IDB unveils $$ for eight Marriott hotels but Guyana still not on radar

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) on Tuesday approved a master financing facility of up to US$42 million in long-term IDB loans to finance up to eight Marriott-hotels to be developed by Caribe Hospitality S.A. but Guyana’s long hoped for one is not included in the list.

An IDB release said that the hotels will be constructed in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Panama, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Mexico and they are expected to meet world-class environmental and sustainability standards.

“To receive funding under the Financing Facility or LFF, the hotels must be capable of obtaining Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. LEED, which has become the dominant standard for green building design, requires buildings to meet specific parameters in areas such as energy conservation, efficiency in water use, CO2 emissions, improved indoor environmental quality and resource management”, the IDB said.

The Guyana Government had said that the planned Marriott would have been the first LEED certified one in the region but this does not appear to be possible any longer.

The IDB release said that added to its economic and environmental benefits, LEED certification can be a powerful marketing tool that could generate greater foreign exchange earnings and more employment in the tourism and hospitality sector.

The bank, a major financier in Guyana, added that the hotels financed under the LFF will be the first LEED-certified Marriott hotels in the participating countries.  The LFF is the first private sector financing in the tourism and hospitality sector provided through the IDB’s Structured and Corporate Financing Department (SCF) and follows the development of the IDB’s Sustainable Tourism Scorecard.

The release said that Caribe Hospitality S.A., a holding company headquartered in Costa Rica created to develop Marriott-operated hotels in the Central American and Caribbean regions, will develop the projects and Marriott International, Inc., will be responsible for running them.

It disclosed that the first hotel to be financed under the LFF is a Marriott Courtyard of 127 rooms in Alajuela, 20 kilometers from San José, Costa Rica.

On June 23rd this year, Marriott International Inc announced that it would open its first Marriott-branded hotel in Georgetown in 2013. There has since been no further announcement of plans and no word on a financing agreement which had been the original stumbling block.

The hotel chain had said then that it would operate under a management agreement with Atlantic Hotel Inc (AHI), which is currently owned by the Government of Guyana as part of a public-private partnership between the Government and private sector investors. Urbahn Architects of New York would create the hotel’s state-of-the-art architectural and interior design concept, Marriott said in the statement which was released by the Government Information Agency and also posted on the Marriott website.

“Guyana looks forward to a first class branded quality hotel operated by Marriott International.  This public-private partnership project will transform the hospitality landscape and can be expected to encourage more travel and tourism development for our nation.

Integrated

“The project will be more an integrated entertainment complex ideally located at the corner of the Atlantic Ocean and Demerara River with a casino, night club, restaurant, and boardwalk”, President Bharrat Jagdeo was quoted as saying.

“We are thrilled to partner with AHI and the Government of Guyana to open our first Marriott Hotel in the country, representing Marriott’s presence in another capital city in South America,” said Laurent de Kousemaeker, chief development officer for Marriott International in the Caribbean & Latin America. “This will also be Marriott’s first LEED- hotel in the region, and we are confident that it will play an instrumental role in the continued economic and commercial development of Guyana.”

The statement had said that the 160-room Georgetown Marriott Hotel was on track to receive LEED certification from the US Green Building Council and is on track to be Marriott’s first LEED hotel in the Caribbean and Latin America.

The administration had long wooed Marriott, with officials emphasizing the project’s importance but it had a controversial and eventually ill-fated birth with the first developer unable to move forward. Government had been seeking investors for the project after the first bid collapsed amid controversy about the developers. The project was being developed by a Pakistani businessman Michael Ahmad and an Italian, Natale Barranco, under the registered company Adam Development and Urbahn Associates (ADUA) with offices in Manhattan, New York. Concerns were raised about the company’s lack of construction experience with hotels of this size and the government had steadfastly refused to disclose the identity of the investors despite repeated calls for transparency.

It appears that they will still play a part as Urbahn Architects will create the hotel’s state-of-the-art architectural and interior design concept.

Despite the challenge to their credentials, the New York-based developers went ahead with work in May 2008 demolishing the building that formerly housed the Government Food and Drug Analyst Department, the former Luckhoo Swimming Pool and a bond. They also levelled the area, started building up the land and diverted to another area the sewerage pipes that in the past emptied into the Atlantic in the vicinity earmarked for the development.

Local engineers had questioned the quality of the work done and some of it had to be redone. Government had first awarded the US$700,000 contract to Courtney Benn Contracting Services Limited but withdrew it to allow the investors to address the matter.

After an announced inability to close the local Marriott hotel deal due to financial setbacks, President Jagdeo denied in January last year that the project was dead and said the sources of capital that had been identified for the hotel deal were simply no longer there.

Exactly five months after, in May 2009, the Privatisation Unit invited interested investors for the project, signalling that the original ADUA arrangement had collapsed. The unit had said that the framework for the development was based on a site consisting of 6.9 acres of land situated in the north western part of Kingston bordered by the Atlantic and Demerara River, owned by the state and was cleared for the construction of a hotel, a minimum capital investment of US$20 million and a minimum of 150 rooms.

Opposition political parties had questioned the lack of transparency in the major investment. Late PNCR MP Winston Murray had said that for the government to maintain its own integrity and that of the Kingston hotel project, it needed to put all the information on it in the public domain.

Expressing concern about the awarding of the land to a consortium of unknown investors for the construction of the hotel and casino, he had said that the project was just one glaring example of the lack of transparency, since there was bidding for the land and no one knew on what terms and conditions the property was awarded and to whom.

In May this year, this newspaper reported that Government has asked a new developer to construct a Marriott Resort and Casino here. Zublin Grenada Limited officials had said that the government had made them a “very attractive offer”. After initially refusing to say anything, the Privatisation Unit/National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) said that Zublin is only one of a number of prospective investors who have shown interest in investing in the Marriott Hotel project here. In the statement, it said government has entered into a Confidentiality Undertaking with Zublin “and any disclosures by Zublin, without the approval of government, would be a violation of this agreement”. It added that at that time, no commitments or agreements were entered into with Zublin.

The government also said that after advertising in May last year for Expressions of Interest (EOI) for a joint-venture for a hotel development project to be located at the corner of Kingston, a number of EOI’s were received.  It said since that time, government has been working with a number of prospective investors to advance the project and considerable progress was made to advance the development of a Hotel Entertainment Complex that will include a casino, night-club, boardwalk and other amenities. It was stated that the project will be implemented via a Special Purpose Company (SPC) financed with debt and equity contributions following a public-private model.

The statement had said that government views the project as an attractive one for investment based on the location that allows an integrated entertainment complex overlooking the ocean and river, all fiscal incentives permitted by law, and the combination of a first class Marriott Hotel to be operated by Marriott with a separately operated casino to be run by a third party operator that has not yet been selected. The casino would operate pursuant to relevant legislation that requires the construction of a hotel containing no less than 150 rooms.

An artist's rendering of what the Marriott might look like
An artist's rendering of what the Marriott might look like

The statement had emphasized that at the time no contractor for the project has been selected and it was government’s intention to “shortly” advertise for the pre-qualification of contractors to build this project.

The project had been on the drawing board since 2006.

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