St. Maarten Government keeps options open for development Emilio Wilson

POSTED: 04/25/14 8:31 AM

St. Maarten – The government will buy the Emilio Wilson Estate directly and “study and negotiate a partial development,” Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams said at yesterday’s press briefing. The possibility that the Harbor Group of Companies will be brought in as a developer is still open, but no decision has been taken yet, she added. “We are looking at what we want to develop the estate into and at who will do this.”

Wescot-Williams gave a detailed account of the history of the struggle to purchase the estate, but she did not go back as far as 2007, when the Island Council unanimously voted to protect the estate. While the government intends to abide by the February court ruling that ordered it to purchase the estate, it will also appeal the ruling.

Just ahead of today’s Parliament meeting about the Emilio Wilson Estate, where Vromi-Minister Lake’s position could be at stake, Wescot-Williams said that the hotly contested letter from July 20, 2012, is registered under number 1114A. Lake has maintained in parliament that this letter, signed by then Vice Prime Minister William Marlin, was never registered. The letter confirms to the estate owners that the government will buy the estate for $17 million.

Wescot-Williams confirmed that Minister Lake asked for her cooperation to get all available information about the saga on the table. Lake asked for information from the DIV-department that was provided to him on March 24. Subsequently he sent a letter with a request for help to Wescot-Williams. On April 14, the Secretary-General of the Ministry of General Affairs responded to Lake, saying that a dossier was available for his perusal.

Wescot-Williams went back to the Carnival cooperation agreement from 2007 with the Harbor Group of Companies and the government that included a $34.5 million loan. “When a development at Divi was deemed not possible, Rain Forest Adventures got involved and identified in 2009 the Emilio Wilson Estate as a potential location for a development that would benefit cruise passengers.”

Rain Forest reached a preliminary agreement with the estate owners to buy two-third of the property.

“In February 2010, Vice Prime Minister William Marlin and Theo Heyliger led the discussion with Brookson (the estate’s owner – ed.) to buy 360,000 square meters at $45 per square meter,” Wescot-Williams said. “If that deal did not go through the owners wanted to retain the right to develop the property.”

A year later, the discussion turned to the purchase of just 100,000 square meters. “This was appraised at $7.29 million, but it was offered for $6 million on the condition that it would only be developed in a way that would complement the development on the other part by Rain Forest Adventures.”

That same year the government came up with the idea to create a universal service fund for ICT and social development. The fund was to be managed by the Bureau Telecommunication and Post, but it never materialized.

In early 2012, former Minister of Economic Affairs Franklin Meyers drafted a Letter of Intent for the purchase of 100,000 square meters, but the estate-owners disagreed with its content, Wescot-Williams said. “In February, Rain Forest Adventures made a presentation to the Council of Ministers. Three ministries – Vromi, General Affairs and Education, Culture, Youth and Sports were assigned to look at every aspect of their proposal.”

A month later, the owners became impatient, the prime minister said. “They pressed the government for a decision.” Again a month later, the government worked out different options for the purchase. Then the government fell.

On July 6, the Council of Minister discussed the possible purchase of 360,000 square meters and decided to have an advice about the project’s financing prepared. A fortnight later, Vice Prime Minister Marlin signed the letter to the estate-owners announcing the agreement to purchase the better part of the property for $17 million. In November 2012, the draft purchase agreement – based on the July 20 letter – was put on paper.

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