BIMINI, Bahamas (29 August 2006) -- For decades, all it has taken to lure tourists to this Bahamian island 48 miles east of Florida has been clear water, world-class fishing and the lack of just about everything else.
So Lloyd ''Duda'' Edgecombe, a Bimini district council member, questions the wisdom of Miami developers who want to build a 250-room hotel, 18-hole golf course, 550-slip marina and glitzy casino on a flattened strip of sand once thick with marshes and mangroves.
The project, the Bimini Bay Resort and Casino, is far from the largest development in the Bahamas, but it's massive by Bimini standards. It will ultimately cover a tenth of the island, and developers promise it will create jobs for the entire population of 1,700.
But some critics worry it's also an example of how such mega-projects threaten the environment and the traditional island lifestyle that beckons visitors to places like Bimini in the first place.
Just a two-hour journey by fast boat from South Florida, or a 20-minute flight, Bimini has always been a world away. Over the years, personalities such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and author Ernest Hemingway -- who wrote of its ''gin clear'' waters -- have been lured by Bimini's island vibe and sportfishing culture.
Now the world is coming to Bimini. Led by RAV Bahamas, a subsidiary of Miami's Capo Group, the $850 million project will eventually cover about one square mile of this 9.5-square-mile island. The upscale resort will include a hotel managed by the Conrad Hilton chain, a shopping court with a Starbucks and a casino with a 10,000-square-foot gambling floor.
About 140 houses and condos have already been built -- and sold -- as part of the development, and the construction site is teeming with earthmovers and backhoes racing to build about 350 more. There is a two-year waiting list to purchase homes.
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