Fri | Aug 17, 2018

Celebration casino resort development said on track for mid-year

Published:Friday | December 22, 2017 | 12:02 AMAvia Collinder
Markus Deutsch, acting CEO of Celebration Jamaica Development Limited.
Robert Trotta, the architect of the Celebration casino resort project, passed away last week.
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The Celebration Jamaica casino resort project will be executed, its principals said this week, notwithstanding setbacks of the past that included the cancellation of a land deal that was central to the development.

The architect of the project, Robert Trotta, also passed away last week. But Markus Deutsch, the acting CEO of Celebration Jamaica Development Limited (CJDL), said the company and its local subsidiary Celebration Jamaica Operations Limited, while mourning Trotta, were moving towards commencement of the pre-construction phase.

That phase will be executed sometime within the first half of 2018, he told the Financial Gleaner in a statement via email this week.

"CJDL continues to enjoy the confidence of its development partners for the several hotels to be located at Celebration Jamaica's entertainment complex, from the United States and Europe, along with its construction partners and financiers from Europe, as well as its nominated casino operating partner, Celebration Casino Canada, led by Paul Micucci, who were approved by the Government some time ago," Deutsch said.

Celebration Jamaica received approved integrated resort status from the Ministry of Finance two years ago, and should have began construction of the first 1,000 hotel rooms of the casino resort in May 2016.

However, the company needed land, and while it eventually brokered a deal

with Urban Development Corporation (UDC) to buy 96.5 acres at Rose Hall in Montego Bay, the sale was cancelled at mid-year - delaying the project even further.

But now Deutsch says Celebration has struck another agreement to acquire land, although he held back on the details of that transaction.

Laying the groundwork

Jamaica has been laying the groundwork since 2010 to develop a casino market, starting with the passage of legislation that year. Two groups have since been granted approvals to begin developing casino resorts - Celebration and Harmony Cove Limited - but neither has been able to get their projects off the ground.

The casino resort developers are required to build at least 2,000 hotel rooms in phases.

Harmony Cove has land for its project but needs capital, and has been chasing backers for two years. Celebration said it has financing in place to execute phase one of its resort.

"The project still represents a mammoth US$$400- to US$450-million investment in scope, as originally submitted to the Ministry of Finance and the Casino Gaming Commission, which recommended approval for the issuance of its integrated resort development licence for a casino and entertainment complex, including an initial 1,000-plus rooms," Deutsch said.

The gazetted order for Celebration's project named the development site as part of Success Estate, now known as Northern Estates. That property is within the Rose Hall belt and is owned by the UDC, which announced plans to sell 96.5 acres to Celebration for US$40 million, subject to Celebration securing a 'temporary casino licence'.

The deal was eventually cancelled - one of the reasons given in July was that Celebration had failed to meet its construction deadline.

Deutsch said that the new location for the casino resort and the name of the property seller would be revealed in January.

"While initially disappointed that CJDL could not reach terms for the development of Success Estates with the UDC in accordance with stipulated construction financing terms, CJDL, supported by the pragmatic and solution-oriented approach of the Government of Jamaica, has secured a new location upon which to construct the iconic Celebration Jamaica in Montego Bay," said the Celebration CEO.

Celebration now owns 100 per cent of the casino resort project, but expects to cede equity stakes in the development to hotel partners.

The company has been asked to submit details of its partners to the Ministry of Finance, which Deutsch said is under way.

"Until the commencement of construction, the identity of the partners will remain confidential, especially as there are ongoing negotiations with respect to the collection of premier hotel brands that will become part of the Celebration guest experience and additional infrastructure requirements with the new site," he said.

"CJDL is collating this information for final submission, while studiously completing construction drawing plans for the site," he said.

Plans for resort

A new CEO for the project agreed to by the partners will also be announced in the first quarter of the new year, Deutsch said.

The Celebration casino resort is designed to include 2,000 hotel rooms, a 75,000-square-foot casino and sports book complex, retail space, artisan village, a Caribbean world music entertainment complex, and other facilities.

Trotta, an American with Italian roots who adopted Jamaica as his home, was the founder and inspiration for the Celebration casino resort project, which the partners first conceived a decade ago, Deutsch said.

Deutsch said, in memory of Trotta, that he championed significant pre-development work and funding of architectural, feasibility and design studies for Celebration.

"Mr Trotta inspired many developments over his nearly 50-year career as a developer, leading to ultimately over 7,000 hotel rooms and apartments - which are all open and operating - being developed and completed in six countries across four continents. This passion continues in the many businesses, joint ventures, and investments he completed in his years as a developer," said Deutsch.

"The realisation of Celebration Jamaica as an unparalleled destination and hospitality experience in the Caribbean will be the legacy of his tireless commitment to Jamaica and in particular, its children though the Book4Kids Foundation," he said.

Trotta was also the developer of the Palmyra condominium resort in Montego Bay that was eventually confiscated by his bankers over disputed debt and sold off.

The finance ministry is yet to respond to queries on the status of Celebration's approvals and the extensions granted on the project.

avia.collinder@gleanerjm.com