A Triumphant Odyssey ATLANTIS, the undeniable regional game changer, re-invigorating, The Bahamas’s top tier resort/casino status
When Sir Sol passed away in March 2020; Bahamians paused to reflect on a life and a contribution to the country’s economy that may only find comparison in Sir Harry Oakes’s sojourn as mass employer and philanthropist during the period during and after the 2nd World War.
“In 2012 Kerzner International Holdings Limited successfully completed a comprehensive global restructuring resulting in substantially all of its Paradise Island Assets, including the Atlantis Resorts & Casino and the One & Only Ocean Club, being transferred to Brookfield Asset Management Inc. The resort welcomed our new owners Brookfield Asset Management Inc., a recognized global conglomerate, to The Bahamas. Brookfield has assets under management of approximately $150 billion and has an over 100-year history of owning and operating assets with a focus on real estate, infrastructure, renewable power, and private equity. Brookfield also specifically has over $83 billion of property assets and decades of operating experience in real estate investments that span the globe.”
On their website this is how Atlantis relates the epic history: “In May 1994, Sol Kerzner purchased a languishing Resorts International on Paradise Island from entertainer Merv Griffin and began one of the fastest major construction projects in the resort industry. In December 1994 a totally transformed 1,147-room resort, inspired by an amazing legend opened on Paradise Island; Atlantis. With a 14-acre waterscape of swimming pools, waterfalls, a lazy river ride, and six exhibit lagoons including a clear underwater tunnel in a shark habitat. Atlantis began to redefine tourism in The Bahamas and beyond.
Two years later the expansion continued with the Grand Opening of Royal Towers and Phase II, an $800 million expansion, which included the spectacular Mayan Temple waterslide complex, 6 swimming areas, the world’s largest open-air marine environment with 11 million gallons of water, and the Royal Marina, host to sleek mega yachts. Over 60 A-List celebrities, including Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder, and various dignitaries descended upon The Bahamas for the party of the century, with a finale of fireworks showering both over and on the Royal Towers.
The 1,200-room, $650 million hotel and casino was filled with museum-quality art by renowned artists from Europe, Africa, the United States and The Bahamas, including the glass sculptures Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon by Dale Chihuly, each valued at $1 million each. Upon opening, the casino also offered a gaming industry first: a wall of windows – bringing light and the outdoors into a rejuvenated gaming environment.
In January 2001 the inaugural Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational golf tournament was launched and for over 10 years, raised millions of dollars for charities, including local causes. “The popular Marina Village opened in 2005, adding a new outdoor experience of shopping, dining, and entertainment for our guests.
In 2007 the Atlantis LIVE premiered with Joss Stone, followed by the popular Maroon 5 in October. Year after year Atlantis LIVE has featured Kelly Clarkson, Jonas Brothers, Cyndi Lauper, Miley Cyrus, Reba McEntire, Colbie Caillat, Alicia Keys, Bruno Mars, and Katy Perry; just to name a few.
Atlantis hosted the 58th Annual Miss Universe pageant, which was televised around the globe. Flo Rida, Heidi Montag, David Guetta, and Kelly Rowland perform and Miss Venezuela, Stefanía Fernández, was crowned Miss Universe 2009.
In December 2010 the Battle at Atlantis made a splash on the pre-season college basketball scene, with a successful double-header trial run, Battle 4 Atlantis was born. Battle 4 Atlantis has expanded to an eight-team tournament, having moved to Thanksgiving Week, and has established itself as the premier pre-season men’s college basketball tournament.
Golf Channel’s Big Break Atlantis premiered in 2012, showcasing the stunningly beautiful Ocean Club Golf Course and a cast of 12 aspiring women’s golfers. That same year the Ocean Club Golf Course hosted the Michael Douglas and Friends Celebrity Golf Tournament, televised on the Golf Channel. Celebrity golfers included Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Sharon Stone, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Mark Wahlberg, and Benjamin Bratt.
These lifted quotes are a fantastic and spectacular story of how Sir Sol engineered his Sun International Company out of South Africa to mega resort investments in the Bahamas and now in Dubai. It wasn’t all neon lights, marquees, red carpets and glitterati.
Sir Sol officially entered the Bahamas equation in 1994; at a time of a major political transition. The political party, the Progressive Liberal Party PLP; which ushered in Majority Rule in 1967 and Independence in 1973; and re-elected to office in five consecutive free and fair general elections, 25 years as Government – was voted out office in 1992.
Sir Lynden Pindling, the Father of Independence spent his early political career wrestling against the privileges of the minority oligarchy; which ran the colony of the Bahama Islands for more than 300 years. They were its legislators, its regulators, its investors, its suppliers, its land barons and were fastidious in a status quo which seemed immoveable.
In 1985 Pindling hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Nassau. It was that contentious era when the Iron Lady Britain’s Margaret Thatcher was stubborn in her opposition to sanctions on Apartheid South Africa; which the Caribbean and African former Colonies were determined to see imposed.
Nelson Mandela was still in prison. Apartheid, like the infamous Dred Scott decision in the US Supreme Court, seemed invincible.
The CHOGM leaders broke into a caucus to meet again in London to follow up on sanctions with Pindling as chairman.
The daily radio news, nightly news cast and newspaper reports on the massacres in Soweto, the tenacity of Bishop Desmond Tutu, the spirit and flair and courage of Winnie Mandela, the sacrifice of Steven Biko, the martyr; was not lost on Bahamian society.
So when Sir Sol’s investment was publicly announced by the new Bahamian Government led by Hubert Alexander Ingraham it became a political football. This was the South Africa of terrible and incredible cruelty.
With the Bahamas a signatory to the Gleneagles Agreement, which frowned on states doing business with South Africa; it was fairly easy for the Bahamian political activists to find a soap box.
Of course much of this synergy was driven by the perceived absence of a new political personality; aspirants to become the new Lynden Pindling; and to draw a line in the sand. The political rhetoric of the 60s was fading; and most people saw it as regurgitations of the long won political battles and the conjecture of a by gone era.
The newly minted Prime Minister Hubert Alexander Ingraham, a former national chairman of the Pindling Progressive Liberal Party had also served as a Cabinet Minister in the Pindling Government. He and his law partner Perry G. Christie were fired from the Cabinet in 1984 for their perceived challenge to Pindling and members of his inner circle over other hot button issues. And the rest they say is history.
Mr. Ingraham has won a landslide majority in the popular vote and in the Parliament. He has crossover appeal with disgruntled PLPs eager for political change after 25 years and the demographics of his Free National Movement political party gave him extra change in the cash till to defeat the nay sayers to the Atlantis investment.
In Parliament, Mr. Ingraham had to face down skilled former colleagues from the defeated Government who accused him of selling the country out and tagged the Atlantis investment as a mill stone because of its concessions in the Heads of Agreement.
“Re-Negotiate! Re-negotiate!” was the echo of the opposition.
And then it happened. Apartheid came crumbling down in South Africa. Nelson Mandela walked out of jail. And would visit the Bahamas and show support for Sir Sol and his investment.
Even as Atlantis opened its doors and the world came to marvel at the grandeur, opulence and magnificence of its theme, “the lost world of Atlantis”, the opposition was still seething.
In 1997, Mr. Ingraham returned to the polls in constitutionally mandated general elections; again defeating Pindling and the PLP. Pindling resigned as Leader of the PLP, a position he had held for 30 years. Within days in a Special Convention; Perry Christie was elected the new Leader of the party and subsequently sworn in as Leader of the Official Opposition.
Mr. Christie, who had cut his teeth as a big corporate attorney began in earnest to change the rhetoric of the party. Here was a new PLP Leader who wanted to meet with Mr. Kerzner , establish good will and support the thousands of Bahamians employed there.
Mr. Christie was in office as Prime Minister when Butch Kerner, Sir Sol’s son and the CEO at Atlantis died in a tragic helicopter crash in the Dominican Republic in October 2006.
Mr. Christie’s Tourism Cabinet Minister Obie Wilchcombe accompanied Sir Sol on a special flight to the DR to claim his son’s body. And the nation mourned with the Atlantis staff and the Kerzner family.
When Resorts International arrived in the Bahamas in 1966 its principals I G Jack Davis and James Crosby were only names. Few of the hundreds of persons employed there ever met Crosby or Davis; much less knew what they looked like. When Donald Trump assumed ownership for a very short period; his media presence loomed large but Trump soon sold to Merv Griffin, a billionaire television celebrity. They were owners who did not engage with the Bahamian people and their employees in the way that Sir Sol Kerzner was about to introduce.
He will live larger than legend, a giant of a man, the myth and a true friend of the Bahamian people, forever.