Oct. 4, 2006 — "This has been a rollercoaster ride of six years of delays," said Paul Golden, CEO of Golden Gaming Resorts, the proposed casino and hotel development near Great Pond.
During a St. Croix Chamber of Commerce luncheon held Wednesday at Elizabeth's at the Palms, the New Jersey-based businessman explained the trials, tribulations and hopes for his projected resort.
"I've spent a minimum of three-quarters of a million dollars to date on this project," said Golden, who received a Casino II license reservation for the resort and casino in 2001. Since then, the project, worth more than $275 million, has faced fierce opposition from environmentalists who are concerned about the ecologically sensitive location on the South Shore's Great Pond. "They want to kill the project," Golden said.
In this case, "they" refers primarily to the V.I. Conservation Society (VICS), which filed a writ of review in Superior Court in 2005. The society asked the court to review the Board of Land Use Appeal's decision to grant Golden a coastal zone permit. However, in May, Judge Maria Cabret upheld the issuance of the permit. The society has appealed Cabret's decision, which is now pending in District Court.
According to Golden, the planned resort will be more than 500,000 square feet, with 400 ocean view rooms and more than 100 time-shares surrounding the large central pool. The building is currently under permit for six full stories, yet Golden said the property will be closer to eight stories when measured from the structure's base.
In addition to a 25,000-square-foot casino (the largest in the Eastern Caribbean), Golden said guests would also have access to 16 spa treatment rooms, a full-size fitness area, a 294-acre golf course, tennis courts, four restaurants and 1,200-seat conference center.
Golden also said the proposed resort would be family oriented, with a Kids' Club and a 2,500-square-foot ice cream parlor and pizza place.
With the proposed hotel sitting 400 to 600 feet away from Great Pond, Golden said pond maintenance is essential. "We have had meetings with former St. Croix Environmental Agency representatives on developing a buffer around the pond," Golden said. He acknowledged eco-tourism as a main draw to the island. "We want to maintain the nature reserve because it enhances the resort."
Golden is hopeful for a positive ruling from the district court regarding the VICS filing. "Hopefully it will end there," he said. "Lenders won't fund a project with the knowledge that the project won't go through."
None of the opposition has swayed Golden in his vision — not even the building of other resorts and hotels all over the Caribbean. Hotels, such as the Marriot on St. Kitts, Yacht Haven and Frenchman's Cove on St. Thomas, were all begun and completed in the time Golden has tried to accomplish his task on St. Croix. "They even blasted a mountain," Golden said about the Frenchman's Cove project.
Golden thanked Gov. Charles W. Turnbull and the Public Finance Authority for their continued support of the project, saying the governor "never wavered" in his support. "We are grateful for all the [casino license] extensions," Golden said. "The government's investments make it a possibility to fund the project." To date the government has invested a total of $41 million for the project.
Speaking to chamber members and guests, Golden reiterated his commitment to turning the property into a "true world-class destination resort," adding, "We need to build a resort that would attract a customer base from abroad like we had before [hurricane] Hugo."
Golden hopes to break ground on the resort by the end of the year and open the resort to the public by the end of 2008.
"If I didn't believe in the island and the people, I wouldn't be here," said Golden.
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