Dermot Desmond-backed Caribbean marina opens for business
Desmond invested $60m in 120-berth Glossy Bay Marina on Canouan Island
Dermot Desmond and the prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, enjoy the opening of Glossy Bay Marina in Canouan earlier this month. Photograph: Kenton X Chance
A state-of-the-art marina in which Irish financier Dermot Desmond is a major shareholder opened on Canouan Island in the Caribbean last week, amid a lull in activism over access to the island’s beaches near a separate resort that he developed several years ago.
Desmond has invested an estimated $60 million (€56.5 million) in the 120-berth Glossy Bay Marina and is expected to spend a further $30 million annually over the next three to four years.
“This is going to be the gateway of tourism in Canouan and the Southern Grenadines. Our objective here is to create something that is identifiable with the Grenadines. It is like the Eiffel Tower, if I may say, of the Grenadines,” he said in an interview after the opening ceremony, which also heard an address from the prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, and other investors. Italian investor, Antonio Saladino invested $25 million in the project.
Andres Pignataro, another Italian, is now running Pink Sands Club, the resort that Desmond developed in the north of Canouan before a disagreement among investors saw the Irishman confining his investments to the south.
The marina project, which boundaries with the Canouan Airport, where Desmond parks his private jet, will also include berths for 24 “super yachts” and an equal amount of “ultra high-end private villas”.
Desmond said: “When we build these buildings here, I think it will be as identifiable to the Grenadines as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, as the Eiffel Tower, as Buckingham Place.”
Canouan, a part of the nation of St Vincent and the Grenadines in the southeastern Caribbean, is a 1,200-acre island, two-thirds of which have been leased to foreign investors. The tourism developments on the islands leave islanders sandwiched in a “village” in the centre of the island.
The indigenous population has complained about a number of issues on the island, including the state of public infrastructure where the local community lives, the absence of secondary education on the island and access to beaches in the island’s north.
They say that resort owners in the north of Canouan seem to be offering a type of exclusivity impractical in a country where all beaches are public, by law.
Pink Sands Club is a super exclusive tourist facility – the cheapest room goes for $1,400 a night, inclusive of breakfast and access to all the resorts facilities.
Desmond has assured islanders that they would not be restricted from accessing the marina, which boundaries with another of the island’s beautiful white sand beaches, which are washed by the turquoise Caribbean Sea.
“We don’t do exclusivity at all. We are in partnership with everybody. Everyone is a part of here. We are guests of the nation of St Vincent and so, therefore, we are guests, we are not the owners,” Desmond said.
He added that the marina is “an exclusive area but we are not exclusive to people that own the place. And the people that own the place are Vincentians.”
Asked to comment on the beach access issue in the north of the island, Desmond said: “It can never be restrictive. There is a saying that my mom used to say to me: ‘What you resist persists.’ So if you keep on resisting something it would persist. I would say just embrace everybody. This is a partnership . . . It doesn’t matter what class, creed or colour, what you don’t want to have is not good people.”
The beach access issue has been going on since 1999, when Gonsalves, then as opposition leader, weighed in behind the residents of the island in their objections. But since coming to office, Gonsalves’ government has sold even more lands to developers.
As minister of finance, he has also noted the importance of Canouan to the Vincentian economy and has repeatedly asked nationals to “compromise without being compromising”.
In his speech at the opening ceremony, Gonsalves said that development of the “village” in Canouan must keep pace with the rest of the island. “We can’t be having these extraordinarily top-of-the-line facilities in the south and in the north without the village being further improved,” he said, adding that while significant improvements have been made, further improvements are needed.
“And I see that as an obligation of the investors to work very much with the government to develop the village. I think that is a very important thing. We have to make it a community,” said Gonsalves, who government owns about a 15 per cent stake in the marina.
Among the guests at the opening ceremony was Terrance Bynoe, a Canouan islander who has over the last 17 years led activism to ensure access to the island’s beaches. Bynoe said that he and his fellow activists had shelved their agitations pending the outcome of talks that they held on the weekend with Pignataro about access to beaches in Canouan’s north.
However, Bynoe has since rejected a set of stringent rules proposed by the management of Pink Sands Club under which islanders could access the beach.