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V.I. Casino Commission Denies License Extension

Jan. 11, 2006 – A setback for one casino developer on St. Croix might boost another developer's proposed project forward.
William and Punch managing partner David Christopher "Chris" Elliott said Wednesday at the V.I. Casino Control Commission meeting that groundbreaking for his project, a mile north of Frederiksted, could start within eight months. The other managing partner, attorney Kevin A. Rames, said he had a $100,000 check in his briefcase ready to give the commission to begin processing the development's license.
However, the meeting on St. Croix was not focused on William and Punch. Commission members were discussing a request for an extension of a reservation of a casino license by Robin Bay Associates. This project, proposed in 2001, has already received four extensions of its license reservation. Commission members Eileen Petersen, chairman; Lloyd McAlpin; and Devin Carrington voted unanimously to deny the extension.
According to the statute governing casinos, only two casino licenses for resorts with more than 300 rooms can be granted on St. Croix. Golden Resorts' Paul Golden has a reservation for one of those licenses. Golden proposes to construct a six-story, 605-room hotel (434 rooms first phase and 171 rooms second phase) and casino resort on approximately 297 acres in the Great Pond area. The project will include a golf course, a restaurant and an access road. (See Golden Resorts Gets Permission to Build at Great Pond.)
William and Punch's development proposal includes a 400-room hotel, along with a marina, a casino, 160 residential lots, condominiums, two golf courses, retail shops, a convention center, botanical gardens and 300 acres of green space.
This project, which has no licensed reserved, gained strength when the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation announced it was partnering in the development.
The tribe operates Connecticut's Foxwoods Resort Casino, one of the largest casinos in the world. (See Premier Casino Operator Interested in St. Croix Project.)
Robin Bay Associate's plan has been on the board since December 2001. At that time Curtis Robinson, majority partner, expressed the hope that ground could be broken within a year.
Still, each member of the commission expressed reluctance in casting their votes to deny an extension.
Petersen said that she had a special feeling for this project because Robinson, an African-American, was "someone who looked like us."
Robinson called several witnesses to testify at the commission meeting. David Kagan, a partner in the group, testified that everything seemed to be in order for funding the project this summer, but the funding deal failed through no fault of the developers.
Robinson gave a letter to commissioners, which purportedly was from a reputable California firm that was looking at funding the project.
In November 2002 it was announced that Jermaine Jackson, brother of superstar Michael Jackson and an original member of the Jackson Five, would help fund the project. (See Musical Jacksons Plan Role in Robin Bay Resort.)
Petersen expressed concern that, even if the most recent funding proposal did go through for the project, the developers had done nothing to obtain a necessary Coastal Zone Management permit. She said that permit could cause an additional delay. She asked, "Is it fair to the people of St. Croix to delay development for another year?"
Golden has his CZM permit. Elliot said that William and Punch, which plans to file immediately for a license, instead of a license reservation, would begin the permit process immediately. The William and Punch developers own the land they propose for development. Robin Bay does not own the South Shore land for its proposed 300-room, $500 million project.
Robinson said he had spent $4 million of his own money trying to get the project off the ground.
William and Punch developers say their project would create 2,500 jobs.
Rames testified as a witness in opposition to the extension. He said, "We must bring some finality to the process," and was quoted by McAlpin and Carrington before they cast their votes.
Rames said that members of the Indian tribe and their representatives had been on St. Croix several times this year looking over the project. He added that a reconstituted development company of William and Punch includes the tribe's operation manager and a couple other tribal officials on it.
Petersen told Robinson, "This decision does not mean that you can't still pursue your project."
After the meeting Robinson said, "We will be looking at all the options."

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