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‘Kan Pacific deal ushers in new casino era’

Best Sunshine, Kan Pacific mum on cost of ‘lease assignment’
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Kan Pacific Saipan lawyer Joseph Iacopino, left, and Best Sunshine International, Ltd. CEO Mark Brown pose for a photo after a press conference yesterday. (Dennis B. Chan)

Kan Pacific Saipan and Best Sunshine International, Ltd. officials remained noncommittal yesterday to divulging details—or a price tag—on a deal to have Kan Pacific assign the remaining lease years of their coveted Mariana Resort and Spa property to the Saipan casino, noting these were private and confidential. Instead, the officials, pointed to the future, saying that the deal would bring the Commonwealth into a “new era.”

“[The negotiations] are really irrelevant,” said Kan Pacific lawyer Joseph Iacopino during a press conference yesterday.

The deal announced Wednesday—coincidentally—comes nearly a month after Kan Pacific held a rally that drew hundreds to garner support for a new lease for their hotel in Marpi. It also comes nearly a month after Department of Public Lands opened a competitive bid process for these lands.

The new Kan Pacific-Best Sunshine deal essentially provides that Kan Pacific will assign its remaining lease to the Saipan casino and will continue to operate the resort for at least a year, the casino said in a statement Wednesday. The Kan Pacific lease expires in April 2018.

Asked for the price tag on the new deal, Iacopino said, “That’s not available for discussion” and that negotiations grew more intensive after last month’s rally. “We had some preliminary discussions that really didn’t seem to go anywhere—but coincidently—after the rally, there were some more.”

When pressed for more details, Iacopino said, “Y’ know, I am not going to talk about the negotiations.”

He was responding to a question from Saipan Tribune to clarify what he meant by how negotiations “didn’t seem to go anywhere”—and if that meant a proposal or offer was rejected.

“First of all, they are really irrelevant,” Iacopino went on to say. “What’s really important is that we went through a process of working together and we ended up with an agreement that’s good for everyone.”

Emotional

During the press conference yesterday, Kan Pacific president Yoshiro Kitami grew teary-eyed as he recounted speaking to hotel staff that morning.

Speaking through a translator, Kitami said that “if there is right location and right timing” he was “willing to invest the monies and continue the business here in the CNMI.”

He said he grew emotional speaking to resort staff, who “are really encouraging him to keep him going.”

“It’s been emotional day,” added Iacopino, “and understandably people are still waking up to this new fact. But—in spite of any element of sadness that there could be—there is a lot of excitement about this new era that’s really being ushered into the CNMI.”

Use of existing facilities, employees

Best Sunshine officials have earlier said that the Marpi property—because of where it is and its size and location—would put together an incredible resort, and consolidate the other $5 billion of their proposed $7-billion investment on Saipan, with “the world’s largest water park, thousands of hotel rooms and jobs,” among others.

The Marpi lot includes lots used for racecar tracks, mini golf courses, and the Marpi hotel, cottages, villas, and maintenance and sports facilities, and other vacant lands held by Kan Pacific.

When asked yesterday if Best Sunshine would tear down or use the existing facilities, Best Sunshine CEO Mark Brown said, “Just wait for the RFP.”

“Then you’ll see our entire plan,” Brown added.

The resort currently has 159 employees, according general manager Gloria Cavanagh yesterday.

Brown said, “there should be absolutely no concern about” whether they have a job.

“We have 740 employees. We are going to have 3,500 employees at the Grand Mariana [casino resort in Garapan]. So there should be actually no concern about anyone there not having a job,” Brown said.

“It’s plenty of opportunity,” added Iacopino. “By the time of winding down of the Mariana Resort, the other facilities of Best Sunshine will have developed.”

Giving thanks

“I will do everything in my power to help as many people as possible for “ in this “time of transition,” Kitami said yesterday. “We are looking forward to the future. We will continue to stay on Saipan. It is our home. I want to say from the bottom of my heart, thank you very much Best Sunshine.”

He also thanked Kan Pacific lawyers, former governor Juan Babauta, former lieutenant governor Diego Benavente, former senator Pete Reyes, lawmakers of the House minority bloc, and his son and family.

“Thank you very much CNMI for” for their support in “this most difficult time,” Kitami said.

“Today is a great day,” added Brown. “A very great day. People ask us—what does this mean for the community? For us, this is a first step of a master plan that will benefit all of the people of the CNMI, and all of the people of Saipan. As we met with the top officials of Kan Pacific, and explained our vision and plan, they became as excited as we are… We need thousands of employees to make our plan come true. Our plan is fully understood by Kan Pacific and they understood this is the best opportunity for everyone involved. Our relationship moving forward will consist of teamwork and understanding. Best Sunshine would love for Kan Pacific to stay. Build a beautiful hotel on this site and continue to promote and push for Japanese tourists to continue to come to Saipan…. Both companies care deeply about the people of Saipan.

“As we go into the future, all will prosper. This is given a reason for not only to stay but it is also another reason for our children to come home,” Brown said.

Dennis B. Chan | Reporter
Dennis Chan covers education, environment, utilities, and air and seaport issues in the CNMI. He graduated with a degree in English Literature from the University of Guam. Contact him at dennis_chan@saipantribune.com.

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