Antigua acquires lands housing major hotel, warns of other takeovers
The Antigua and Barbuda Parliament has given its nod to the government to acquire the land on which the Halcyon Cove by Rex Resorts sits on the basis that the owners did not fulfil a promise to upgrade the property.
But Prime Minister Gaston Browne has given assurance that his administration was not moving to "nationalise people's private property".
Browne, who tabled the resolution, said that the owners have been struggling to meet lease payments and other statutory responsibilities, in addition to an overabundance of guests voicing their displeasure with the current conditions at the property.
The resolution grants the secretary to the Cabinet author-isation to issue a declaration to the effect that 12 acres of land on which the property sits at Dickenson Bay be acquired for public purposes.
Browne told legislators that the property has created a problem for the image of the country's tourism product and the owners have not fulfilled a promise to the former administration to undertake an upgrade of the property.
He said that while there is a high demand for Antigua's tourism product, the country does not have the viable rooms to cater to it and that owners of other properties have been clamouring for an intervention.
"My government is a responsible government and will not seek to acquire anyone's property interest without justification. In this case, what is at stake is our tourism product. What we are trying here is to be proactive and to bring a number of rooms that are not in circulation back into economic circulation, so that we can grow the country's economy and put our people back to work," Browne said.
"We are not seeking to acquire the property willy-nilly. We have had discussions with a number of interested parties to turn the property into a five-star facility. Before acquisition, we will ensure that we have the resources to cover any liability and compensate persons on a timely basis. Acquiring the lease to this property is in the public's interest," he added.
APPROACHED BY SANDALS
Browne said that the owners of Sandals and Couples hotels have already approached government to build a new 300-room resort on the Halcyon Cove property, which would create over 600 jobs.
The prime minister also said his government is also likely to acquire 10 acres of beach land at Valley Church, which is currently in the possession of an entity called BAP.
"They did not put one dollar into acquiring that property from the former government. Now, they are seeking to flip that property. I want to put everyone on notice, that anytime the principals of BAP sell that property to anyone, no permission will be given to build anything on that land," said Browne.
"This is a message to the world. They have forfeited the title to that property on the basis that they have not performed. No one can build anything there. No approval shall be given to any entity to build anything on that property," he declared.
He added that his admini-stration intends to construct the proposed SimÛn BolÌvar Resort, in collaboration with Venezuela, on the property.
"There are likely to be other acquisitions. We cannot have properties like Royal Antiguan, with about 300 rooms, sitting idle. If we do not get an undertaking from the owners that he would upgrade and place the property into economic circulation, I guarantee that we would acquire that property," said Prime Minister Browne.
"We are about transforming Antigua and Barbuda into an economic powerhouse and we cannot do this with 30 per cent of our hotel rooms shut. We must take the necessary steps and make hard decisions to bring them back into circulation. We will ensure, however, that severance payments and any liability arising from acquisition are taken care of with funds that the new owners would be required to put in an escrow account," he said.