[BIMINI] Ansil Saunders remembers when names such as Rockefeller, Mellon and Ford appeared on the rolls at the local stops in Bimini. As a child, he performed in little dance shows to entertain the visiting tourists and fishing enthusiasts. Local businesses thrived on the visitors. But over the years, the fishing tournaments left the island, taking the tourists with them. Bimini remained an attraction on a smaller scale, but many locals thought the island’s glory days were behind it.

“It’s hard to get something back once you’ve lost it,” said Saunders, a lifelong Bimini resident. “We needed something to bring the people back.”

When developer Gerardo Capo came along several years ago and started construction on Bimini Bay Resort & Casino, the soft-spoken Saunders said he knew it was exactly what the island needed. “People want the best for their money, and Bimini Bay is first class,” he said. “The resort has put us back on the map. It has brought the people back to Bimini.”

The resort capitalizes on Bimini’s natural allure with its white-sand beaches and crystal clear waters. Many resort accommodations are already built with a golf course, spa and shopping village all on the way. Today, at the age of 75, Saunders said he’s seeing Bimini come to life in a way he hasn’t seen for decades.

Saunders is a well-known guide among bonefishing enthusiasts having conducted trips for a variety of clientele throughout the years including the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He’s also an artistic boat builder, creating custom-crafted vessels out of fiberglass, bronze and wood indigenous to the Bahamas. Each of the made-to-order boats takes about six months to complete and costs about $40,000. Three of his boats are currently stationed at Bimini Bay Resort, and he’s got orders for a few more that will be headed to the marina.

“I’ve never had orders for my boats like I do today since the resort came along. Orders are definitely moving up,” Saunders said.

His bonefish tours are also filling up. Saunders keeps a logbook that he asks all his visitors to sign. The pages are filled with names and comments from throughout the world. Today, Saunders said the book is filling up more quickly than in year’s past. It only has one page left before it’s time to start a new book.

“There’s just something about Bimini. People can’t quite put their fingers on it. I can’t. But we all know there’s just something about this place that’s special,” Saunders said. “The resort is introducing Bimini to all kinds of new people. It’s long overdue. You just have to love it here.”