UPDATE: Blue Diamond plans $17b Grand Lido expansion, rebranding as Royalton Negril
Amid rising objections to the plan to supersize the Grand Lido resort hotel in Negril, the property's new owner, Blue Diamond Hotel Groups, said on Monday that it is working with both "local and federal authorities" to satisfy concerns raised by all parties.
The plan to triple the size of the property is facing backlash from the Jamaica Institute of Architects (JIA) as well as the Jamaica Environment Trust regarding the development's potential impact on Negril's eco-balance.
Blue Diamond said it will invest US$150 million (J$17.25b) to redevelop the property into a 500-600-room resort, but did not address whether - as stated by JIA president Ann Hodges - it will demolish the existing structure to erect a brand-new plant.
"We understand that the proposed hotel design includes four-storey blocks and allows a setback from the high-water mark of only 15.25 meters (50ft) and that it may even envisage rooms over water at Rutland Point," Hodges said in an open letter to Minister of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change Robert Pickersgill.
The property currently comprises 210 suites.
On Tuesday, CEO of the National Environmental Planning Agency, Peter Knight, said no permission had been granted for the development by NEPA, nor had the property’s owners yet sought a permit.
“NEPA has no submissions/plans for the referenced location or developer. As a rule, NEPA cannot support or object on a matter that is not before it,” Knight said via email.
However, Hodges suggested in her letter to Pickersgill that approval has been granted for the demolition of the current structure and that it would be replaced with a 600 to 800-room hotel. The letter was not explicit about who granted the permit, but documentation obtained late Tuesday night indicated that it came from NEPA in July 2014.
Knight did not respond to a further request for clarification up to press time.
Janine Chapman, vice-president of marketing for Blue Diamond Resorts, said on Monday that the target was 500 to 600 rooms, but was silent on the design and whether the current structure would be razed for the new hotel.
"We can confirm that we are closing the Grand Lido resort in Negril this month and will be opening a brand-new 500-600 room luxury all-inclusive resort in its place, operating under our award-winning Royalton Resorts brand," said Chapman.
"We are continuing to work with local and federal authorities on our development plans and hope these will be finalised shortly," she said.
However, the planning approval seen by Wednesday Business allows for modification, renovation and construction of an additional 361 guestrooms to the existing 212-room hotel.
The proposed renovations to the existing property will include the redesign and renovation of the lobby, shops, VIP reception area, wedding planner office, motor lobby, ballroom, restaurants, coffee shop, international buffet, and sports bar of the existing central building.
The permit includes demolition of Block A, which contains 24 guest rooms, to be replaced by a new pool and pool area. Other new construction includes nine three-storey blocks throughout the property, comprising 267 guestrooms.
Hodges says such a large property "goes against the spirit of the Negril area's unique, small and medium-size enterprise model of tourism development" and urged the hotel owners to reconsider their plan.
She said the current plan would "lead to destruction of what the current 1959 Negril Green Island Development Order describes as the "delicate balance of the environment" and will have a negative impact on the visual beauty of the coastline".
Chapman said Royalton Negril represents "an investment of over US$150 million and will create over 2,000 jobs in Jamaica". The property will open for business in late 2016 as the company's second property under the Royalton brand in Jamaica.
The Negril property was purchased in mid-2013 from Village Resorts Limited, which trades as SuperClubs. The deal was struck after Village Resorts had acquired the Urban Development Corporation's 50 per cent stake in the hotel.
Before the sale, the hotel operated as Breezes Grand Resort & Spa Negril. It has since been rebranded Grand Lido Negril.
Blue Diamond is an affiliate of the Sunwing Travel Group Inc, a Canadian leisure travel company whose offerings include tour packages, accommodation, online reservation services, and air travel. Chapman said that Blue Diamond Resorts had also "invested a further US$50 million into the expansion of the Royalton White Sands in Falmouth, with the addition of 200 rooms and 800 new jobs".
She said airlift to Jamaica from Sunwing source markets had grown by one-fifth year over year, benefiting the island further.
"As a part of the vertically integrated Sunwing Travel Group, Blue Diamond Resorts developments are supported by incremental flights from key source markets across the United States, Canada, the UK and Europe, thanks to affiliated partners Sunwing Airlines and TUI Travel - who have already increased their capacity by 20 per cent over the past 12 months," she said.
She adds that Sunwing Travel Group recently introduced the Sunwing Foundation, whose first local project was full funding for a new school just outside of Falmouth, which will open to students in September.
UPDATE: This story has been updated to fix a truncated sentence that left off comments from the CEO of NEPA regarding approval of the project.