From a multimillion Aerobus transport system that will connect Saipan and Tinian to a planned establishment of “the world’s largest waterpark, 20 hotels and a 1-kilometer long shopping strip” that will create at least “10,000 jobs” in Marpi and “a grand six-star hotel, a luxury village, and a lavish shopping mall,” along with a new hotel in San Antonio and a new hotel in Garapan now under construction, you’d think Saipan will be the envy of islands in the region.
The latest round of press releases from new and old investors is amazing and amusing. So much so that one wonders whether the transitional program allowing thousands of foreign workers or CW-1 permit holders in the CNMI will continue beyond 2019, and whether Saipan is big enough to accommodate such big, ambitious plans in a responsible and manageable manner.
With all this excitement that investors are trying to build, all the more that the CNMI needs to update its outdated comprehensive public land use plan. It’s long overdue.
A few months ago, the Department of Public Lands issued a request for proposals to complete a “CNMI comprehensive public land use plan update for Rota, Tinian, Saipan and the Northern Islands,” with a submission deadline of July 28, 2015.
This DPL project aims to update the land use plan and policies that will serve as both a physical and policy-based blueprint to manage the future development of public lands in the CNMI.
It will have updated information on how best to regulate land use on Saipan, for example, in the midst of all major ongoing and planned developments such as new hotels and an integrated casino resort, taking into account power and water systems, sewage systems, roads and other infrastructure, along with best ways to preserve natural resources.
From the issuance of the notice to proceed, the contractor will have 365 days to complete the CNMI comprehensive public land use plan update based on the RFP.
But the general public has yet to hear from DPL as to the status of RFP 15-DPL-070 for the comprehensive public land use plan update.
Who were the firms that responded to the RFP? Has a contract been awarded? If yes, to whom and how much? Or has the deadline for submission been extended? Or has the RFP been cancelled? If the project is progressing as planned, how far has the contractor gone?
DPL, which is responsible for the administration, management, use, leasing, development and disposition of all public lands in the CNMI, is also tasked with developing and adopting a strategic public land use plan that promotes cultural and economic growth.
It is unfortunate that an update on the outdated public land use plan wasn’t done “prior” to the CNMI Legislature and the Inos administration’s legalization of casino operation on Saipan, and the eventual grant in 2014 to Best Sunshine International of an exclusive license to build an integrated casino resort on the island. The project plan is massive, requiring tracts of lands that will showcase Saipan’s natural beauty.
Best Sunshine promised a $7-billion investment for an integrated casino resort. So far, it has opened a live training facility in an existing duty free shop while it is still building the Grand Mariana Resort project in Garapan. For Phase II of its integrated casino resort project, Best Sunshine is hoping it could get a big site in Marpi rather than in “piecemeal” locations across Saipan.
Specifically, Best Sunshine is targeting the current site of the established Mariana Resort & Spa in Marpi, one of the last major Japanese investments on Saipan. Mariana Resort’s extended public land lease expires in 2018.
As we all know, Mariana Resort wants to negotiate a new lease with DPL. Two years ago, DPL started calling on hotels with expiring public land leases to start communicating with DPL their plans and Mariana Resort indicated its desires.
DPL later said it will instead bid out the lease to the lands held by Mariana Resort when it expires in 2018 (after a total of 40 years of leasing it), and Best Sunshine has already announced it will participate in the bidding process to get the precious public land for their integrated casino resort.
Now all sides have their own reasons for pushing their agendas and each has their interpretation of the CNMI Constitution provision on public lands leased to the maximum 40 years and what happens when that 40-year lease expires. It won’t be surprising if this matter reaches the court. It’s just a matter of time.
Hopefully, an updated CNMI comprehensive public land use plan will be completed before DPL, and other parties, go any further on the Mariana Resort land lease. Uncertainties about the expiring 40-year Mariana Resort land lease do not inspire investor and public confidence.
And whatever course of action DPL pursues will be a litmus test to what’s going to happen to the other expiring public land leases held by major and long-term investors in the CNMI such as the global hotel brand Hyatt Regency.