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Casino projects misfire

Published:Wednesday | July 26, 2017 | 12:00 AMAvia Collinder
Robert Trotta, the developer behind the Celebration Jamaica casino resort project.
Dr Lorna Simmonds, executive director of Harmonisation Limited, the state-owned partner in Harmony Cove Limited.

Tourism minister Edmund Bartlett confirmed that the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) has cancelled plans to sell land to Celebration Jamaica Development Limited for a casino resort development, but the investors themselves are silent on whether this kills their project or is just their latest setback.

Celebration Jamaica is one of two companies granted a provisional Approved Integrated Resort Development Status (AIRD) to start rolling out their mega-resorts, the other being Harmony Cove Limited, which is facing its own challenges in tying down financing.

Celebration targeted Montego Bay for its development, while Harmony Cove planned to build on similarly named property owned in Trelawny.

Bartlett, who first disclosed the cancellation of the land deal at a post-Cabinet briefing, said Celebration had failed to meet the requirements of the agreement.

"They were given a deadline to start construction," he said, noting that this timeline had not been adhered to.

When the UDC announced plans to sell 96.5 acres at Success, Rose Hall, to Celebration for US$40 million, the agency said the deal would close in a year and would be dependent on the casino developer receiving a temporary casino licence. Celebration had hoped to launch construction in January of this year after missing its first deadline.

Bartlett referred further comment to Minister Daryl Vaz, whose portfolio covers the AIRD/ casino programme, but attempts by the Financial Gleaner to reach Vaz were unsuccessful.

The UDC did not respond to request for an update and more details on the cancelled land transaction, while calls to Celebration developer Robert Trotta went straight to voicemail. P.J. Patterson of Heisconsults Limited, who represented Celebration in the licensing application, said through his assistant that his consultancy agreement with Celebration Jamaica "expired over a year ago".

The Public Enterprise Unit of the Ministry of Finance, through which the approved integrated resort project was managed, also did not respond to queries.

Dr Lorna Simmonds of Harmonisation Limited, the Jamaican arm of Harmony Cove Limited, said she had no comment when asked if financing for the project had now been finalised. The company has been pursuing deals with Chinese backers for two years.

Harmonisation is a 49 per cent partner in the development, with foreign partner Tavistock Group holding the other 51 per cent. Expectations were that the ownership structure might change were financing deals ever struck with the Chinese.

Both Harmony Cove and Celeb-ration breached the initial deadlines for their projects to break ground in 2016.

The first phase of Harmony Cove was last estimated at around US$1 billion, to be spent on at least 1,000 hotel rooms, restaurants and retail shops.

The full development, spanning a 2,300-acre property, is to feature a casino, golf courses, a luxury spa, marina facilities, convention, and entertainment centres and hotels. At full build-out, the resort is expected to feature 5,000 rooms with a variety of lodging options.

For Celebration Jamaica Development Limited, the estimated cost for phase one is about US$500 million.

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