To the east of the Abaco National Park, bordering that protected and vital habitat, are a string of private properties. Dating back to 2007, these properties have periodically been involved in speculation regarding some form of high-end development.
Development of this area, directly adjacent a protected forest as well as historically and culturally significant sites near Hole in the Wall and Lantern Head Point has consistently been rebuffed by residents and conservation groups.
In 2007 the group making the push for development was Valencia Capital Group.
However, rumblings have begun again about another group attempting the same thing. This new group, Kakona, has big plans: two golf courses, dredging through the beach and rocky shoreline of the Atlantic-facing shoreline to create artificial lagoons and marinas as well as a sprawling, luxury resort.
According to Kakona’s website describing one of their three properties – Conch Sound Point – “Additional Owner amenities include the Anacaona executive golf course, beach grill, four-lane bowling alley with adjacent cinema, billiards and bar, along with multiple dining venues, owner’s wine room and owner’s spa and fitness facility.”
Kakona appears to have similar plans to the now-maligned Valencia Group from 2007. Of course, Kakona is just the latest in a string of development companies to attempt a project in South Abaco.
In 2007 it was “Valencia.” In 2012 “The Resorts of South Abaco” came knocking. Followed in 2015 by “The Ranches of South Abaco.” Finally, in 2018, “Kakona” is making a play.
But these four different groups have a common string running through them: a gentleman named Steve Harrell II, CEO of Kakona, and Thomas Boynton – Chief Financial Officer.
According to his website, “Mr. Harrell has participated in a broad range of financial holdings and real estate transactions primarily related to the automotive industry. As Managing Member and CEO of South Abaco Land Development, Ltd., established in 2008, he oversaw the purchase of the 300-acre Conch Sound Point parcel and the 400-acre High Bank Bay parcel, both on the island of Great Abaco, Bahamas.”
Mr. Harrell’s name is also mentioned in a Securities and Exchange Commission fraud case in the United States.
According to court documents filed and publicly available at SEC.gov, “By approximately 2009, his family trust owned land in the Bahamas and began trying to develop a resort there. To do so, Harrell’s trust needed funds, partly because it owed taxes on the Bahamian land. Harrell initially sought to borrow money but, when that failed, Harrell hoped to establish a public company to hold the land and issue stock to the public to raise capital.”
This is where Mr. Harrell sought the help of one Robert Wilson of Black Diamond Asset Management. Mr. Wilson was the focus of the SEC’s fraud case.
In a July 24, 2014 email copied to Wilson and Steve Harrell II, Thomas Boynton (Kakona’s current Chief Financial Officer) specified steps for issuing stock to raise money to pay Bahamian back-taxes and begin development of Mr. Harrell’s land in Abaco.
Upon receiving Boynton’s email, Wilson thought the transaction structure was “ridiculous” because “130 million shares outstanding with a piece of property that was worth about $14 million, you know, it makes it a penny stock.”
The court document continues, “In approximately February 2015, the Bahamian government was ‘thinking about closing [Harrell and his group] down and … taking the land from them’ based on their failure to pay taxes.
“Harrell and Boynton therefore asked Wilson to write a letter to a Bahamian official about the future capital raise.
“On February 8, 2015, Wilson emailed Boynton a letter, addressed to the Bahamian prime minister.
“The letter referenced an upcoming ‘capital raise of the first $165 million USD from private sources that we currently manage or have beneficial access to.’”
No shares would ever be sold.
In testimony Mr. Wilson indicated that Harrell was then attempting to raise money independently and was told by Thomas Boynton they were receiving a cheque for $250,000 from an NFL player – Julio Jones. Boynton later said they never got that cheque.
It is unclear whether the taxes from this time period were ever paid to the Bahamian government.
That business with the SEC would not be the only time the Kakona / Valencia CEO would skirt with trouble. In Abaco, acting then as Valencia, the development demolished parts of protected, historical ruins near Lanternhead. They were bulldozed to clear an access road.
As of this writing neither “Valencia,” “Resorts,” “Ranches,” “Kakona” or any Steve Harrell II operated company have applied to Antiquities Monuments & Museums Corporation for permission to impact, let alone demolish, any part of the preserved ruins of South Abaco.
Historic buildings are not the only things at risk by the proposed Kakona development. The properties border the Abaco National Park and, while the private land itself is not marked as protected, the endemic Abaco parrot does not recognize imaginary borders.
In 2008 Abaco’s unofficial mascot numbered at ~1600. Through concerted effort, time and money by numerous individuals and organizations the parrot population is now a far healthier 8000. Clear-cutting the parrots’ critical feeding and nesting area for golf courses and man-made lagoons is sure to reverse this positive parrot population trend.
The Nature Conservancy did a study on Abaco to mark out the most critical and irreplaceable land on the island in regards to habitat and ecosystems. This study informed the government when it placed the Abaco National Park since this area is deemed 80% – 100% irreplaceable if destroyed. That same measure extends to Kakona’s private land.
Foreign direct investment in The Bahamas feeds our economy. “Development” is not a de facto dirty word. And Abaco has a lot of land for both. It can be done and it can be done well to everyone’s benefit.
But this project, proposed over the years under different names, is a hallmark of poor planning. Cutting through the beach and shoreline on the very active Atlantic side is a recipe for disaster and will irrevocably change the face of South Abaco. Construction on and destruction of our parrots’ critical foraging ground will ensure a less colourful future. The attempted restriction of access to a coastline that is the right of all Bahamians is clearly not the move of a good corporate citizen.
And Mr. Harrell, under the guise of several development companies, has already proven to be a poor corporate citizen: altering culturally significant sites, refusing to consult with the public, and not paying taxes. Additionally, they seem to be ignoring public right-of-ways that have stood since the early days when Abaco farmers needed to reach the bat caves for fertilizer.
It also is concerning that they have yet to meet with the South Abaco Local Government.
In a recent town hall meeting on Abaco, Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dionsio D’Aguilar mentioned the government was in the early stages of considering a development in South Abaco. Mr. D’Aguilar said the group proposing the development was not the infamous Valencia group. Technically, this is true. Kakona, if this is indeed the development he was referring to, does not share the same letters in the same order as Valencia. But it does share Mr. Harrell II and Mr. Boynton as well as their decade-long plans.
Mr. D’Aguilar also said the government was going to do its due diligence on the project. I sincerely hope that will be the case.