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The Bahamas–playground for the uber rich

The Bahamas–playground for the uber rich

From rap stars to sheiks and movie A-listers the ultra rich spend their millions in paradise

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The Bahamas Investor Magazine
January 1, 2009
January 1, 2009
Gillian Beckett

There is rich, then there is uber rich. The mega wealthy live in a different world from the simply “well off.” Sheiks, pop stars, sporting greats, movie A-listers and moguls rub elbows in the planet’s most exclusive clubs, casinos, hotels and marinas far from the madding, cash-concerned crowds. The uber rich think nothing of dropping a few hundred thousand at the roulette table or many millions to buy an island. Luckily for The Bahamas, they think nothing of dropping quite a few of their mega millions here.

The numbers of ultra high-net-worth-individuals (HNWI), characterized by having more than US$30 million in financial assets, increased by 8.8 per cent in 2007, according to the 12th World Health Report 2008, numbering around 8,000. But $30 million is small time compared to the wealth amassed by the members of The Sunday Times’ annual 100 rich list whose combined assets were worth over US$800 billion last year.

Yves Lourdin, president and managing director of Pictet Bank & Trust, says he has seen a rise of ultra HNWIs on the archipelago over the past 30 years, due to the country’s stable government, proximity to the US, sound legislation and effective telecommunications. “These ingredients certainly invite these individuals to consider [living] in The Bahamas,” he says. “Even we did not realize that Nassau would become such an attractive locale for ultra HNWIs.”

This is all good news for those offering luxury investments and high-end services in The Bahamas.

Islands for sale
With about 700 islands and cays, an island in The Bahamas is an attractive investment for the ultra rich for a host of reasons. “For some people, a private island means status, for others, they want the ultimate retreat,” says John Christie, vice-president of marketing for H G Christie real estate. “They’ve got the jet and the yacht; for some the next step may be to have their own island.”

Johnny Depp for example reportedly paid $3.6 million for Little Hall’s Pond Cay, a 35-acre island in the Exumas, while filming Pirates of the Caribbean in 2004.

At the high end, islands such as Bird Cay, in the Berry Islands, run to $28 million, whereas Children’s Bay Cay in the Exumas has an upcoming luxury development with 14 parcel lots ranging from 5.5 to 16 acres at about $1 million per acre. However, these pale in comparison with Charles Island, which made Forbes.com’s list of the world’s most expensive islands. This 55-acre slice of paradise, located near Eleuthera, although still barely developed, carries an asking price of $39 million.

But buying a private island is an investment not only reserved for the ultra rich. “We have a private island listed for sale in the Abacos that’s about $200,000,” says Christie. “[With development] there’s no reason why it couldn’t be worth $500,000 in two years … it can be a very good investment even for the regular person.”

Exclusive homes
If a private island seems a little too “Swiss Family Robinson,” then purchasing a palatial home in a swanky upscale community may be just the ticket.

Lyford Cay, in western New Providence, is one of The Bahamas’ most desirable communities to live in. According to Christie, the biggest properties in the exclusive development sell for $20 million plus, and beachfront homes for $10 million and up.

Another favoured enclave of the super rich is Paradise Island. Formerly known as Hog Island, supermarket heir Huntington Hartford II transformed the island into a homestead of the super wealthy back in 1959. Since then, several notables have resided there, including late actor Richard Harris, basketball superstar Michael Jordan, actor Nicolas Cage, and Atlantis resort developer Sol Kerzner.

High-end service
From the finest dining to security precautions, the uber rich demand a very specific set of services and those of the highest standard. In Nassau a whole sector has arisen to cater to the particular needs of the rich and famous.

Odyssey Aviation, formerly known as Million Air, handles all kinds of aircraft ranging from sleek Citation jets, fighter planes, to helicopters and custom Boeing 747s, the favoured mode of air transport among Saudi royalty. Ruth Thackray, marketing and customer development manager notes that about 120 private planes land each day, carrying everyone from “super mega wealthy fashion designers and film superstars to sports stars, billionaire dot-commers and oil tycoons.”

Once passengers arrive at Odyssey, they are treated to a complimentary concierge service that caters to even the most extravagant requests. “If they need pink birthday cupcakes put on the plane before they leave, or homemade dog treats for their dog—whatever they want, we’ll try to find it for them,” says Thackray.

But many uber rich prefer to arrive in paradise on their own floating palaces.

Stroll along Paradise Island’s Hurricane Hole Marina and the Marina at Atlantis, and you will find a multitude of eye-popping luxury yachts, many of which are charter boats and privately owned vessels, says John Spooner, managing director of yacht charter company, Bahama Experience, Inc. “[Luxury yachts] are an expensive game,” he says, “but this is a rich man’s playground, and there’s a lot of them around.”

Sheiks, Russian billionaires and A-list celebrities spare no expense when it comes to outfitting their yachts with such luxuries as movie theatres, bowling alleys, hot tubs and helicopter landing pads. “There’s endless things with some of these boats,” says Spooner. “The more money people get, the bigger the boats become.”

Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen has docked his $200-million plus, 416-ft behemoth Octopus at Prince George Dock, usually reserved for gigantic cruise ships.

Playground of the wealthy
For the uber rich, finding something to do in The Bahamas is limited only by the scope of their imagination.

Island hopping is a popular pastime. Landing at the exclusive Harbour Island, visitors may bump into such “locals” as supermodel Elle MacPherson, Waste Management owner and Blockbuster founder, billionaire Wayne Huizenga, or Island Records mogul Chris Blackwell.

For somewhere a little more private, Musha Cay and the Islands of Copperfield Bay offers opulent accommodations for up to 24 guests, fine dining, secluded beaches and more for a mere $392,000 per week.

Many A-listers and ultra-rich opt for more cosmopolitan surroundings provided by top-drawer resorts such as Atlantis, which spares no effort to accommodate the mega rich. “Our VIP services team works around the clock to cater to the requests of our VIP guests,” says Meagan McCutcheon, manager, corporate public relations for Kerzner International. “Atlantis hosts many notable guests including professional athletes, actors, musicians and politicians … we respect their privacy and do our best to ensure their visit is relaxing and peaceful.”

The Bridge Suite is ideal for such VIPs, with presidential luxury costing $25,000 a night. High rollers can drop a fortune at Atlantis casino’s high limit area. Players with $1 million in bankroll may bet up to $20,000 on blackjack or $50,000 on baccarat in opulent privacy.

High-end retailers such as Versace or Escape, which features such designers as Michael Kors, Harry’s of London, Anika Brazil and Lora Piana, offer exclusive shopping for the well-heeled, shutting off areas from the public so the famous can shop in peace.

Exclusive dining
Restaurants can also be rented out for private parties and occasions. Nobu, a favourite among A-list celebrities, and Café Martinique, overlooking the Marina at Atlantis, can be reserved for $30,000-$50,000, depending on the time of year. Nightclub Aura is also open for private functions—the cost depends on the number of invited guests.

McCutcheon notes that Stevie Wonder recently celebrated his birthday at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill, located at The Cove at Atlantis. The birthday party included guests Kanye West, Whitney Houston, Ashanti, Natalie Cole, Joss Stone and John Legend, to name a few, who dined on a menu specially created by celebrity chef Flay who also designed an elaborate cake in the shape of a harmonica, topped with 57 candles.

The Cove was also the setting for singer Jewel’s secret nuptials to longtime boyfriend and rodeo star Ty Murray, who, with a reported two wedding guests, enjoyed a breathtaking fireworks display put on purely for their benefit.

There are other venues besides Atlantis that have been known to cater to the uber wealthy. Graycliff, for example, the first five-star restaurant in the Caribbean, is renowned among the elite set for its vast collection of fine handcrafted cigars and exceptional wines. Oenophiles with oodles of cash may want to add an 1827 Villar D’Allen port for $11,850 or a 1779 Verdelho Soleara for $23,375. Hip hop mogul and superstar Jay Z reportedly once purchased a Petrus 1945 for $20,000.

Whether cruising in on a megayacht or winging in on a private jet for a day, a week or a year, the uber rich continue to party, play and invest in The Bahamas. As for the locals, they take little notice. “Bahamians are generally unimpressed with such things,” says Ian Robertson, overseer of Atlantis’ yacht charter bookings. “The more important you tell a Bahamian that you are, the less they pay attention to you—which is exactly what the ultra rich want.”

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