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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Firm to build new visitor attraction
Investor to infuse over $1M for Sea Touch Saipan

Sea Touch Saipan president and CEO Mark Baldyga, second from right, addresses the public during yesterday’s hearing at the Pedro P. Tenorio Multi-Purpose Center where he presented the company’s proposed $1 million-plus investment. (Moneth G. Deposa) The company that owns the SandCastle at Hyatt Regency Saipan will be investing over $1 million to build a world-class visitor attraction off the coast of Saipan that will allow visitors to interact with marine creatures.

The attraction, to be called “Sea Touch Saipan,” is projected to bring about $118 million in total direct economic impact to the Commonwealth and its economy, according to Sea Touch Saipan CEO and president Mark Baldyga yesterday.

The Commonwealth Development Authority held a public hearing yesterday on the proposed business, which would specifically cater to interactive marine encounters.

Speaking to members of the public, Baldyga said that Sea Touch Saipan is proposed to be located in front of the Fiesta Resort & Spa Saipan in Garapan. The project location is about 140 feet from the shoreline.

The project will give visitors the opportunity to play with, swim, and learn from sea animals such as sharks and stingrays.

In the first three years of the business, Baldyga projects to accommodate from 60 to 120 visitors per day. This is on top of island residents who will also visit the attraction. He projects about 1,200 residents visiting Sea Touch Saipan per year, excluding school groups.

In its initial proposal, Baldyga targets to employ 25 personnel in the first three years of the business. This work pool is anticipated to grow.

In direct benefits, Baldyga forecasts the following benefits in the first few years of the business: $20 million in direct wages; $24 million in direct expenses; $2 million in lease payments; and $13 million in agents’ commissions.

This is $59 million in direct payments, or $118 million in total direct economic impact to the CNMI if one uses the standard 2.0 multiplier, according to Baldyga.

He said his business plan would have positive impacts on the island’s tourism industry, the job and trainings that would be created, the multi-million dollar investments and direct economic impact, as well as the contributions this could bring to the community at large.

Despite the “high risk” of such an investment, Baldyga said he is committed to build the brand new attraction as it would definitely excite tourists to return to Saipan. He cited exit surveys conducted among visitors that indicate that 79 percent say they want to see more attractions. He is convinced that Sea Touch Saipan would help convince these tourists to return and extend their stay on island.

Baldyga is also CEO of Baldyga Group, which owns the SandCastle. That business started in 2000 and was among the first firms granted the government’s qualified certificate program.

Valuable investment

CDA director Manuel Sablan described the proposed business plan as a “very valuable investment” for the CNMI.

CDA handles the government’s QC program, which provides eligible businesses tax rebates and incentives.

“This is the kind of investment that CDA is always in support of. Once terms and conditions are worked out for its QC, it will be ready to go,” Sablan told Saipan Tribune after yesterday’s public hearing at Multi-Purpose Center.
According to CDA QC analyst Carline Sablan, the agency has until March 1 to submit its recommendation to the governor, who is the ultimate decision-maker for the QC program.

Saipan Tribune learned that Sea Touch Saipan turned in its QC application in November last year.

Besides CDA officials, two other individuals expressed their support for the proposed business at yesterday’s public hearing.

According to Alex Sablan, president of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, if there’s any business that must be granted QC benefits, Sea Touch Saipan deserves to get one. He said the new venture is “unique” to the CNMI and would positively impact the economy.

Tim Goodwin also expressed support for the company and its promise of a fun, exciting experience for everyone on island.

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