disney’s purchase of the Lighthouse Point is the One Eleuthera Foundation, which has submitted a rival proposal for Lighthouse Point. Vahle says Disney is “willing to talk to anyone.” Disney’s plans and assessments are dynamic based on everything the company learns and they plan to continue to do that to build the best project for The Bahamas and The Walt Disney Company.
DCL is proud of the impact the company has had at Castaway Cay, and feels they have the opportunity to do more in Eleuthera with the Lighthouse Point property.
Castaway Cay currently contributes about $40 million annually and employees around 150 Bahamian workers. Ms Prunty said the average weekly wage at Castaway Cay was between $600 and $700, which the would be the same at Lighthouse Point.
Disney Cruise Line targeted the Lighthouse Point property around October/November 2017, initiating talks with the Government and Bahamas National Trust (BNT). Disney wanted to create a project that was mutually beneficial to those living in south Eleuthera and the cruise passengers.
Eleuthera residents have shaped the project from the beginning. Originally, DCL’s plans for public access were completely different until they learned how important this was for community. In order for Disney Cruise Line to root this project in The Bahamas they need to make sure Bahamians are part of the destination.
In addition to the land set aside for public access, Disney will NOT develop the area around the lighthouse and southern tip. This area will also be off limits to cruise passengers, but will be open to Bahamians.
“We’d want to be known for several things if we get the proposal approved. The first would be to sustain the natural beauty of Lighthouse Point. It will be a model of environmental development people will be proud of.
“We’d want to be known as a good economic partner for the community, driving a lot of economic opportunities in south Eleuthera and The Bahamas…. We will build a place that is unique and celebrates the culture of The Bahamas for our guests.”
The full article published by Tribune 242 is titled $400m Spend To ‘Better’ Top Location.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on Disney’s Lighthouse Point development plans. I know we’ve had passionate comments on your other Lighthouse Point articles. For those of you that have been passionately opposed to development, do you feel Disney is appropatley addressing your concerns? If not, other than keeping Disney away, what can they do or pledge to make this a win-win for all parties?