The original Eleuthera Properties Ltd. was formed in the 50’s by Juan Trippe (Pan Am), Edgar Kaiser (Kaiser Aluminum) to acquire 8000 acres in south Eleuthera from Arthur Vining Davis (founder of Alcoa) who had started the process of development. The Company owned the land and built and owned the Rock Sound Airport (PanAm had daily service from NYC believe it or not), the Cotton Bay Club and Golf Club, the Rock Sound Club and the Winding Bay Club. The Clubs were world-class and managed by an Austrian who had European chefs. We stayed at the Rock Sound Club during its heyday in the late 60s and I had the opportunity to meet Juan Trippe and his wife who was having dinner with Aristotle Onassis and his then wife, Maria Callas. VW buses would whisk us to evening bonfires on remote beaches, the Hat Dance and the Limbo were nightly affairs, the dress was formal…you get the picture. Today all three clubs are closed, with the exception of a few meager rooms the Rock Sound Club.
What happened? The movement for independence from Great Britain was inspired by many of the same grievances and motivations that we Americans fought a Revolution over. The issues were manifold and all amplified by the racial divide and the desire to have “Bahamas for Bahamians” and take over, for example, the tourist industry and jobs.The Brits announced their plan to grant independence in the late 70s and independence took place in 1973. Bahamians are and should be proud of their independence. The problem was that the owners and operators of the many Clubs throughout the Bahamas started to fear the changes that were to occur and there was tremendous capital flight. One of the first acts of the new Bahamian government was to pull the work visas for all foreign chefs and club managers and send them packing. People were put in charge of the Clubs who were political colleagues of the leaders and ruling party. Guess what? The owners of the Clubs stopped putting money in and quality declined and people, over time, stopped coming. The homeowner market remained steady but new home construction slowed way down.
Well, the owners were getting old, their heirs didn’t have the interest to fight the battles and so Eleuthera Properties was sold to a Bahamian group of investors, the Current Eleuthera Properties Ltd., not too long after independence whose number included Albert Sands (who built and owned the Market in Rock Sound, today run by his wife and children) and Franklyn Wilson (a successful builder in Nassau). They tried to make a go of it at the Cotton Bay Club but by then the deterioration was just too great. They sold Cotton Bay to a wealthy Columbian some time ago who promised to redevelop the area. He has bought many of the homes there from the original owners and may, in fact, build a small resort and get the Golf Course going again. They sold Winding Bay to an Italian travel company, Venta, who kept things going there until Hurricane Floyd caused substantial damage, forcing it to close for repairs in 1999. Two years later, with little in the way of repairs done, 9/11 put a huge damper on the travel industry and the Venta Club is a ruin, and listed for sale for years. The Rock Sound Club was sold to Bob Chappell who is trying to make a go of it still but the rooms are meager. Note: Lisa’s TeaHouse Restaurant and Bar is located in the old Tea Room at Rock Sound and is our favorite local restaurant in South Eleuthera. The Bahamian government bought the airport.
Today the new owners still own most of the 8000 acres and are attempting to develop a new Cotton Bay and Golf Club near the old one but it’s been a struggle with the economy. Tom Sands (Albert’s son) is a champion for economic development for south Eleuthera. For Juan Trippe, Edgar Kaiser and Arthur Vining Davis, money was no object; nor was it for the Christies who developed Windermere for principally British owners. Today’s international property developers still find the Bahamas a difficult place to develop and need to see economic viability. Tom and his colleagues, with the support of the central and local Government will figure this out in time. Those of us who are property owners will help as we can. The place is just too gorgeous and too close to the US not to be more thriving. With the many changes brought about by Independence…it just takes time…sometimes decades.