Government has made slight adjustments to how the controversial Hyatt Centric project will be carried out.
Prime Minister Mia Mottley has also made it clear that her administration would not be selling the Hilton Resort and would be seeking to reduce or relinquish its ownership of the Sam Lord’s Castle hotel in St Philip.
She made the announcement in Parliament earlier this week during her Budget presentation, while outlining several tourism projects aimed at bringing needed investment into Barbados.
Mottley said Government had “a difficulty with the Hyatt on two spots in Bridgetown”, adding that her administration sat down with the developers and planners and determined that a Hyatt hotel built on three lots and a fourth lot (The Tucker property) next door for local vendors was a different construct from what was before the last Government.
“As a result, the Government of Barbados has taken a decision to proceed with the compulsory acquisition of the land on which liquidation centre stands because we believe that it is in the national economic interest of the country for us to proceed with a Hyatt on a different construct than the original two-lot construct that was there,” she said. She added, “I hope that we can reach an amicable agreement on the quantum of price.”
This means the number of hotel rooms for the estimated US$100 million property would increase to 350-rooms, up from the original 237-rooms.
Since its announcement in 2016, the project, which was to be a 15-storey building on almost three acres of waterfront property in Bay Street, St Michael, has been stalled due to a legal battle over the lack of an environmental impact assessment (EIA) study.
Attorney-at-law David Comissiong had insisted that the then Freundel Stuart administration carry out an EIA, while arguing that building a 15-storey project on a portion of the UNESCO Heritage Site was perhaps not in the best interest of the country.
While that legal battle is yet to be settled, Mottley did not say if an EIA would be carried out, but said: “We look forward, subject to the receipts of the revised studies and plans, which will shortly be in, to be able to move forward thereto.”
In relation to the over 14-year-old Hilton property at Needham’s Point, Mottley said her administration had rejected the deal reached by the last Government to sell that hotel for about $150 million.
“Instead, we have successfully renegotiated the deal so that the Government remains in full ownership,” she said.
She explained that a framework agreement had been reached with L&R Capital for them to invest about $40 million to renovate the hotel and then recoup their investment by sharing in the profits, which currently hovers around $7 million.
“That is the kind of deal that we can live with that protects the public’s interest,” said Mottley, who pointed out that Government’s economic advisor Professor Avinash Persaud was especially key in the negotiation of that deal.
The Hilton is a 350-room hotel that is owned by the Government and operated by Needhams Holdings Ltd.
Mottley said her Government would also be issuing a request for proposals in an effort to get partners or for an outright purchase of the Sam Lord’s Castle Wyndham Grand Resort.
Mottley said while construction of that 400-room property should be complete in 2020, the $400 million project was “a little behind time”.
She said the decision to share ownership or sell that property was done “in the context of the loan”, which has come from the China Export-Import Bank to the tune of $240 million.
“We feel still that the Government of Barbados cannot carry the weight of Sam Lord’s hotel on its own in this year when our capital budget is constrained,” said Mottley, who indicated that her administration had only allocated $18 million of the $30 million needed to take the project forward.
“We still have $18 million to find,” she said.
With a number of other hotel projects on the cards, it is expected that some $2 billion will be pumped into the local economy over the next three years, adding more than 1,500 new hotel rooms and 3,000 new jobs in the tourism sector.
In relation to the Savannah Hotel, Mottley said while the HRL group had received “a very good” unsolicited offer for the purchase of the hotel, her administration would be requesting other proposals through advertising to ensure that others who were interested in purchasing the property could put in bids.
The Prime Minister also reiterated her plans for at least 12 potential new hotels, expansion of seven properties and a major conference and convention facility to be located somewhere between the Savannah Hotel in Christ Church and Paradise in St Michael.