Operators of Sandals Resorts International (SRI) do not have forever to decide if they are going ahead with the stalled multimillion-dollar Beaches project in Heywoods, St Peter.
This indication has come from Minister of Tourism and International Transport Kerrie Symmonds, who hinted that Government could eventually take a decision to acquire the property for a new investor.
Symmonds was responding to questions from reporters on Wednesday, on the sidelines of a local investor conference at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre to outline plans for a 30-year concession redevelopment plan for the Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA).
The Tourism Minister said Government, who is currently in a deadlock with SRI over concessions, was not prepared to change its position.
“There has been no movement, and we certainly don’t intend to move,” said Symmonds when asked what was the latest with discussions between Government and SRI.
The two sides have been in a stalemate for about a year, which has grounded the highly publicized $450 million Beaches project that was planned for the old Almond Beach Resort property in St Peter to a halt.
While SRI officials have indicated that they were not opposed to having further discussions, they have been adamant that they wanted Government to give a guarantee that their original concessions granted would not be changed.
“We are waiting for the Government to decide whether or not they want it on the original terms that we agreed. As I will say again, we are not asking for anything that was not in the original agreement,” SRI’s Group Deputy Chairman Adam Stewart had told Barbados TODAY back in September.
However, Symmonds, who last month reiterated that Government was willing to forego the millions in investment by the hotel giant, today said Government was not prepared to budge, and he gave an indication that time could run out.
Asked if there was a period of time Government was willing to wait for the project to restart and if Government had any alternate plans for the area, Symmonds said: “I think there are plans, and there is a timeframe in my mind and I would not wish to discuss that right now because that would be to offer an ultimatum to the other side.”
“I think that commonsense indicates that there must be a timeframe. We can’t go on this way forever. But it is clear, not withstanding the difficulties that Sandals has purported to have, the reality is that there is a tremendous amount of interest in the country,” said Symmonds.
Just last week, Government finalized its acquisition of the Liquidation Centre on Bay Street, The City in an effort to make way for a planned 350-room Hyatt Ziva project, that should be ready by 2022.
Pointing out that some 1,300 new hotel rooms would be added to the island’s room stock over the next three years, Symmonds said Bridgetown was again attracting a high level of interest and “Sandals is but one operator”.
In its original agreement when it entered the island in 2013, the Jamaica-based SRI obtained a 25-year tax break inclusive of waiver on all import duties, taxes, levies on capital goods such as building materials as well as goods and beverages, and then another 15 years after that.
Government has been arguing that the hotel giant wanted the current Barbados Labour Party administration to “indemnify them if any future Parliament at any stage in the next 40 years were ever to tax them for anything in the industry for any goods or services that others in the industry were paying taxes for”.
Sandals has many times defended the concessions, pointing to its significant investment in the Sandals Royal Barbados and Sandals Barbados brands, its employment numbers, taxes and attraction for travellers.