ST JOHN’S, Antigua – The United Progressive Party (UPP) administration has plans to go to Parliament to acquire a 25-year lease held by Sunsail for a beachfront strip of land that separates the Elle Colonna hotel from the beach.
That is according to Minister of Finance Harold Lovell, who suggested the sailing and watersports vacation company is making unreasonable demands over a lease it acquired at little cost back in 2001.
The government is hoping to partner with local entrepreneurs to have the hotel reopen its doors over two years after it closed.
“When Sunsail leased the property from the Italian group, Sunsail developed a strip of land in front of the Elle Colonna beach hotel. In developing that strip of island, those persons who were at the time charged with the responsibility of executing that lease, executed a lease that would run for 25 years. So when Sunsail left the lease remained,” Lovell said.
The finance minister said the lease for the prime beachfront land was negotiated for a meagre $6,000 per year.
Lovell said the problem is, “now that the local developers are trying to move this project forward, Sunsail is saying, ‘well you have the hotel here, you have the beach there, in order to get to the beach you have to pass through my land because I have a lease’.”
Lovell said the company is now demanding “US $600,000 a year if these people want to operate. So I want to tell this honourable house and the Parliament of Antigua & Barbuda that the only alternative will be for us to acquire that lease. We are going to reacquire that lease and so we will be coming to Parliament to reacquire that lease.”
The government is proposing to make a 25 per cent investment alongside a group of local entrepreneurs to help them reopen the hotel.
“There is a potential to employ between 150 to 200 persons so we have decided we are going to be part of that project,” Lovell said.
“When you look at the annual wages, the salaries and the benefits and service charges, the benefit we think will be somewhere between $7 to $10 million for the economy of Antigua. We think this is the right thing to do in order to promote growth, in order to promote job creation,” Lovell added.
Meanwhile the finance minister pointed to a number of other major tourism developments that are likely to receive significant investment in 2012.
“We believe that the Buccaneer Cove project will be able to take off in 2012. These are assurances that have been given by the developer. Again, we have to be cautious because we have heard before that projects are ready to take off,” Lovell said.
The finance minister said another project that is expected to begin shortly is the US $30 million development of a 70-room family hotel at Valley Church. He said that project is expected to provide more than 200 jobs.