“Grenada, Sandals wants to thank you, thank you like it’s hard to say. Thank you very much for all that you have done”.
Those were the words issued by an emotional Gordon “Butch” Stewart, head of the multi-million dollar chain of Sandals all-inconclusive resorts in the Caribbean as he praised the efforts of all those persons and businesses in the Spice Isle that helped in getting the 225 room hotel ready for its opening last December.
Addressing a ceremony last Friday night to thank the local construction companies involved in the project, Stewart paid tribute to the quality of workmanship done by the Grenadian workforce in getting the Sandals/La Source hotel ready to welcome its first set of guests.
The function was held on the open grounds of the hotel and attended by most of the leading hoteliers and private sector officials on the island, as well as a host of government leaders headed by Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell.
Stewart told the gathering that a bit of history was created in Grenada with the workers actually building a new hotel within a nine month period – a first for any signature Sandal resort anywhere in the world.
He spoke of learning a lesson from the Grenada experience in that the workers on the construction site were always willing to give of their best in ensuring that the project was successful for the good of the country.
“I have never seen a people with more open arms just waiting to see Grenada prospers and does better and doing good”, he quipped.
Stewart was proud of the work done on the project site by the major construction firms on the island such as Creative Designs of Anselm La Touche, Quinn Company, Best Quote of Ian “Judah” St. Bernard, Sun Rise of Desmond “DJ” John, Daniel & Daniel and the Marshall Brothers.
Stating that “the quality of the finishes does not get any better” as was done at the local resort by those Grenadian builders, Stewart told the gathering that, “I have never before seen five major contractors work side by side (and) working out any problems. It’s the most incredible thing. Not only that … the more pressure took place, the more those Grenadian contractors stepped up to the plate”.
The leading Caribbean businessman is confident that the quality of work demonstrated by the local workforce augurs well for the future development of the construction sector in the country.
“I have never ever seen a work site so co-ordinated with people working extra hours every day of my life. What we did, I think it’s probably a record. We built a hotel in nine-and-a-half months”, he remarked.
Stewart described as “unbelievable” the quality of the finishing touches to the hotel by the local workmanship.
The Jamaican-born entrepreneur also commented on the high standards used in the criteria to select local persons to work in management at the newly opened resort.
He spoke about being impressed with the reaction of those persons who did not succeed but still wanted to land jobs at Sandals/La Source in ordinary positions like waiters and bar maids even though some of them possessed university education.
“People that did not get the jobs in Management because the bar was set so high (but) these people turned around and asked to be placed (in other areas)”, he said.
This attitude, according to Stewart led him to believe that the locals do not want to leave Grenada but are committed to seeing their country prosper.
He disclosed that since the Sandals-La Source opened its doors to guests within the past six weeks “the service scores are going through the roofs” in terms of the performance of the workers in different service areas.
“Every passing day, the records for the guests are getting better and better”, he remarked.
Stewart also praised the efforts of three locals – Sir Royston Hopkin, Richard Mc McIntyre and attorney-at-law, Jimmy Bristol – for the influential roles played in getting him to invest in a local property since he has had his eyes set on investments in the spice Isle for over 12 years.
Referring to Sir Royston as “a real man”, the Jamaican top entrepreneur said that the owner of Spice Island Beach Resort impressed upon the government of the day, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) of Tillman Thomas the necessity of bringing Sandals to Grenada when La Source became available for sale by Leon Taylor, the previous owner.
Faced with mounting financial debts to creditors mainly his bankers, Taylor was forced to sell his shares in the luxury hotel that was one of two brand name hotels to be build under the former 1990-95 Congress government of Prime Minister sir Nicholas Brathwaite.
The new Congress administration of then Prime Minister Thomas granted the requisite concessions as part of the deal with Taylor and Sandals then agreed to pump in US$100 million over a 3-year period in expanding and upgrading the hotel that is located within five minutes of the Maurice Bishop International Airport (MBIA).
In the case of Mc Intyre, a long-standing personal friend, Stewart said of him, “We just could not be here without him. He has helped us in every regard”.
Stewart described Bristol, a former Attorney-General under the Congress government, as one of the drives forces in the negotiations for the hotel which at the peak of construction provided employment to close to 1, 900 workers on the site.
“It would be hard for me to describe his (Bristol) abilities, the passion with which he goes about his legal work, the dedication – quite amazing. I want to thank him for pioneering the negotiations which I think will have an amazing effect on the Caribbean for the future”, he said.
This is an obvious reference to the proposals put forward by Sandals with serious input from Bristol to get the type of concessions that were needed to facilitate its entry into the Grenadian market.
Stewart also lauded the role played by a host of government agencies such as the Customs Department and the Grenada Airports Authority in facilitating the smooth construction of the hotel.
The hotelier also used the ceremony to announce that he had approached the Mitchell government to open a Call Centre facility on the property site that would provide additional employment opportunities for locals.
Sandals have Call Centres on some of their other properties around the Caribbean like its home base in Jamaica, as well as St. Lucia.
Stewart said that he is hopeful of building the facility in about 60 days time.
The Mitchell government between the period 1999 to 2008 had ventured into a Call Centre experiment at the Seamoon Industrial plant in St. Andrew’s but it collapsed with the State losing millions of dollars in the ill-conceived investment.
In related news, the Butch Stewart-led company has announced that its recently acquired Sandals Barbados resort is to close on April 1 for a multi-million dollar make-over.
The 280-room resort will undergo an extensive refurbishment costing $65 million and is due to re-open again in December.
Guests with reservations to stay during the closure have been asked to consider relocating to another of the group’s resorts including Sandals Emerald Bay, Bahamas and Sandals LaSource Grenada.
The renovation project will include seven new restaurants, a Club Sandals lounge, a wedding garden and beachfront whirlpool.
There will also be two additional tennis courts built, Wi-Fi installed and all guest rooms will be refurbished.
Sandals Chairman Butch Stewart said the new Sandals Barbados resort will follow the creative design and layout of the recently opened Sandals Grenada resort, saying “it is time for the ‘Sandalisation’ to start in what is an exciting future for Sandals and Barbados as a destination.”
Sandals acquired the 10-acre resort, formerly the Couples Barbados resort in a deal concluded last October.