Home News Local news Casino Developer Secures Land, Administration's Pledge of Support

Casino Developer Secures Land, Administration's Pledge of Support

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Jan. 16, 2007 — Groundbreaking on what could be the island's second casino could begin some time in 2007 if a major Coastal Zone Management (CZM) permit is received, said an official from Connecticut-based Robin Bay Associates, which plans to build a 300-room hotel and casino on the island's south shore.
"The next step is the CZM process; and if all goes well, we could begin construction this year," Robin Bay owner Curtis Robinson said via phone Tuesday from his Connecticut office.
Robinson, who was on island last week, met with Lt. Gov. Gregory R. Francis at the Buccaneer Hotel, where he announced that he had recently acquired a 624-acre parcel of land on the island's south shore for over $13 million. The deal was reportedly in the making with landowner Antonio "Sundial" Gonzalez for seven years.
During that time, however, Robinson lost a provisional casino license – extended three times – from the V.I. Casino Control Commission that he was originally granted in December 2001.
On Jan. 12, 2006, members of the Casino Commission voted to deny a fourth request for an extension by Robinson, noting that plans for the casino had been delayed for too long and that granting the extension would have been a disservice to the community. Conditions of the provisional license included obtaining a major Coastal Zone Management land permit and securing financing for the project.
Robinson said he would not have to reapply for a license, explaining, "We lost a reservation for a slot, and once we get through the CZM process, the reservation could be back in place."
Whether or not Robinson is correct is not clear at this juncture. Casino Commission Chairwoman Eileen Petersen could not be reached Tuesday evening for comment on whether Robinson would have to once again go through the application process, which includes a thorough investigation of the company and payment of applicable fees.
Plans for Robinson's $190 million project include an initial 300-room hotel, a 40,000-square-foot casino, an 18-hole championship golf course, a conference center and a water park.
Robinson said that this would create 1,000 construction jobs for the island, and upon completion, 2,000 permanent jobs at the hotel/casino.
"There is a big unemployment rate on St. Croix but a lot of natural resources that could be tapped into. All of the other islands are already pretty much developed, and St. Croix is really the island that's a diamond in the rough. The airport has seen many improvements, the dredging of the harbor to get larger cruise ships in, and the fact that [HOVENSA] has diesel available for refueling is a plus," Robinson said, adding that it translates to increased tourists on the island.
Robinson, who would be the first African-American casino owner in the Virgin Islands, acknowledged Tuesday that he ran into problems getting the necessary funding for his project after the initial granting of the casino license.
"Unfortunately 9/11 happened, and investors were waiting to see what would become of the airline industry, which as we know did not start to rebound until 2003," he said.
At the Casino Control Commission's meeting last January, David Kagan, a member of Robin Bay Associates, said that developers also ran into difficulties securing finances from a London Bank because terrorist bombings there caused the deal to fall through. At the time, Robinson said he had spent $4 million on the project and remained committed to seeing it through.
"I love the people of the Virgin Islands and they've been really good to me," Robinson said of not cashing in his chips and taking his business elsewhere. "The new governor has been wonderful. He's a businessman. He knows business, and I can't wait to work with him. He's my type of guy."
Robinson also relied on prayer. "I always say that the key to success is discipline, patience. Anytime you want something bad enough and you feel good about it, you wait it out. I prayed on it, and God said this is what I want you to have and this is where I want you to have it," he said.
He added that he could not turn back because he had invested "a tremendous amount of money keeping my options open."
The wait actually did him some good, he said.
"It gave me a chance to study the area — the unemployment rate, the crime rate and all of the resources the people have to offer," Robinson said. "Our studies showed that with jobs, unemployment goes down, and so will the crime rate and all of the stuff that [occurs from] not having a job."
Robinson said that St. Croix also is lacking in hotel-room capacity and that his project will help meet that demand soon.
Lt. Gov. Francis, who met with Robinson while he was on island, praised his efforts and pledged the support of the deJongh Administration.
"We do not want developers making investments then have them experience problems down the stretch with government agencies," Francis said. "This project is good for St. Croix's economy, and the governor has already tapped members of his administration to negotiate with the airlines to get more airlift capacity."
The planned resort by Robin Bay Associates is the latest round of good news for the island. Gov. John deJongh Jr. and Francis were at Carambola Resort last week to pledge their support to owners who plan to invest $120 million in overhauling the 151-room property, which will include 50 environmentally-friendly villas to run on solar-powered energy. Carambola will also be re-branded under the Marriott International umbrella, putting the destination on Marriott's worldwide reservation system.
Other developments in the works are:
–A 588-acre parcel of land on St. Croix's northwest shore for a beachfront hotel, casino and marina and possibly condominiums and a golf course by Williams and Punch Partners, a St. Croix-based company co-managed by attorney Kevin Rames and Chris Elliott.
–A 297-acre parcel of land on St. Croix's south shore by New Jersey-based developer Paul Golden The proposed development would include a six-story, 605-room hotel and a casino resort near the Great Pond area. The project will include a golf course and a restaurant. Golden received his eighth extension on the project in Dec. 2006.
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