Saudis in T&T for firsthand look at property

(Trinidad Guardian) A Saudi Arabian contingent, photographed entering Parliament on Friday, toured the Chaguaramas Convention Centre, Chaguaramas peninsula and Tobago’s Magdalena Grand Beach Resort to weigh their investment potential. The group, the Sunday Guardian learned, is ready to invest some US$1 billion into T&T and have already met with Trade and Investment Minister Vasant Bharath and Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal during their short time in T&T.

The Sunday Guardian understands that while the group discussed several investment options for the billionaire Saudi businessmen, at the top of the list is the expansion and upgrade of Tobago’s most exclusive resort, investment in the Chaguaramas Convention Centre and investment in commercial and residential developments on both islands.  The group discussed the possibility of investing in the construction of an exclusive hotel and shopping mall reminiscent of those in oil-rich Dubai.

Bharath, in a brief interview on Saturday, confirmed that the men were at Parliament on Friday to meet with him and said this was the delegation’s third visit to T&T. “They are interested in investing in T&T. They are extremely interested in investing in residential as well as commercial property,” Bharath said. Bharath first met with the interested investors when his ministry visited the United Arab Emirates to receive a World Bank Award for improvement in the public service delivery back in 2013.

“They have requested a T&T presence in Saudi, that is an invesTT office,” Bharath said. He also confirmed the contingent toured the Magdalena Grand yesterday, looking at the expansion and upgrade options. When asked if the men were looking to buy the hotel, Bharath said it was an investment, not a purchase. “Invest in expanding with the Government,” he said.

TT$200M to repair centre

This most recent interest in the local hotels comes just days after Opposition leader Dr Keith Rowley raised the question of the possible divestment of the Chaguaramas Convention Centre. Speaking at a cottage meeting in Marabella last week, Rowley claimed that the Government had disposed of eight acres of prime estate at Chaguaramas, on which the convention centre and hotel were built.

Rowley’s comment prompted Chaguaramas Development Authority (CDA) chairman Danny Solomon and chief executive officer Jocelyn Hargreaves to reveal that the area was not sold, but leased to Insite Developers. Like the Saudi businessmen, Insite Developers are seeking to “partner” with an international brand hotel management operator for a four-star hotel in Chaguaramas.

In a telephone interview yesterday, however, Solomon said the visitors did not actually tour the actual Convention Centre, but did a land and sea tour which showed them what the CDA had to offer and the rest of the Chaguaramas peninsula. Solomon also said that the Convention Centre is in dire need of over TT$200 million in repairs. He said just two weeks ago, the T&T Electricity Commission (T&TEC) declared that 75 per cent of the building was unsafe and condemned portions of the aged structure.

“It is a drain and it should be a good thing if we are looking to diversify the income stream,” Solomon said Any possible investment could be a positive move for the centre, as Bharath described the Saudi-linked investments as “very high end” and similar to projects in Dubai. Bharath said the US$1 billion investment is not the end, but rather the beginning as they will be making that massive investment “in the first instance.”

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