Sept. 4, 2003 – In a turnaround of less than 24 hours, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull on Thursday signed into law the bill passed by the Senate on Wednesday rezoning just under 120 acres of land on the southeastern shore of St. Croix destined for development as the Golden Resort.
The governor's letter so notifying Senate President was unusually succinct, too. It consisted of two sentences:
"I have this day signed into law Bill No. 25-0085 passed by the 25th Legislature of the Virgin Islands at its regular session held on Sept. 3, 2003.
"This rezoning measure has been the subject of public hearings and has gone through the rezoning process as stipulated by law."
The bill rezones four portions of land in Estate Hartmanns, all to R-3, or residential – medium density. Two portions had previously been zoned agricultural and the other two had been zoned residential-low density, one and two family.
The rezoning petition described the intended use of the land, which fronts on Great Pond Bay, as being to construct a resort complex encompassing "a hotel, convention center, luxury residences and an 18-hole golf course." Conspicuous by its absence was any reference to a casino, the linchpin of the proposal Golden Gaming LLC and its owner, Paul Golden, presented nearly three years ago to the Casino Control Commission to develop the property.
Golden, a New Jersey investor, filed an application to operate a casino-resort with the commission in late 2000. In October 2001, the commission reserved one of the two allowable "Casino II" licenses for Golden Gaming. That category of license specifies a resort with 300 to 1,400 rooms and a casino of at least 10,000 square feet. By "reserving" the license, the commission guaranteed that Golden would receive it if the company met the criteria to proceed within two years. That two-year period will be up next month.
At that time, it was stated that Golden had purchased 265 acres of land at Great Pond Bay and was proposing to build a 400-room hotel along with a casino and an 18-hole golf course.
Last March, the Public Finance Authority board approved a resolution to issue $41 million in tax-exempt revenue bonds to back the building of a convention center on St. Croix as a way of encouraging Golden and his business Golden Resorts LLLP to build such a center as part of his planned complex. This prompted criticism of the board for making bond money available for the development of a convention center without soliciting competitive bids. (See "PFA backs convention hall, not Golden Gaming".)
Twelve days later, Kenneth Mapp, PFA director of finance and administration, said the PFA had no commitment to Golden Gaming's development of a convention center and that the board was "looking at a number of options" with respect to getting such a center developed.
The PFA resolution requires Golden to obtain an irrevocable financing commitment of $95 million by Sept. 30. If he doesn't, the resolution will become null and void.
On April 22, the PFA board voted to delay a decision on Golden's request that the government put up $32.5 million toward the resort project. Issues regarding Paul Golden's integrity and his financial resources came into question at that meeting. (See "PFA puts off vote on backing for Golden resort".)
At the Aug. 27 Senate Committee of the Whole meeting where the Great Pond Bay rezoning request was considered, Paul Golden testified that he has secured primary and secondary funding for the project, which he described as having a price tag of upwards of $150 million. He asked the Senate to approve the rezonings to enable him to proceed with the next step in development — applying for a Coastal Zone Management permit.
Golden in his testimony described the planned resort as encompassing a 400-room hotel, an 18-hole golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus, and a casino of 26,000 square feet.
Senate President David Jones, who has supported the Golden Gaming venture from the get go, described the proposal on Wednesday as being for "a 600-room hotel, a 18-hole golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus, a 36,000-square-foot convention center and a world-class spa, the Golden Doors."
At the Aug. 27 session, Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dean Plaskett testified that there are covenants and restrictions on the land, including a preservation area of about 49 acres on the shoreline, which were conveyed to Golden Gaming when it purchased the property. He said the restrictions allow for the construction of a hotel of no more than 350 rooms, the golf course, and a casino of up to 26,000 square feet.
Plaskett also said the rezoning would not affect the restrictions and that DPNR would address its preservation concerns in the CZM permitting process.
During lengthy debate prior to Wednesday's Senate vote for the rezoning, several senators said that while they had environmental concerns, they would support the proposed development because it is projected to generate 800 jobs for construction and 1,200 jobs once it is fully operational.
The Casino Control Commission in December 2001 reserved the other "Casino II" license for Robin Bay Associates, for the proposed half-billion dollar Seven Hills Resort and Casino development on 615 acres of land. Robin Bay's principal partner is Curtis Robinson, a Connecticut real estate developer with a casino background that includes the Foxwoods Resort and Casino in Connecticut.
In early 2002 the 24thLegislature approved rezoning for the Robin Bay development, described then as a $540 million project involving a 300-room hotel, 100 time-share units, a 20,000-square-foot casino, a convention center and an 18-hole golf course, and the governor signed it into law. In May of last year, the PFA approved $35 million in private activity bonds for the project.
At present, St. Croix has one casino, at Divi Carina Bay Resort. It opened in March of 2000.
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