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For Pacific Islands Report By Riteshni Singh

NADI, Fiji (Pacific Islands Report, Oct. 12) - Work on the US$321 million Yaqara Studio City on Fiji’s Viti Levu is targeted for early next year as efforts to secure investors continues in Fiji and abroad.

Suva-based development company Yaqara Group Ltd. has entered into some contracts, including a $6.5 million deal for the construction of a University of the South Pacific campus on the site in the province of Ra in northwestern Viti Levu. But the company’s managing director, Lyndon Driscoll, said development of the 4,500-acre project site remains largely on paper.

"The company is active in its efforts to secure funding for the development and is working on both a local and international level to achieve such," he said.

Meanwhile, Driscoll said, the project’s first tenant, Telecom Fiji, has started construction of a Satellite dish on the site.

According to the company’s master plan, there are four sites to be developed to include housing, a film studio, businesses and resort hotels.

The residential site is to include individual housing lots, a golf course, and a marina residential village. The Audiovisual site is to include film and television studios and production facilities and a digital park. Also planned on a separate site are hotels and resort housing units. The Ancillary facilities and services will include Yaqara Yacht Club and Marina, Yaqara Golf Club, Yaqara University campus and further education facilities and the Audio Visual Creative Arts School.

"We have not commenced other construction on site as yet apart from some minor access road work as we have been focused on regulatory and planning work and international capital and project finance raising," Driscoll said.

The University of the South Pacific (USP) is investing FJ$10 million (US$6.5 million) to develop a new campus at the Yaqara Studio City.

Mr Driscoll said the company is listed on the South Pacific Stock Exchange and has a wide shareholder base made up of around 70 percent Fiji residents and companies and 30 percent international shareholders with no one group or individual holding a majority of shares.

"The government and Native Land Trust Board together hold an undilutable10 per cent shareholding in the Company via special L Class shares. This means that their shareholding can never fall below 10 per cent of the Company," Driscoll said.

The estimated development cost for targeted developments over the next 5 to10 years is FJ$500 million [US$321.4 million]. But the figure goes up over the long term, Driscoll said.

"The total capital development costs for full development over 15 to 20 years are estimated at US$ 3 billion (FJ$4.7 billion)," he said.

He said the financing would come from international capital and project finance on a project-by-project basis.

"Yaqara Group Limited is acting as a Master Developer facilitating sub developers developing and financing individual projects on site. YGL has invested in excess of FJ$5 million [US$3.2 million] to date as seed capital," he said.

Mr Driscoll said the company has developed initial revenue models but has not released these to the market as yet.

"These figures are confidential to the company at present," he said.

According to Driscoll it would take 15 to20 years for the city to be fully developed because it is a large site of 4,500 acres of land and 1,000 acres of foreshore.

When asked whether the project has been affected by the December 5, 2006 coup, Driscoll said the events had a significant impact on the company’s ability to successfully procure both local and international working capital in a timely manner. But he said all governments have been very supportive of the Yaqara Studio City development including the current Interim Regime.

"The company has the continued support of government, Fiji Trade and Investment Bureau and Native Land Trust Board to achieve its goals for Fiji and the shareholders," Driscoll said.

The website also says that Yaqara will attract people who are looking for a safe, healthy place to bring up a family, to work to play and to retire with various lifestyle options.

"It will encourage ‘worlds best’ environmental, architectural or sociological practices and is destined to become a major global tourist destination into the 21st Century," the official website said.

Samu Nadonu, supervisor of the Yaqara pastoral company said they are excited about the project but it has been a long wait for work to start.

Nadonu said they have their livestock on the land at present and when the work starts they will have to move them somewhere else.

He said they hope to be getting jobs when the project starts since people are looking for jobs in the area.

"My wife along with other village women had started to plant flowers upon the request of the director but they have not come back to us," he said.

He said about 50 women in the area had been planting the flowers for the last three years.

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