Zoning Board OKs plan to increase to 373 rooms for $190M Grand Mariana project
Best Sunshine International, Ltd. plans to boost its investment on its Grand Mariana Casino & Hotel Resort at the Samoan Housing area in Garapan from $165 million to $190 million by augmenting the project with another 119 rooms, making it a 373-room casino resort.
The CNMI Zoning Board on Monday night unanimously approved Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC’s request to amend its previous conditional use permit in order to increase the number of rooms for the project, increase the height, and decrease the number of parking spaces. Imperial Pacific is the mother company of Best Sunshine.
After a lengthy discussion, board member Joe Ayuyu moved to approve Imperial Pacific’s amended application of its conditional use permit. Board member Bruce Bateman seconded the motion. Ayuyu, Bateman, board chair Diego Blanco, and board member Herman Sablan all agreed.
Before the discussions, Zoning administrator Therese T. Ogumoro presented Imperial Pacific’s proposal to increase the original plan of 254 rooms to 373; decrease the 423 parking slots to 127; and increase the building’s height from 234.7 feet to 285.4 feet or by 50.47 feet.
The Grand Mariana’s structure includes beachfront villas, pools, and two casino floors. The slab tower is 14 stories high with a total height of 285.4 feet. The total gross floor area is 1.22 million square feet.
Grand Mariana is Phase 1 of Best Sunshine’s $7.1-billion integral casino resort plan in the CNMI.
At the board hearing, Sunshine International Ltd.’s chief operating officer Matt Harkness said that airlines want to bring in more flights and the only way to do that is by increasing the number of hotel rooms.
Harkness said the efficient way to do this is to add 119 mountain-view rooms without changing the structure’s blueprint.
“We think this is a good solution, not just to our business but to the island as a whole,” he said.
Harkness noted that the very popular television show in China, Running Man, is doing a great job of highlighting all of the amenities of the island.
“It’s creating a ton of interest in this island,” he said.
He said they also recently hosted a Chinese familiarity tour, in which tourists came with Chinese tour agents and visited different sites of the island.
“There is really great interest on this island right now,” he said. “Just this addition [hotel rooms] will be huge, I believe, to the economy of Saipan.”
When asked how Best Sunshine justifies increasing the number of rooms while decreasing parking spaces, Harkness said their guests won’t be renting cars because Best Sunshine will be supplying the transportation.
“They’re taking buses so there is not a great need for parking,” Harkness said, adding that they will be installing mechanical parking system in the basement to double parking spaces.
Christopher F. Fryling, president of contractor N15 Architects, explained how the mechanical parking system works.
Ayuyu said he wants Best Sunshine to work with the Department of Public Works in ensuring the safety of tourists walking in the area.
“As far as traffic, it’s very congested there already. A partnership with DPW would be better for us,”Ayuyu said.
Imperial Pacific legal counsel Viola Alepuyo assured that that is part of the conditions for their major siting permit. She said one of the conditions is to improve the traffic in the Garapan area, all the way to Micro Beach Road that leads to Micro Beach, and all the way to Garapan street south of Duty Free. She said Imperial Pacific will design, build, and finance the project—all approved by DPW.
When asked if there is any plan to rebury the human bones recovered at the Samoan Housing site, Alepuyo said they are actually awaiting the test results. She disclosed that some artifacts and some remains were sent to different laboratories for carbon dating and DNA testing.
“We are hoping that the DNA test will show us how the CNMI was populated,” she said.
Alepuyo said the remains and artifacts are currently kept in a climate-controlled secured room approved by archeologists.
“As soon as the tests are done, we are hoping by the end of October we can schedule with Historic Preservation Office for a public hearing to give an opportunity for the public to hear the reports of the findings that were made during the archeological dig as well as all the lab results,” she said.
Alepuyo said at that point, HPO will then take into account public comments on what should be done with the remains.
If the public wants a monument to be built at the site and as long as HPO approves it, that will be done, she said.
“My client has already said that it’s whatever the public deems best, they want to do it as long as it is approved by HPO,” she said.
Caryn Deleon Guerrero, a table game manager at Best Sunshine, said she believes that Saipan needs more hotel rooms that should be of high standards.
After working for 15 years in a casino in Washington State, Deleon Guerrero moved back to Saipan less than two months ago. She said she and her partner went to every hotel and drove to every apartment soon after Typhoon Soudelor but no rooms were available.
“We had to stay in my parents’ house for a month. We currently live in an apartment that has no power and water,” she said.
Liana Hofschneider, founder of the Council of Chamorro Advancement, said she is not against Best Sunshine but that the project’s site is an ancient burial site.
Hofschneider cited a recent news article about the bones of World War II U.S. soldiers that were found in Garapan and that federal personnel came in and properly took care of them “because it’s the right thing to do.”
However, she said she is disturbed that there was not much attention to the finding of Dr. Michael Dega of the Scientific Consultant Services Inc. that they found 333 burials at the site, 332 of which are suspected to be pre-contact.
“It’s an ancient burial ground and we are still going to approve a development over a burial ground?” she asked.
Hofschneider said Zoning should go back to the 2004 recommendation for the place to be turned into a museum, a burial and memorial park for ancient Chamorros “so that everyone of our generation of Chamorro children can honor, have a place to honor their ancestors and for tourists to come and know who we are and what we are as the first people of this island.”
She said there are a lot of vacant lands for Best Sunshine to build its hotel and casino.
Blanco said it’s not over yet in regards to the preservation and honoring of ancestral discoveries.
“That’s beyond our jurisdiction. We’re the Zoning board,” Blanco said.
At this juncture, Ayuyu moved to approve the amended application.