Bitcoin Island: How a Caribbean paradise is creating the world’s first crypto community

Residents will be able to buy homes and pay for services in Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum and Dogecoin, Graeme Massie writes

Monday 24 May 2021 15:26
<p>The harbour of Port Elisabeth in Bequia, part of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.</p>

The harbour of Port Elisabeth in Bequia, part of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

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With glamorous Mustique, the private playground beloved by the likes of David Bowie and Mick Jagger, just nine miles across the sparkling Caribbean, the island of Bequia has always been content with being a more low-profile neighbour.

But that may be about to change, as a young property developer is creating the world’s first Bitcoin community on the tropical island.

Storm Gonsalves plans to build 39 luxurious villas, as well as bars, shops, restaurants and a clubhouse, where cryptocurrency-friendly residents will be able to pay for everything in Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum and Dogecoin.

They will also be able to buy the two to five bedroom villas, which range in price from $1.1m to $2.3m, in any of the digital currencies.

“Bequia has always been kind of this sailors’ island, where you go to get away from everybody, with no Internet, it’s almost like being on a deserted island,” Mr Gonsalves, 29, told The Independent.

“But for people of my generation its a bit different, they want adventure, just like the last generation, but they want that adventure with fast Wi-Fi, that’s what we are trying to bridge.”

The S-shaped island, the second biggest in the Grenadines, is located south of St Vincent and north of Mustique.

Now it is set to be a trailblazer for cryptocurrencies, which has earned it the nickname of Bitcoin Island.

Mr Gonsalves, who was mentored by the late multi-millionaire British publishing mogul Felix Dennis, says he is inspired by the home the Maxim magazine founder bought on Mustique from David Bowie.

“Some of our buyers will decide to live in them full time, others will be passing through art certain times of the year, and when they are not in their home we can rent it out on their behalf, and we will turn the community into a resort,” he said.

“The centre of the resort is the clubhouse, where we will have a restaurant and bars, a gym, a spa and a private cinema.

“What I am particularly keen on is the games room. David Bowie used to have a house on Mustique, which was then purchased by Felix Dennis.

“He was one of my early business mentors and the house he bought from David Bowie had this incredible room with pinball machines, with its own stage where you could play guitars and jam out.

“We want to recreate that, along with a community pool, even though all of the villas will come with their own pool built in.”

The Caribbean is dotted with exclusive resorts and communities, but Mr Gonsalves says he wants to do something decidedly different with his company One Bequia.

“The homes are priced in US dollars but we are also offering the ability to pay in cryptocurrencies. So we will accept Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum and Dogecoin, which is obviously a favourite of Elon Musk,” he said.

“I realised that the people who are holding very valuable cryptocurrency portfolios, really don’t have an easy way to spend it to purchase properties.

“If we make it super easy for someone to pay in Bitcoin, or Dodgecoin, I think it will set us apart from our competition.

“With the cryptocurrency market having a value of around $2 trillion, it’s a market that you can’t ignore, and it’s a market that is underserved.

“Nowhere else on planet Earth is there a $2 trillion market that no property developers are addressing. I think that a lot of developers are not offering this because of an irrational fear of cryptocurrency.”

Mr Gonsalves says he is not put off by the wild swings in value that come with cryptocurrency, or the sharp sell-of that took place in the last week.

“If you bought in early then you are sitting on a sizeable amount of money, even if it is slightly less sizeable than it was last week,” he laughed.

“During the last boom cycle Bitcoin was at around $19,000 and went down to about $3,000, and people kept pushing on, in fact the person I’m appealing to, when the price goes down they double down and see it as a huge opportunity.

“For those who believe in Bitcoin and crypto and have found themselves with a sizeable investment, the opportunity to buy a property in Bitcoin or any other of these currencies is an opportunity to diversify their portfolio. So if it does crash again they will have something in the physical world.”

He explained that all of the shops, restaurants and bars will accept Bitcoin or the other approved cryptocurrencies as payment.

And the community will rely on payment processors that have been approved by the US Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.

“It will be as simple as spending cash or using a debit card. We will have our wallet address displayed and once you get your bill, the Bitcoin quote will be valid for 15 minutes.

“And once the transaction is completed within that 15 minutes we won’t have to worry about any of the volatility.”

And he he is hoping to extend Bitcoin payment across the island.

“We want to include everybody on the island and get them involved, spread the benefits and the money around a bit,” he insisted.

“We will be encouraging them, and working with them to set up with their own payment processors that will allow them to also accept Bitcoin

“I spent a lot of my childhood in Bequia so I’m a known person there, and people have been coming up to me in the stores and asking me when they can start working, farmers are asking me when they can start supplying the restaurant, the shops with their craftwork and all of that.

“So everybody on the island has been very supportive of it.”

Mr Gonsalves anticipates that the $50m development will generate “several million” dollars a year for the community after it opens.

He insists that people do not have to own Bitcoin to buy into the development, as properties will be offered in US dollars, but he expects residents to be “at least open to the idea of it and its importance in the modern world”.

“I think most people will buy with Bitcoin from the reaction I have gotten so far, as it is a validation of the philosophy that Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies are the new medium of exchange,” he said.

And he admitted that he has been taken aback at the interest generated in the project, which he hopes to break ground on later this year.

He had been aiming to sell 10 villas a year and complete construction by 2024, but he now anticipates selling up to 75 per cent of the villas by the end of the year.

“I got a lot of advice early on in this project, with people saying that Bitcoin was too gimmicky and would chase people away, but the response we are getting is immense,” he said.

“The villa I’m selling for $2.3m on Bequia would be worth $15m on Mustique and I think we have the trajectory to be one of those islands in the next five to ten years with the help of Bitcoin.”

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