Three months from now, Mt. Tapochao would have undergone a dramatic transformation as the rehabilitation project for Saipan's highest peak kicked off yesterday morning in a groundbreaking ceremony where government officials and business executives touted the value of public-private partnership in enhancing the island as a tourist destination.
Acting governor Eloy S. Inos led administrators of the Marianas Visitors Authority, the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands, Saipan Chamber of Commerce, and Tournament of Champions, as well as other elected officials withstood being drenched at the mountain summit for the ceremonial shoveling of gravel which officially marked the start of the project.
“Mt. Tapochao is finally getting the attention it deserves as one of the most popular tourist spots on Saipan. We need more projects like this to stay competitive as a resort destination,” Inos told his audience.
MVA, the agency tasked to promote the CNMI as a tourist destination, is taking the lead in the $48,000-project awarded to contractor CMI.
The project consists of four phases: Phase 1, which will take 45 days to complete, will focus on clearing out the monument and viewing deck area, installation of galvanized railings and construction of latte stones, and enhancement of the monument.
Phase 2 is estimated to take three weeks and will concentrate on the memorabilia viewing deck and the continuation of galvanized railing installation and building of latte stones. Phase 3 will revolve around connecting the pathway railing to the interpretive signs and will be completed in two weeks.
The final phase, which will also take two weeks, will involve the main stairway and entry as well as leveling of the concrete work area.
Project manager Hector Sevilla of CMI said that the entire project will be concluded by some 15 workers before December or well within three months, and this estimate may or may not include external factors such as the weather.
“We incorporated in our design latte stones which will become columns because they are a symbol of the island culture,” he added.
MVA allocated $25,000 for the much-anticipated project while the rest of the cost is funded by HANMI, TOC, and the Chamber-private sector partners which were acknowledged by Inos for their financial support in destination enhancement initiatives that support the tourism industry, which helps create jobs and generate revenues for government operations.
“May this groundbreaking be one of the many destination enhancement projects we'll have and I look forward to seeing a safer and more attractive Mt. Tapochao,” added Inos.
Perry Tenorio, MVA managing director, said in an interview that the “worthwhile” project is a result of “a wonderful marriage” between the agency and its private partners, adding that MVA will continue to reach out to the business sector and look for ways to improve tourist facilities in the CNMI.
“We're hoping that our partners can step up because any investment in tourist sites is an investment in the travel industry,” he told Saipan Tribune.
Thursday's ceremony also witnessed the presentation of the pledged donations from the various project partners.
HANMI chair Nick Nishikawa handed a $20,000 check, which was raised through the hoteliers' group's golf tournament fundraiser. The general manager of Hyatt Regency Saipan noted that a public-private partnership is more than just the financial aspect.
“It's the cooperation, the willingness to work with one another to improve the island. That's also important,” he said in an interview, adding that HANMI will continue to work with the government in future enhancement projects.
Chamber executive director Richard Pierce, meanwhile, presented a $6,000 check from the funds of the 170-member group of businesses that are eager to team up with government agencies such as MVA to enhance the islands' main industry.
“The Chamber of Commerce is all about the economy, the jobs, it's about destination enhancement and this project is another good reason for people to come to Saipan,” he added.
Ben Babauta, TOC chair, also gave a check donation in the amount of $3,000 from the tournament's beautification fund, which they committed for the construction project.
“It's definitely a big plus for our tourism and for our local community. As you know, tourism is our only economic engine and we need to do every single thing possible to take care of our venue and keep them coming back every year,” said Babauta, adding that TOC will also provide assistance on the project's landscaping feature.