Negotiations under way for sale of Half Moon Bay

ST JOHN’S, Antigua- Government is courting a buyer for the Half Moon Bay resort even as negotiations for a US $71 million settlement with the past owners of the property continue.

Speaking on OBSERVER Radio’s SnakePit programme Tuesday night, Minister of Tourism John Maginley made the revelation, though he cautioned premature celebration.

“We have somebody looking at Half Moon Bay; we are at the point of developing definitive agreements,” he said. “But I don’t want to say it’s finished yet because they haven’t signed.”

Maginley emphasised that his government was cautious about informing the public of the possible sale as, in the past, potential investors have changed their minds mid-negotiation.

“I have a Memorandum of Understanding for Half Moon Bay but it isn’t sold yet. I want to make sure when it is sold and the people have said, ‘here is the money and this is what we want to do’ then we go to the public,” Maginley said.

“Next week, the principal might decide he wants to do something somewhere else…How many times have we announced Beaches (project)? We know Butch Stewart has the money and wherewithal but the project hasn’t started yet,” the minister added.

Maginley said the cautious approach comes from the level of the prime minister, who has been a “strong” proponent of only going public when a project is sure.

Last week on Voice of the People Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer was asked if Half Moon Bay had been sold for US$30 million to which he responded that he was unaware.

Asked directly if the property had been sold at all Spencer responded with a definitive “no.”

Earlier this month, Leader of the Opposition Gaston Browne alleged that HMB had been sold to Canadian investors for US $30 million, some US$40 million short of the amount government needed to pay back Natalia Querard and the other principals of HMB Holdings for acquiring the property.

 “We know that Harold Lovell and Baldwin Spencer advised the Cabinet to acquire Half Moon Bay,” Browne said again at an ALP rally Tuesday night.

“We are left holding the bag with in excess of US$40 million, over EC$100 million with no corresponding value,” he added.

When contacted by OBSERVER Querard reserved comment as the matter of government making payment to HMB was due before the High Court next week.

The saga began in 1995 following the passage of Hurricane Luis which badly damaged the 108-acre hotel property.

The then Bird-administration began legal proceedings to acquired the resort using eminent domain law. They argued that it was in the public interest as the owners were unable to restore the property themselves.

In 2007, the Spencer-administration completed the acquisition, though compensatory payment to the owners, as required under the Land Acquisition Act, was never paid.

In January 2010, the Board of Assessment was convened and it assessed the value of the property at US $23.8 million with an annual interest of 10.25 per cent accruing on the unpaid award from the date government took possession.

In December 2011, a Court of Appeal ruling increased the value of the settlement to US $45.5 million.

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