With heavy-criticisms still swirling around the Sandals-Barbados deal, Jamaican business tycoon Gordon “Butch” Stewart today said he was focused on plans for a $30 million facelift of the former Casuarina hotel.
Stewart, chairman of Sandals Resorts International, sidestepped talk of the multi-million incentive package gifted to his group by the Freundel Stuart administration.
But in a telephone interview with Barbados TODAY he said he was diligently working to have a concrete plan in place within the next “six to eight weeks”, that would see a major “modernization” of the Dover, Christ Church property.
Asked to respond to the controversy surrounding the award of a 40-year tax holiday to Sandals, Stewart said he would prefer to speak to the issue at a later date.
He, however, cautioned that the way the hotel sector and the country as a whole operates needed to change.
“It is a very important period. The world has changed and the way we did business over the last few years. Moving forward, if we really want to have nice, strong economies to benefit the communities, a lot of changes have to be made. You are dealing with an export industry,” he said.
In the case of Sandals, which also has plans to operate a Beaches resort at the former Almond Beach Village, St Peter location, “we have a lot of construction to do”.
“We are putting in restaurants, elevators and modernizing the hotel. At first blush, we probably will have to spend US$17 million very quickly by just putting in great facilities.
“We [want to] put in another four restaurants very quickly. We are putting in departure lounges, meeting rooms and laundry.
“There is only one elevator in the new room block [but] we need two, plus a service elevator. The other room block each need an elevator each,” he explained.
“I would certainly hope within six weeks, we can be breaking ground in most of these areas.”
However, he could not give a definitive completion time.
“Things like the elevators have quite a lead time in terms of ordering. To get that and complete those are probably in the order of six months,” he estimated.
The businessman said he was in the process of examining the “sketches”, admitting it would take “quite a bit of work” to get everything to come together over the next few weeks.
And he did not expect to wait too long for permission from the Town and Country Planning Department once the plans were submitted.
“I am sitting down with plans right in front of me now trying to fast track it and then try and get the planning [permission] which hopefully won’t take too long. The actual plans to develop this [property] is a part of a modernization process and bringing the hotel up to speed,” said Stewart.
He said it was “very important to us to get additional facilities” if the island was to see an increase in visitor arrivals and an improvement in perception.
“If you can improve the quality it means better foreign exchange revenue, it means better demands so you will get better occupancies, and all of these things we are putting in the facility is a buttress. It means additional employment; A, for the construction and B, for manning of the additional services that will be implemented. It is all good,” said Stewart.