The bridge springs from a muddy lot, reaching for the sky in a startling sweep of cement that abruptly ends before its destination.

The half-finished bridge leading to a mega-resort that is intended to evoke the lost continent of Atlantis is an apt symbol as the Bahamas celebrates a quarter century of independence from Britain this week: After years of stagnation, a hopeful ambition fills the air."We're not doing too shabby, mon!" laughs Vince, a young house painter explaining why he plans to drink until dawn today, Independence Day. "We bless God for what we got."

Not far away, in an office above Nassau's straw market, Tourism Director-General Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace rattles off the exact number of rooms being rebuilt or refurbished on the 700-island archipelago.

By next year, capacity will increase by about a third in the capital, Nassau, which already has half the Bahamas' 16,000 hotel rooms - a tremendous boost in a country where 3.4 million visitors a year account for half the $3 billion GNP.

The new construction is aimed at making the Bahamas even more alluring to tourists.

The pro-investment and privatization policies of Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, and the strong U.S. economy, are driving the new push, said Vanderpool-Wallace. "Atlantis" is the brainchild of South African-born mogul Solomon Kerzner.

Kerzner's coup de grace is the twin Royal Towers, a 23-story, 1,200-room complex that dwarfs anything ever built here.

Government critics charge that investors like Kerzner's Sun International receive excessive concessions. Sun Vice President J. Barrie Farrington conceded that Atlantis will receive tax breaks of $160 million over 11 years. "But its a win-win situation," he said, noting that the company is pouring $750 million into the project and employing thousands.

Across town, Central Bank Governor Julian Francis plots the Bahamas' course in another key industry. With bank deposits of $200 billion and already a global leader in mutual funds, the Bahamas is angling to become the Switzerland of the Americas, he says.