The controversial Four Seasons project could have a new saviour, with a multi-millionaire investor here saying he was willing to take over the stalled project.
Eager to see something done with the 32-acre Clearwater Bay, Black Rock, St Michael site, a frustrated Andrew Stewart, who has investments in a number of hotels and restaurants here, said he was willing to seriously look at taking over the development, but it would have to come with “the right terms”.
“Yes, if it came on the right terms it is something that I and my investors would look at with interest,” said Stewart, the chairman of the stockbroking and investment management firm Ravenscroft Limited.
Recalling that many of his friends had invested in the project to construct a 110-room hotel and 35 private villas, Stewart told Barbados TODAY it was disheartening that the project had ground to a halt.
“Every time I go pass there, you know, there is no building work going on. Why don’t we actually do something with it? Some of the highest profile people in the world put their names down for it. Let’s try and get it organized; cut all the nonsense of whatever it is and build the bloody hotel there,” a frustrated Stewart said.
It was in 2005 that Sandals International owned by Jamaican hotel magnate Gordon Butch Stewart announced that it was selling the then Paradise Beach Hotel to a group of international investors headed by British hotelier Michael Pemberton and London property entrepreneur Robin Paterson.
It was not long after that television producer and entrepreneur Simon Cowell, composer Andrew Lloyd-Webber, Formula One team owner Eddie Jordan and other luminaries invested in the villas, priced at $11 million to $18 million a piece.
With more than half of the villas unsold and buyers who had made deposits of between ten per cent and 40 per cent not making additional payments, the project hit its first major hurdle in 2008 and never recovered.
Stewart said he was concerned that the location had been reduced to nothing more than a site of rubble at a time when the economy needed such a project to create jobs.
“I think it is a shame that there it is on a beautiful beach
. . . at a time when the economy is quite quiet, everything has slowed down, why don’t we just go out and build something there, create some jobs, create some wealth and move it forward?” Stewart questioned.
After two previous attempts by the developers to secure new financing had failed, the then David Thompson-led Government announced in January 2010 it would guarantee a $60 million loan from ANSA Merchant Bank to help restart construction.
The project became even more uncertain in 2015 when the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) withdrew its support, cancelling $160 million in loans it had committed to the venture more than two years earlier. The IDB, which had agreed to fund construction of the hotel component, made the decision due to concerns about the lack of progress.
At the beginning of September last year Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler revealed that Government had signed documents to have the project returned to the private sector.
At the time Sinckler had also told reporters a comprehensive ministerial statement was to be laid in the House of Assembly along with a wide-ranging debate by all parliamentarians. This is yet to materialize.
Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy had announced in June last year that another attempt was being made to revive the ill-fated project, and that attempt was likely to succeed.
The minister revealed little about the fresh efforts, but he hinted that a possible solution was in the works.
“I know that a lot of ink is spilt and a lot of noise over the airwaves about Hyatt, for example, in Bridgetown, Wyndham at the Sam Lords Castle site, and of course Sandals on this site, and Beaches. We are told that the Four Seasons project is coming to some sort of conclusion,” Sealy said at the groundbreaking ceremony of Sandals Barbados’ US$180 million expansion project.
Many of the world’s rich and famous had dished out hefty deposits for some of the villas, which were in the original plan – ranging from 10,000 to 20,000 square feet each and designed to include private pools, indoor ponds stocked with small sharks and floor-to-ceiling windows.