The history of the Stella Maris Resort, Bahamas.
(In the owners own words, written May 1997)
Dr. Herbert Schnapka, City of Bochum, Germany, Industrialist (Oil - for example involved in bunker station Freeport, Grand Bahama) purchased 1 or 2 pieces of land, from 'someone' without inspection - located in "Adderley's" Long Island, about 1000 acres. Purpose; Unknown.
Subsequently, he sent a real estate acquaintance/friend, Harry Aufochs (dealing in real estate in South Africa, then Ireland and Germany) over to 'look it over'. Upon return, H Aufochs reported that it was too small to turn into development - suggested purchasing more.
This they did, managing to add another 1500 acres, approx, to the above quantity, with adjoining property lines.
H Aufochs was made managing director/partner and started, with the assistance of one first Manager-Assistant, Goesta Schaper, of Germany, operating out of Nassau.
Plans were made for 48 miles of roads, a first, small generator electricity station, a small ground water pump/delivery system, a 2000ft gravel runway, an 8 room, 2 cottage/small clubhouse guesthouse.
Summer - official opening of airport at 'Stella Maris Inn', guesthouse under 'management' of a Chef de Cuisine, from Germany (or Switzerland) named 'Hans'.
The then Governor of the Crown Colony of the Bahamas and various dignitaries came, opened, christened, had a bite and a drink and returned to Nassau.
Hans, meanwhile, did his very best to get acquainted with the 'unspoken for' ladies of the island but spent precious little time on matters of operation of the guest house.
This became obvious even during the sporadic, short visits of H Aufochs/G Schaper, always flying in from Nassau per charter or per (once a week - if luck had it such) DC3 airline - Deadman's Cay Airport, from Nassau... so that he decided to turn things around by putting responsibilities onto an operator directly.
An ad was placed, in his 'contact town' of Duesseldorf, Germany (near Bochum) , listing the lease availability of a 'COMPLETE, AMERICAN-STYLED COTTAGE HOTEL' to a willing, able, suitably trained/educated young 'couple' (preferred), such not to be entirely without financial recources.
Gaby and Joerg Friese, then 22/23, hotel-apprenticed/trained, read such an ad, called, signed a contract within a few weeks and arrived, with son Joel M. age 18 months, on September 10th, 1965 - the night before hurricane 'Betsy'.
Not able to leave Nassau for 1 week, finally they reached Long Island one DC3 flight later. Complete it was not, neither hotel-style, nor American, the 'hotel'. But, there it was. In the middle of bush, with roads just being pushed through the area. Without any business potential whatsoever seemingly. Without staff. Without customers. Without facilities of any kind, for sports and/or any entertainment. But, with a self owned and fully functioning telephone.
Then, first one-night visit of potential land-buying customers, fortunately from Germany, falling in love with the place's and the islands simplicity - instead of one night, staying one month - and forthwith again and again and again. Others followed, land was being sold, more by mail than in person - but eventually inspections took place, providing the 'Inn' with some business.
A car was being bought, another followed, another again.... car rentals were in place.
A first dinghy was being bought, another followed.... fishing was in place.
A first snorkel trip ensued, this was being recognised as being extremely attractive.... snorkeling was in place.
Meanwhile, the need for some assistance became apparent (all activities had to be self-implemented, took a lot of time, lots of travelling, on/off island) and Peter Kuska, working colleague and friend of Gaby and Joerg's arrived (per one-way ticket, no immigration permit, no money, but, he was sporting the newest 'Times' heavy tweed suit, and bowler hat, directly from England.
The promise, food and a roof over his head! This sounded good enough to another 22 year old.
Real estate business and 'real' tourism went well enough to warrant an addition to the lease: Plus 8 rooms. Total capacity now 16 rooms.
The Inn now had some 6 vehicles (road conditions, atrocious) some 6 small boats, plus this and that. Repairs? Self-done. The shortcomings of this system became apparent very quickly. Hence, during the first vacation, running into another colleague/friend, Gerd and Monika Fuhrman were signed on, again from Germany, ages 24/25. Vague position, Monika, Office etc. Gerd all 'mechanicals', but mainly vehicles and boats.
Meanwhile, Stella Maris Marina was being 'dug'. First lease (of a piece of land) by Stella Maris Inn. First toolbox, then shed, then building, every main expenditure to be financed by a handshake loan from the very same family, the first guests (one night and 4 nights, 1965), from Duesseldorf, Erna and Taddeus Wilmanowicz. Ditto, first larger boat 28ft, then 42 ft.
The Stella Maris Estate real estate company, proposed selling the Inn to the operator/lessee group.
Without money, but based on yet another handshake deal with Wilmanowicz, for financial backing, they bought the place, on an instalment plan.... and went into yet additional leases for the next 6, then 4 more, guest units/rooms, small cottages (plus 2 pools etc).
Business progressed nicely, while the usual Out Island and general business 'Ups and Downs' prevailed from time to time.
Real marina facilities grew into place, always hand-shake next financing.... not always well-conceived plan.
Fortunately, in late 1967 SCUBA diving, then a fledgling sport, had been added, providing the grounds for some booming business. SCUBA operations were few and far between.... the mere promise of existence of some fairly dependably operating facilities could well fill any place, and so it did.
Demise of 'Flamingo Airways', a follow-up of the former 'Bahamas Airways' and another hand-shake deal. First Piper Aztec bought, first pilot hired, Harry Pinder, formerly flying the real estate company aircraft, meanwhile employed in Nassau, now to return to Long Island. Flamingo had operated Lockheed Electras (88 seats!) into/out of such strips as Deadman's Cay, Stella Maris and the likes!
Without replacement, no Inn/hotel could do business out here.
SCUBA diving, more than anything, brought international clients, including, through contacts existing from the earlier days, from Germany. International travels (New York, Hamburg, Frankfurt etc) established hotel representations, tour wholesaler contracts, all of which resulted in regular flows of American, Canadian and European (mostly German) tourism.
Capacity of the Inn those days, around 60-70. Another building was leased, while instalment payments attempted to catch up with the purchasing responsibilities, more and more technical facilities were added, especially in the area of watersports, including the marina.... the latter of which started developing its partially own business, boat docking, repairs, painting, etc.
Average occupancy those days. Early seventies to early eighties, 70%, resulting in actual people at any one time, from a low 30 to a high 90.
Staffing, same period, 50-60, kitchen, service, housekeeping, gardening, driving, watersports, mechanicals, maintenance, office, front desk etc. Foreign employment, NOT counting operator/owner group (5) less than 3%, 99% of the inn's then (and today's) staff were self/island/inn-trained.
Stella Maris Inn was known for lots of impromtu action/entertainment and personalized service, good food, dependable, but not elegant, facilities. A good day activity schedule (partially free of charge, almost first ever in the Bahamas!) and excellent SCUBA diving, great bonefishing, good, but little developed deepsea fishing, and an interesting mix of nationalities as far as guests were concerned.
A great help was the existence of Stella Maris Airport, meanwhile enlarged to 4050ft length, tarred.
The American and Canadian Private Pilots' tourism played a very significant role in the tourism of those days.
The business of the real estate company, in contrast, took slow but steady turns towards an almost complete standstill. The interest and attention span of the original owner/manager group were disintegrating at a fast pace. Goesta Schaper, married to Gail Thompson of Abaco in the late sixties (father and founder of Treasure Cay!), already back in Germany, H Aufochs of ill health in Germany.... and the Inn's owner/operator group worrying not a little about the surroundings future, in terms of appearence, management, control of electricity, water, the airport etc. Suddenly, the 'estate' was offered for sale. The Inn's group undertook various visits to Germany, to it's 'hand-shake financiers' and meanwhile significant Stella Maris-private investors in their own rights. Family Wilmanowicz, and in meetings with Herbert Schnapka, a deal was being struck. In 1979-80, a partnership "Wilmanowicz/Fries/Fuhrmann/Kuska" became the owners/operators of the 'Stella Maris Estates'.... and hence the 'Stella Maris Inn and Marina' and the Estate became partner/sister companies. A long time employer of the real estate firm, Eberhard Foelling, was taken on as a fifth partner.
About 50 properties were being sold (versus 2 or 3 during the preceding 6 years or so!) most, per decree of the operators/sellers, WITH a demand for immediate construction of vacation residences, over some two to two and a half years, and some 40 houses were being constructed, in addition to the then existing some 20-30. All this business resulted from the hotel owners 'operators' contacts, little resulted from actual broker contacts. Further contracts were being written at a fast pace, never before experienced on Long Island/in Stella Maris (except for the mail-sale-land-activity) of the 'early' days.
Some 230 construction workers were working in Stella Maris, plus some 70 at the Inn/Marina, plus some in 'special' projects (improvements/enlargements of electricity/water installations etc) Stella Maris became the main employer of the entire island, having been the main employer of the northern third, through its tourism business, for all of its past history.
Then, the introduction of the Foreign Investment Policy.... requiring applications which would not be processed. Stella Maris had to, in 1983, voluntarily cancel real estate sales/purchase contracts counting in many dozens, cancel construction contracts of the same magnitude.... and cancel all of the first three commercial business projects, all of which involved land sales, vacation/rental construction and subsequent operations of the same.
Land sales resulted in ZERO turnover, 1983 well into the nineties!
Construction, ZERO, for the same period.
In addition to these catastrophic events, tourism suddenly collapsed, as a result of a more than doubling of the US dollar vs European currency exchange rate as well as a result of the effect of sudden unemployment, experienced for the first time since World War 2 in the US and in Europe (and Germany as far as Stella Maris was concerned.
Bankruptcy was a real possibility for all of Stella Maris, the Inn, Marina and the Estate.
Yet added problems were the effects of the Bahamian Drug Trade Activities. Tourism shied away from the islands. Investors would not possibly touch them, unless they themselves were of ill repute.
New methods needed to be developed to counteract this situation, rapidly!
The Drug Trade, at least the obvious sections, were being 'pushed out' of the Inn by self made, bogus 'Government' regulations (passport check-ups, phone call reportings etc... self-devised by the Inn) money was re-borrowed heavily, and at a terrible interest level, to provide a fresh start of marketing and local presence. An office was being opened in Florida, staff hired, for a fresh and aggressive US and international marketing concept, all aimed at tourism, ignoring the real estate business.
This paid off, since 1987 from a catastrophic occupancy average of around 35%, yearly tourism increases always resulted in 15-25% betterments, year after year, the only year of a relative dip that of 1995, instantly recovered in 1996 etc.
Real estate, the first, 'tentative' deals/sales were made in 91, 92....resulting in the first few, new, construction jobs to be re-introduced to the area. Each year, 93, 94, 95 and 96 have seen improvements.
Today, the Inn/Marina, staffing, 70-80 full time, plus 20-30 in special jobs (maintenance, renewal etc) Foreign staff, 3, other than the owners/operators themselves (on Permanent Residence-with-Right-to-Work-status)
The Estate, 30 construction, presently
None of such figures include 'sub-contractors' and their employees (electricians, plumbers, truck-transport contractors etc)
Yearly gross income, directly into Stella Maris, some $4,000,000, not counting incomes, incurred by/through direct handling with Stella Maris Residents, estimated $750,000 (all tourism and construction) Plus 'other business' (shops etc) estimated $1,500,000 annually.
There has been a tremendous amount of foreign investment 'INTEREST', which has yet to become actual investment/involvement. A large 'new' development concept is 'on the drawing boards' involving European entrepreneurs. While realization is not yet certain, eventual developments along these lines are being firmly expected by the operators, on account of expectations of results of their own efforts as well of those of their European business partners. The climate of the country, as far as tourism development and local and foreign investment readiness are concerned is near perfect. The energetic show of legislative and Out Island infrastructure investment activities of Government has produced and is continually producing levels of goodwill and foreign (and local) development investment willingness of very keen level.
The future. Planning for a significant increase of physical presentation of the 'Estate', for real estate marketing purposes, increase of the international marketing (based on project presentations, vs, only-land-sale presentations) and aiming at....
Realization of development of added/new vacation hotel space of up to 500 units, with golf, plus residential construction (including a marine-canal-development concept) of some 400 units, plus 'normal' day-to-day business of the 'old' part of Stella Maris, re-marketing(developing hundreds of once-sold and still unsold properties....
.... and modernizing/increasing the Stella Maris Inn, now 'Stella Maris Resort Club' and Marina into one of the best-functional attractive and all-round-complete, but Out Island-styled/suitable Resorts imaginable, yet practical.
Today's activities of, 'Stella Maris Resort Club, Marina, Estate'
Car Rentals (as agents)
Scooter Rentals (as agents)
Deep Sea Fishing
Snorkeling (and J,M. Cousteau Out Island Program)
Various other watersports (waterski, sailing etc)
'Eco Tourism' (exploring, fauna/flora...)
Aviation (guest passenger service, charters)
Marine, Dockage, Hauling, Repairs, Fuel Sales, Part Sales, Dry-storage, Land/project brokerage
Construction (with Bahamian partners)
Water production/distribution/electricity standby operation.