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By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, March 7) - A US$150 million casino investment project on Tinian has been held up for weeks due to a delay in the issuance of a land-clearing permit so that a topographic survey can be done.

Bridge Investment Group LLC, which was granted a conditional license in December 2005 to begin a 300-room hotel and casino resort project on Tinian, expects to have a groundbreaking for the project in June or July this year.

Phillip Mendiola Long, vice president of Bridge Investment Group’s Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands operations, yesterday expressed hope that the delay in this minor permitting process will not happen again when the investors apply for a major siting permit, which is a much lengthier process that involves the submission of an environmental impact study, among other things.

"It has not reached that point yet where it has ruined our schedule but it’s certainly a concern. Our concern is why this simple land-clearing permit is taking so long. We were told that the delay is with the Division of Fish and Wildlife," Long told Variety.

Department of Fish and Wildlife officials on Saipan could not be reached for comment, while the Division of Environmental Quality said they need more information before they can comment on the issue.

Long said their subcontractor submitted the land-clearing permit application in early February, which they expected to be done in just a few weeks.

Long said Bridge Investment Group will work cooperatively with government agencies throughout the permitting process.

"We are suggesting that the permitting should be localized on Tinian, where the government personnel on Tinian who do the survey and review will be allowed to sign off on the permit, instead of having the permit brought to Saipan for signatures… Again, it is just a suggestion to make the (permitting) process more efficient," said Long, adding that Governor Benigno R. Fitial’s plan to have representatives of all permitting agencies in one room to expedite the permitting process should be pursued.

Long, who was one of the guest speakers at yesterday’s Rotary Club of Saipan meeting at the Hyatt Regency Saipan, said the project has three phases: the hotel and casino resort, the water park, and the golf course.

He said after the expected groundbreaking in June or July, Bridge Investment Group expects to have a soft opening for the hotel and casino resort by December 2007 and a grand opening by April 2008.

The hiring for the hotel and casino management group, he added, will be done about nine months from now.

Bridge Investment Group has already secured the location for the hotel and casino resort -- a 50,000-sqare feet property about 3 miles south of the only existing hotel and casino in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Tinian Dynasty Hotel and Casino.

[PIR editor’s note: The Tinian Dynasty Hotel and Casino opened in 1998 but it has yet to fully recover its investment because there has been no significant increase in the number of tourists visiting Tinian since the hotel opened (read related story).]

Long said Bridge Investment Group is looking at acquiring additional property.

In his power point presentation for Rotary Club members and guests, Long said they expect to hire about 600 hotel and casino resort employees, plus create about 336 service jobs outside of the hotel and casino in a multiplier effect.

"So we are looking at a total of 936 new jobs on Tinian once the hotel and casino resort opens," said Long.

Bridge Investment Group is projecting a US$396,800 monthly tax payment to the government, which is higher than the monthly revenue generated from Tinian Dynasty Hotel and Casino’s gaming tax of US$310,000, according to Long.

"So we are looking at an average total of US$706,800 in total monthly gaming tax revenue for Tinian or about US$8.5 million a year…This amount does not include increased key employee fees, gaming device fees, service industry license fees, etc.," said Long.

He said tourism on Tinian would also greatly benefit from the opening of a second hotel and casino on the island, which translates to about US$92 million in projected annual Tinian tourism revenue.

Long said the investment will have as much local business involvement as possible – from subcontracting parts of construction to local contractors to purchasing a percentage of construction materials from local suppliers.

In the finishing phase and opening of the project, the investors will also purchase as much local artwork as possible, among other things. The investment also includes education and social programs for the local community.

The multi-million dollar project on Tinian was one of the results of the U.S. Department of Interior’s investment opportunities conference for U.S. insular areas.

Bridge Investment Group LLC investors include big business names: Dr. Akshay Desai, a leading private physician and founder of American Family and Geriatric Care and president and Chief Executive Officer of Universal Health Care; Rocky Li, vice chair and Chief Executive Officer of Waitex International; Erik Wang, founding partner of Asian Fusion Restaurant Development Group; and U.S. presidential appointee to the Asian American and Pacific Islander Advisory Commission Rudy Pamintuan.

Their partners include Howard Li, Todd Dorrien, Cory Aronovitz, and Taniguchi Ruth Architects.

The Tinian Gaming Casino Control Commission granted Bridge Investment a conditional license to begin its project in December 2005.

March 8, 2006

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