Government has turned to its Chinese counterpart to help bankroll its purchase and redevelopment of the closed Almond Beach Village hotel, a project likely to cost up to $400 million.
But unless feasibility studies and other plans fall into place smoothly and quickly, it could be another year and a half before the St. Peter property is transformed into a substantially improved tourism plant.
The Village’s status, including Government’s $100 million purchase of it, funding from the Chinese and National Insurance Scheme, and interest from six local and foreign parties who want to operate it, was outlined this evening by Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, Chris Sinckler, and Minister of Tourism and International Transport, Richard Sealy.
Speaking during a media briefing at Government Headquarters, the officials said authorities, including those from the Ministry of Tourism and Barbados Tourism Investment Inc. were working to have the hotel back in operation before April next year, but Sealy said at this stage this was “to say the least optimistic”.
Both he and Sinckler also disclosed that the Chinese government would be the major financier, with support from the NIS.
“We are working with the People’s Republic of China, that could be anyway forward of US$200 million of investment and we are going to be finalising the details with them for the purchase and complete rebuild of Almond,” Sinckler told the media.
The minister said while officials still hoped to have the hotel reopened during the 2013/2014 winter season which runs from mid December to mid April, including utilising 120 rooms that were in good condition, planning issues could push the project’s start to another year and a half.
This, he explained, was because “the technical people” had advised that developing a master plan, having building drawings done, and getting the regulatory permissions “is going to take upwards of 18 months, to get those and then build out”.
“If there is a way that we can get back value from it now we will take that value. But we are sending the signal to the market that this property is going to be back in action very, very soon and the Government of Barbados is going to be leading the way in that particular regard,” he said.
Sealy said Government intended to hire someone to operate the hotel and that “no fewer than six people have expressed an interest in running what will be the Almond Village site”.
“Ideally we would like to see something happen as soon as possible. We were optimistically hoping to get something done by this winter season, but it looks as though that is to say the least optimistic,” he stated.
“The assessments are being done, the team at the Barbados Tourism Investment Inc. are working very closely with the officials of the Ministry of Tourism and we expect to make specific announcements about the way forward as far as Almond is concerned.”
Sealy said Barbados could not afford to do without the Village for much longer.
“The reality is that 25,000 people stayed at Almond Village in 2011 so you understand the sort of impact losing those rooms has had on our tourism. A lot of those people also come through our partners such as Virgin Holidays that will help secure our airlift, so we have taken a decision to take over the Almond property,” he said, adding that the $100 million purchase price was “a very good rate” and was lower than valuations from the private sector and Commissioner of Land Tax. (SC)