More Details on Disney’s Lighthouse Point Development Plans

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? 

17 thoughts on “More Details on Disney’s Lighthouse Point Development Plans

  1. Heather

    First of all, disney did not feel uncomfortable with the EIA study at Egg Island, the residents of Spanish Wells didn’t want them and pushed them out. Secondly, this deal has been in the works since Oct/Nov of last year and disney reps ONLY just spoke with Eleutherans face to face a couple of weeks ago so no, Eleutherans have not shaped this proposal from the beginning. Just setting the record straight

    Reply
    1. Margot

      Heather – I recognize your name I think from previous posts?? Do you think that Disney is just like every other cruiseline? Do you think no one should develop these islands? I’m not there and I don’t know enough about it all but I do love Disney and truly believe they want to do the right thing (along with making money). I’m not saying they are perfect by any means but I do think they try more than most to get it right. I’m interested in hearing your view. Really. Are there any islands where the impact would be less? Sorry I don’t know more.

      Reply
  2. Heather

    There is an island for sale in the Berries called Whale Cay. It has the same amount of acreage and already has buildings there that look like they were taken from the set of Pirates of the Caribbean. That would be better than ruining Lighthouse Beach. There are so many coral heads off this beach that they crest out of the water at some low tides. 4000 people traipsing through there oozing with sunscreen will be the demise of those corals. Not to mention the sharks. Very sharky waters. If you have never seen this beach with your own eyes you cannot understand the beauty. I do not trust this company at all. They paid for a very skewed phone survey which of course showed results in their favor when the media outlet surveys online were overwhelmingly against disney. there are other things pointing to shady practices but I will not go into that here.

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  3. Margot

    I am sorry to hear all of that. Except of course to know that there are islands better suited (or at least one). I hope Disney will reconsider then. Lighthouse Beach does sound beautiful except for the sharks! And too many dead coral already in this world. I want to believe you are wrong about the shady practices but sadly, after seeing what our governments can do and don’t do, I am more “woke” about power and manipulation so… I hope the Bahamian people (maybe you?) and the Bahamian government can intervene if that is the right thing to do. I will voice my concerns to Disney for whatever good that will do. Good luck to all of us on our poor besieged planet.

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  4. Elizabeth H

    Hey Disney, can you please tell me what part of your plan will be consistent with the “eco-tourism” method you mention above? You see, I don’t think you have ever heard of a dictionary and looked up the word… so let me help you. “Ecotourism is a form of tourism involving visiting fragile, pristine, and relatively undisturbed natural areas, intended as a low-impact and often small scale alternative to standard commercial mass tourism.” I welcome your explanation of how bringing 540,000 to 1,00,000 tourists to this beach is “low-impact” or “small scale.” If you bring this many tourists to Lighthouse Point per year, then I fear that the only way to keep this business endeavor eco-friendly will be to have the tourists take the island in with some binoculars. If this is your plan, then I applaud your environmental efforts but fear that most tourists on your cruise line will probably prefer to go to Castaway Cay. Sounds like your best option is to go away.

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  5. Elizabeth

    I am in agreement with the sentiments of the above posters. I can see no way that this form of mass tourism will not permanently degrade, if not destroy, the fragile ecosystems existing at Lighthouse Point, Eleuthera.

    Nor does beautiful Eleuthera need this sort of development, which is deeply inconsistent with The Bahamas’ Government’s own stance on climate change and related concerns.and it’s commitment to the Bahamian people.

    I am hoping that the Bahamian people will see just how un-Eleutheran the Disney development is and turn this proposal away before Eleuthera too becomes just one more sacrifice to Mammon, now openly and with great rapaciousness destroying the natural ecosystems on which the lives of all depend.

    Reply
    1. Margot

      I honestly don’t know how Disney can make the environmentalists happy. I think they can do everything they possibly can, short of walking away, and the environmentalists won’t be happy. Because it is a sad day for them/us. Seeing this place of wild beauty (based on descriptions, I’ve never been there) turned into a tourist hotspot (for Disney cruisers) is unfortunate. But also unfortunately, the Bahamian people and government didn’t come up with a better solution. Disney’s plan sounds waaaayyyyy better than the proposed development that was listed on privateislandsinc where the owner had listed the island. They were advertising it as developable into a full scale resort with hotels and everything!
      But I also know I feel a little sick about it. Even though I am sure I will end up there. I desperately want to go to the Galpagos and Antarctica but (besides the $$$$ involved – LOL) I am conflicted about going to these sensitive places. Most (all?) cruises to the Antarctica require that you wash boots in solution before getting off the cruiseship to board the zodiacs to go walk on the ice/land… Is that enough? I don’t know.
      I am still hopeful that Disney can and will minimize the impact as much as possible, even if that means spending more money and making it a costlier port for the cruisers (as in increased prices). Because even if it is foolish of me, I still believe that they do care. That the attention to detail and good stewardship is important to Disney. And given some alternatives, it sound like they will actually preserve more of the natural environment than others would have.

      I was hoping I would win the megamillions when it was 1.6 billion so I could buy it and make it a protected island but alas, the Gods of Fortune did not smile down at me.

      Bottom line, sad but hopeful. Life is so bittersweet….

      Reply
  6. Elizabeth

    @Margot: If Disney really cared, they would seek out a location where the damage would not be so great. Perhaps a place in need of restoration and stewardship where they could really express some creativity..That might make the even the environmentalists happy.

    Instead, Disney insists on plundering a pristine ecosystem at a time when so much of the planet has already been decimated. We are in the midst of what has been designated the “Sixth Mass Extinction”, a loss of biodiversity resulting primarily from human destruction of natural habitat. Disney is not ignorant of this, they do not care.

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    1. davisson2

      I would have said that the Cape Eleuthera Resort property north of Lighthouse Point would be better suited for development as it already has a defunct resort/golf course/airstrip along with a functioning small boat harbor and small scale development combined with deep water.

      Reply
  7. Margot

    First of all, I am sorry. I really am. Part of me agrees with you. A big part. They are after all, a business, not an environmental advocacy group, or stewardship group. I am aware of that.
    My point was only that they appear to be better than most of the proposed/marketed development plans. And again, frustrating and sad that no one in the Bahamian government or wealthy Bahamians (or environmentalists) could save it. Seems to be the way of the world right now.

    I sincerely wish you good luck in saving other sensitive areas and hope some charitable conservancy groups can help.

    I’m sorry this battle appears lost. Keeping up the pressure may help keep it as gentle as possible. Thanks for engaging with me.

    Reply
    1. Elizabeth

      Just for the sake of accuracy: in fact, there is a coalition of environmental and community organizations trying to save Lighthouse Point, Lighthouse Point Partners (LPP) (http://www.savelighthousepoint.com/partners/). As pointed out by Rev. Dr. C. B. Moss in his article in The Guardian, “… there are local people in Eleuthera who are prepared to replace the Disney proposal with one that will provide more jobs and sooner than Disney, while not damaging the environment and maintaining the social and cultural integrity of the Bahamian people. This local project will be sustainable and very importantly will empower a great many Bahamians” (https://thenassauguardian.com/2018/10/23/another-way-possible/ ;http://www.savelighthousepoint.com/the-vision/; http://eleutheranews.com/?p=17705). It appears that Disney, and then later, PM Dr Hubert Minnis, used plans developed in 2008 by The Related Group/Meritage Hospitality for comparison (http://www.tribune242.com/news/2018/oct/16/pms-disney-project-justification-scary/), not the plans proposed by the coalition.

      A comparison of the Disney and LPP plans is made here: http://lighthousepoint-pc.org/#help. I believe it is not so clear that Disney has the better plan for Eleuthera and Lighthouse Point.

      There is a petition with over 30,000 signatures in support of the coalition’s efforts (http://www.savelighthousepoint.com/).

      Reply
  8. Margot

    Hi Elizabeth – Well that sounds great! But I’m confused then. Why isn’t that proposal being taken up? Is it the Bahamian government or the landowner blocking the sale to the LPP group? And why would that be Disney’s fault? I must be missing something. I hope you win this but I don’t get Disney as the bad guy here. I’m sorry. Again – I’m confused. I’ll sign the petition if I can. Really – good luck.

    Reply
    1. Scott Sanders Post author

      The landowner has a contract with Disney. In order for the landowner to sell to LPP, they would need to break their purchase agreement with Disney. The property has been for sale for a long time. Disney entered into a purchase agreement with the partnership of Meritage Hospitality Group/The Related Group. If any other group would have submitted an offer to the Meritage/Related, and entered into a purchase agreement before Disney, then that entity would be under the microscope at this time.

      Basically, no one is blocking the sale to the LPP group because they do not have a purchase agreement in place with the property owner. I fell this simple fact is lost in all the arguments. Please, I am not implying the arguments are invalid, I just want this FACT to be highlighted.

      Reply
  9. Margot

    I get it. From what I read (all your links) my understanding is that the Bahamian government is not being transparent and fair in their approval process. I hope they will listen to your pleas and do the right thing. And if all else fails, I hope Disney will be careful in their work and honor the agreements and promises about access for the Bahamians and restrictions on the cruise guests (and staff). Lighthouse is stunningly beautiful. Frankly, I want to go there. But just like my previous comments about Antarctica and Galapagos, I’m not sure I should. Good luck.

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  10. Elizabeth

    Margot, thank you for taking the time to read the links I posted concerning the alternative plan. And yes, I think you understand correctly that the feeling is that the Bahamian government is not being transparent and fair in this issue.

    However, there is a much deeper rationale for the opposition to Disney’s venture here. Some of this is captured in an article by Dr. Ian Bethell Bennett, “The Long Eye of Culture” (https://thenassauguardian.com/2018/11/03/the-long-eye-of-culture/). But, from a larger perspective too, my feeling is that it is the wrong time and the wrong place for such development.

    It is the wrong time and place because, in the face of climate change and the mass extinction already taking its toll on the planet, such destruction of the remaining natural environment for the sake of money and entertainment is unconscionable. People everywhere across the earth are calling for large corporations to stop their rapacious exploitation of the natural world. The Disney plan involves dredging a pristine coastline, which will be harmful to all life forms in the area, including corals and fish already threatened worldwide. The planned golf course brings its own set of ecological disasters from pesticides, herbicides, non-native vegetation, fresh water requirements, etc. Then there is the additional damage of masses of people, with all of their various wastes, concentrated in a relatively small space, as yet, pristine and beautiful, but then, once upon a time …

    This sort of development is not right for Lighthouse Point; it is not right for Eleuthera nor for her people. The magic that now lives and breathes in this beautiful place will be lost forever.

    Reply
  11. Margot

    So to start I somehow missed the golf course and I thought part of the deal was they didn’t need to dredge but obviously I missed something.
    As to the rest, I need to chew on it all awhile. Thanks for the link. Made me so sad. For the world. I think we are all in the same boat in a way. The root of all evil and all that….

    Reply
  12. April Thrasher

    Well, my husband & I have been here. It topped off one of the best beach vacations we ever had. And we’ve been to MANY beaches. When I heard about a possible development, to say we were gutted is an understatement. I agree with a post above stating the REAL definition of ecotourism. We could walk at least 100 yards out into the water & be waist high. The beautiful, clear coral speckled ocean with life everywhere! Fish, rays, reef sharks; etc. Swim right by you. The caves, majestic rock & hidden sandy beach gems that fit only two people for a perfect day feeling like it was right out of the pages of a novel. Like we found our own paradise. This place is magic. We’ve wanted to bring our son someday. But he’s only 3 & when he’s old enough – it will be too developed for him to see it in all its raw glory. I do hope most of it goes undeveloped. I do hope we are white knuckling the seats down the bumpy 3 mile trek to this beach & he gets to have a real adventure someday.

    Reply

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