De Niro’s Antigua resort plan draws criticism

In the year since the government of Antigua and Barbuda and investors led by American actor Robert De Niro announced plans to open a luxury resort on the smaller of the dual-island nation, protests have surfaced and the project has stalled, though the government vows construction will begin this year, according to reports.

Known as Paradise Found, the project aims to rebuild and expand on the site of the former K Club, a once exclusive resort on Barbuda favored by celebrities including Princess Diana, which has been closed since 2004, reported the New York Times on Thursday.

It said that the US$250-million proposed development by De Niro and an Australian investor James Packer was announced by Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister, Gaston Browne, in November 2014.

But, put to a vote last March, the Times said islanders approved the project, 206-175, “in a highly contentious meeting.”

Some voters objected to the amount of land, the length of the lease, now 99 years, and the approval process itself, said the Times basing its information from reports in Antigua Daily Observer.

“The other issue is the level of concession given by the government to Robert De Niro and James Packer,” the Times quoted Brenton Henry, director of news for the Observer Media Group, noting a 25-year tax holiday for the resort.

Henry said Barbudans “believe apart from the creation of some jobs that the benefit to the island may not be so much because of the free waiver.”

Despite opposition from the Barbuda People’s Movement, the government fast-tracked what is known as the Paradise Found Project Bill, making the agreement binding, according to the Times.

It said the Antigua and Barbuda Parliament passed the bill last November, adding that it awaits the signature by the governor-general.

“We feel our land is worth more than US$6 million for 99 years,” said Trevor Walker, leader of the Barbuda People’s Movement.

Noting he did not oppose the development of the K Club, Walker said that the government had circumvented standard procedure by passing a national law rather than negotiating via the island’s council.

“We feel it’s a dangerous precedent to be setting for one investment,” Walker told the Times.

The paper noted that though the group has filed a lawsuit against the bill that is still pending, Browne said in a new year’s address that construction of the resort and a new runway would begin in 2016.

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