published Friday, May 9th, 2014

Selling a dream: Chattanoogan to develop Bahamian island

Island to include home for Make-A-Wish kids

In addition to making dreams come true for Harris and his clients, Escape Cay will feature a home where children from the Make-A-Wish Foundation can stay if they so choose. Another home on the island will serve as a vacation home for soldiers coming out of duty and missionaries returning from service. Harris volunteers his time and the use of his plane to the Make-AWish Foundation, piloting kids around the country to their dream destinations. “That’s just a love I have for Make- A-Wish, what it does for the kids,” says Harris.

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Escape Cay Resort

What: 36 tropical storm-proof, 2,650-square-foot waterfront homes with two master suites and 32-foot sliding glass door; 800-square-foot over-water bungalows; Resort featuring pavilions, pool, walking trails, exercise room and gourmet dining.

Where: Escape Cay, 120-acre Bahamian island in the Exuma district of The Commonwealth of the Bahamas.

When: Phase I, 18 homes, finished by 2015; Phase II, resort and bungalows finished by 2017; Phase III, final 18 homes finished by 2018

How Much: Phase I homes, $850,000, or rent at $6,000 to $12,000 a week

Contact: associatedislanddevelopers@gmail.com

The twang in David Harris' voice is indicative of the thing he says after addressing the folks who came out to hangar four at the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport on Thursday evening to hear about his Bahamian island development.

"I'm a Chattanoogan, so this is my home" he said.

And with a gesture toward a map of Escape Cay projected on a raised platform nearby, "This is my dream."

Harris is president of Associated Island Developers Ltd. and is behind Escape Cay Resort, which will sit on an unspoiled, 120-acre island in the Bahamas.

Specifically, Escape Cay Resort will be in the Exuma district of the country. Exuma consists of 360 islands.

Chief Councillor Godfrey Gray, equivalent of the mayor of Exuma, even attended Thursday evening's event.

Gray boasted about the island that Harris has picked out for his development.

"He found what is, I think, one of the most beautiful islands," he said.

And he said the community is ready to see construction begin.

Reliant on tourism for upwards of 60 percent of the Bahamian economy, Gray said a development like the one Harris has proposed will be an enormous economic boom to the Exuma community, which is home to only about 7,000 people.

The Bahamas all told have a population of about 330,000 -- nearly a tenth of the population of Tennessee.

So when his community sees a multi-million-dollar development, it's exciting and encouraging, Gray said.

What's more is that the islands, which depend on their natural beauty as tourist attractions, will also be getting a marine biology research center with Harris' development.

It will be located on the 120-acre island along with Escape Cay Resort, and the research facility's construction will be financed by Harris. After it's completed, colleges and universities will be able to use the facility for research.

"We really want to give back to the environment," said Harris during his presentation.

Prior to Thursday evening's event, three of the initial 18 vacation homes slated to be built by 2015 had already been spoken for by interested buyers. Those 18 homes represent phase one of the project.

By the end of Thursday's event, Harris said he'd been approached by five additional parties who say they want one of the first homes to be built.

Those homes are going for $850,000.

"People right now don't have the $3 million expendable income for a vacation home," said Harris.

The resort and vacation homes can be reached via a two-hour Delta flight out of Atlanta. There is an international airport in Georgetown, capital of Exuma, which lies 15 minutes from Escape Cay Resort.

Harris said airline tickets last time he priced them for that trip were about $650.

"It's doable for a long weekend," he said.

Gray and his family -- wife Firstina, brother Nigel, sisters Nancy and Judy -- flew into Florida and drove up to attend Thursday's event.

Traffic jams in Atlanta set the group, along with Renee Culmer, operations manager at Exuma Travel and Transportation Ltd., back some. But Gray said it didn't bother them, as they don't get to see the city that often.

On Thursday, the Exuma group met with Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke and had lunch at Champy's Chicken.

During a presentation to the crowd, Gray commended Harris for his work on the Bahamian resort and willingness to invest in Exuma, and create an estimated 250 temporary jobs and 50 permanent ones.

"The people of Exuma are waiting patiently for this project to get started," he said. "I'm sure that when it's all said and done, Chattanooga will be a part of Exuma."

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480.

about Alex Green...

Alex Green joined the Times Free Press staff full-time in January 2014 after completing the paper's six-month, general assignment reporter internship. Alex grew up in Dayton, Tenn., which is also where he studied journalism at Bryan College. He graduated from Rhea County High School in 2008. During college, Alex covered the city of Graysville and the town of Spring City for The Herald-News. As editor-in-chief of Bryan College's student news group, Triangle, Alex reported on ...

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