Thu | Oct 18, 2018

Sagicor to build 800-room hotel

Published:Wednesday | September 27, 2017 | 12:00 AMHuntley Medley
Rohan Miller, CEO of Sagicor Real Estate X Fund.
Sagicor Group Jamaica headquarters in New Kingston.

Sagicor Group Jamaica is increasing its footprint in the hospitality industry with plans on the drawing board for another investment of approximately US$200 million to build a hotel with about 800 rooms on lands at Rose Hall in Montego Bay, which would be the largest hotel to be developed by a local company.

The project is being spearheaded by Sagicor Real Estate X Fund Limited, the property acquisition and development vehicle for the financial conglomerate.

The hotel site spanning 26 acres is next to the Hilton Rose Hall & Spa, which is also owned by Sagicor X Fund, but the new resort is expected to fly the flag of the company's hotel brand, Jewel.

"We are going to build a new hotel on the land," Sagicor Real Estate X Fund chief executive officer Rohan Miller confirmed.

It will be larger than the Hilton property, which itself is less than 500 rooms, as well as the other locally based hotels in Sagicor's portfolio. For now, Sagicor' largest hotel property is located outside Jamaica the 742-room Hilton DoubleTree in Orlando, Florida, acquired two years ago but the current project would eclipse it, assuming the room count remains.

There are larger resorts in Jamaica, but those have been developed by foreign investors, notably the Spanish hotel groups.

With some land preparation work and boundary wall construction having started there some months ago, the expectation was that the property would have been utilised for an expansion of the Hilton Rose Hall resort.

However, while not being definitive - reflecting fluidity in the boardroom talks still taking place - Miller said it was "likely" the property would bear the Jewel brand. This would bring to five the number of Sagicor's Jewel-branded resorts, adding to the Jewel Grande Montego Bay, which was opened officially on Sunday, as well as Jewel Runaway Bay, Jewel Dunn's River and Jewel Paradise Cove, all in St Ann.

Sagicor spent US$90 million retrofitting the former Palmyra condominium complex which it acquired last year for US$49 million and rebranded as Jewel Grande.

Miller said the company is investing US$200 million in the new project, but did not disclose a construction schedule, noting that discussions were ongoing within Sagicor on several aspects of the project with some decisions yet to be made.

However, Miller who spoke on the margins of the opening of the Jewel Grande Montego Bay on Sunday night said they already have the necessary building approvals.

The projected new Rose Hall investment, together with the Jewel Grande expenditure, will push Sagicor's total investment in hotels to just under US$700 million based on the US$403 million that Sagicor Jamaica Group and X Fund chairman Richard Byles reported last year as having been invested in hotel properties to that point.

Keeping the listed Sagicor X Fund cash rich is something that occupies the minds of its managers. Quizzed on how the insurance and banking conglomerate ensures that there is money at the ready to finance its hotel projects, Miller they have been selling off bits of the majority shareholding in the property company.

The stock traded at $12.02 on Tuesday, valuing X Fund at $27 billion. Sagicor Group Jamaica and its related entities are the largest shareholders, accounting for more than 86 per cent of the stockholding.

Still, Miller is dampening expectations of Sagicor taking on many more new resort development projects or property acquisitions.

"Right now, we are focusing on consolidating Jewel Grande and making some money on that investment," he said.