Best Sunshine International, Ltd. confirmed yesterday a planned and aggressive pursuit of lands currently held by Mariana Resort & Spa in Marpi, one of the CNMI’s few remaining ties to a weakening Japanese tourist market, as the Hong Kong-based casino company now reveals plans to complete their multi-billion dollar casino resort project in the coveted Marpi area where they plan to build the world’s largest water park, thousands of hotel rooms, and state-of-the-art shopping facilities, according to top casino executives in a news briefing yesterday.
At the same time, casino executives defended Department of Public Lands Secretary Pete A. Tenorio’s decision to bid out the lease to the lands held by Mariana Resort in 2018, saying “this is a business” and Tenorio “had a job to do” and a responsibility to benefit the public interest. The resort had claimed that putting out the lease to bid would be a breach of its lease agreement with the government.
When asked yesterday if Best Sunshine would compete for the bid to lease the Mariana Resort property, Best Sunshine chief executive officer Mark Brown said, “Of course.”
Saipan Tribune asked how competitive their bid is, and Brown said, “There has been no bid” yet, as the process has not started.
Brown described yesterday “Phase 1” of their projected $7 billion casino investment, the Grand Mariana Resort project in Garapan, which is currently undergoing construction.
This would be the first location—along with their gaming training facility—totaling more than $2 billion in investments, according to Brown’s estimate yesterday. The Garapan site is currently the only public land leased to their company.
“Phase II,” according to Brown, would hopefully be sited in Marpi, rather than in “piecemeal” locations across the island.
“We are searching everywhere, the entire island. We’ve made offers to other areas also. We didn’t concentrate only on Marpi,” he said.
Brown explained that the “the design, the site, and multiple properties” that they want to build on the Marpi property would be “incredible for the island for Saipan and would help the people of Saipan.”
“Because of the parcel of the land—where it is situated—the beauty of it. [It is] the one piece where you could put together an incredible resort. …Name another piece that big, that beautiful on the water. That doesn’t exist on the island, really.”
“That’s why we want that to be our next site,” Brown said. “When it goes to bid—like any other company that is going to come bid for the site—we will aggressively make a bid to get this.”
When contacted yesterday, Mariana Resort general manager Gloria Cavanagh said “no comment” as of now.
In a letter Wednesday to DPL, Kan Pacific argued that a bid on their property meant a “breach” of its lease agreement with the government, as the letter alleged DPL’s failure to meet commitments to negotiate a new lease, and that any transition of property back to the government required a five-year notice, a deadline that had passed, according to their lease agreement.
DPL Secretary Pete A. Tenorio also declined to comment yesterday.
When asked if Best Sunshine could approach Mariana Resort for the remaining years of their lease, Brown said, “I don’t think they will even talk to us.” He also said there have been no offers from the resort for the remaining years.
Promise of investment
Responding to Kan Pacific’s statement Wednesday that Best Sunshine “came along” and interrupted ongoing negotiations between them and DPL, Brown said this was “obvious.”
Best Sunshine was awarded its casino license in July 2014, months after negotiations between DPL and Kan Pacific began. They sent DPL a letter in August 2014 expressing a specific interest in the Mariana Resort property.
“…If Best Sunshine hadn’t come along, you wouldn’t have this conversation right now,” Brown said. “They would have just moved forward with it. But again, this is business…[Tenorio] has a job to do. He has to do the best possible business deal for the people of Saipan, and where the government is going to make more money, and what’s going to bring up the economy [of] Saipan.
“And I think when he looks at—comparing a $40 million to $75 million upgrade of the Mariana Resort versus billions of dollars of properties and jobs…you look at the jobs we’ve created already,” he said, pointing to 450 employees, 250 of whom are locals, he said, with more planned.
“We keep our word,” he said.
Asked if Best Sunshine has ever proposed to DPL any amount for the property, Brown said, “No.”
“That was the last letter from Terence Tay,” he said, referring to the August 2014 letter to DPL. “There have been no monies that have been talked about. No negotiations as far as money goes.”
“There is really nothing to negotiate,” added Tao Xing, chief service officer of Imperial Pacific, BSI’s mother company. “DPL has to determine whether there is an RFP and the timing.”
Brown said they made DPL aware of their interest in the land in 2014 but they could not negotiate until it goes out to bid.
Brown explained that as soon as the license was granted, they were immediately “under a time clock” to start building on Saipan, confirming surveys of the Marpi property and other Marpi lands around that time in 2014.
“That was a prime location with a lease that will come up in 2015. That’s exactly where we are going to be in 25 years,” he said, referring to their lease in Garapan. Brown said there could be another company 25 to 40 years from now that will bid for their own property.
“We have a timeline,” said Xing. “We have a commitment to the amount of investment. It’s our due diligence to pursue all the possibilities in terms of land. Had we not done that, then that would be remiss on our part.”
“If we don’t find the land, build on time, we get fined very heavily,” Brown said. “But once we break ground,” Best Sunshine will release within 60 days the $20 million “community chest” fund on top of the yearly $15 million license fee.
“And when we say aggressively—we’ve made it known that we are willing to pay that $20 million up front, if we get that piece of land. We wouldn’t wait 60 days.”
Brown said they would create 3,000 jobs in Garapan with their resort. He said they would create “10,000 jobs and more” on the Marpi site.
“Whatever land we take, we will hire every employee that is there,” he said.
Brown said Phase 1 would open up by the end of next year with roughly 3,000 employees.
“Phase 2, we are talking about the world’s largest water park, 20 hotels, and a one-kilometer long shopping strip. So that’s the scale,” Xing said.
“Because the beach is really non-existent there,” Brown added. “That’s why we would build the largest water park in the world, thousands and thousands of hotel rooms, thousands and thousands of jobs.”
“Your other $5 billion—the water park, there are so many things—we are trying to make it ‘green,’ we are going to have electric cars, solar, all those things—it just continually creates more and more jobs,” he added.