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Aug. 27, 2003 – In the midst of questions about the worth of the developer and apparent hesitancy by the Public Finance Authority to put up government funds toward a proposed St. Croix resort and casino, the Senate Committee of the Whole will consider on Wednesday night whether to take a significant step toward the development.
The lawmakers are to act a proposal to rezone four parcels, totaling 119.9 acres, of Estate Hartmanns facing Great Pond Bay on the eastern end of St. Croix's South Shore. The company Golden Resort LLLP is requesting the rezoning of two parcels from R-2 (low-density residential) to R-3 (medium-density residential) and of the other two from A-1 (agricultural) to R-3.
The stated purpose of the rezoning request is to allow for the development of a resort/hotel, a convention center, luxury residences and what would be the island's third 18-hole golf course.
Although plans dating back several years for the proposed development, until now called the Golden Gaming Resort, have centered on the construction of what could be the island's second casino, there is no mention of such a facility in the rezoning request.
Senate Vice President Lorraine Berry said on Tuesday night that the omission might be because New Jersey casino/resort developer Paul Golden and his associates have yet to come up with their portion of the funding. "It depends on their ability to get the funding from whoever the backers are," she said.
Efforts to reach Senate President David Jones, who has been a staunch supporter of the Golden Gaming initiative, for comment on Tuesday were unsuccessful.
Rezoning, unlike a zoning variance, does not restrict the property in question to a specific designated use. Once property is rezoned, it may be used for any purpose which falls within that category of zoning.
Government backing for Golden Resort LLLP has been on hold for months. The Public Finance Authority was to vote last Thursday on whether to commit $32.5 million as the developers worked on putting the rest of their financial package together. But the PFA board instead decided to delay its decision on financial support for the project.
Kenneth Mapp, PFA director of finance and administration, said on Thursday that the authority took that stand because of conflicting reports on the financial worth of Paul Golden's enterprise.
That decision was a repeat of the PFA's action in April, when the authority similarly voted to delay a decision on putting up the $32.5 million in order to give the matter further scrutiny. (See "PFA puts off vote on backing for Golden resort".)
The PFA resolution calls on Golden to obtain irrevocable financing commitments for $95 million by the end of September. Anticipating reluctance on the part of the board earlier this month, Jones accused PFA officials of acting in bad faith and stifling any favorable response from investors on Wall Street.
Those comment, too, were a replay of criticisms Jones voiced last April, two weeks before the vote to delay action on backing the casino venture. (See "PFA backs convention hall, not Golden Gaming".)
But there is no indication that tangled financing agreements will stall the rezoning move on Wednesday night. Berry said most senators are going into the Committee of the Whole meeting in Frederiksted expecting to hear a report on the Coastal Zone Management pros and cons of the resort project from Planning and Natural Resources Department officials, who rarely disclose their considerations prior to a formal hearing.
Golden Gaming LLC submitted its application to the Casino Control Commission to develop a casino-hotel on St. Croix in late 2000. In October of 2001 the commission "reserved" one of the island's two allowed "Casino II" licenses to the company. That provisional approval was good for two years, meaning it will expire this October. Casino II facilities must have 300 to 1,400 rooms and a casino of at least 10,000 square feet.
The other Casino II facility was subsequently reserved to Robin Bay Associates, whose proposal to develop the Seven Hills Beach Resort and Casino, pegged at half a billion dollars, on Robin Bay just east of Great Pond Bay, also has been in the talking stage for several years.
Rezoning of 615 acres in Estates Cotton Grove, Little Profit and Mount Retreat from low density to medium density for that project was approved by the Senate in January of 2002 and signed by the governor a month later. The PFA approved $35 million in private activity bonds for the Robin Bay project in May of last year.
The developers of both planned resorts had lambasted legislation enacted last Dec. 23 in a veto override allowing video lottery gambling on St. Thomas and St. John, saying it would compete for dollars with St. Croix's casino industry. Last week, after months of negotiations, the government and Southland Gaming reached agreement for the operation of video lottery terminals in the district.

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