TINIAN CASINO DEVELOPER REEVALUATES PROJECT

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Selling assets after lengthy delay

By Haidee V. Eugenio SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Jan. 19, 2010) – In the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), China-based TinYuan Construction Group, the firm hired by Bridge Investment Group LLC to build its US$40 million to US$50 million casino and condominiums project on Tinian, has started selling its assets after waiting nearly a year for a notice to proceed with the project.

Bridge Investment halted construction of its staff housing early last year, and has not resumed since then.

The firm also has yet to issue a notice to proceed to TinYuan Construction Group to build the casino.

Phillip Mendiola-Long, executive vice president of Bridge Investment Group-CNMI operations, however, pointed out yesterday that Bridge Investment is not pulling out its casino project.

"The only assets being sold are from the construction firm, TianYuan Construction from China, which has been waiting on our notice to proceed for nearly one year," Mendiola-Long said in an e-mail response to Saipan Tribune questions.

Mendiola-Long, who is also the president of the Tinian Chamber of Commerce, blames the Nov. 28 federal takeover of CNMI immigration and the absence of U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) final regulations on the transitional worker program and investor program for the delay in the casino project.

"Federalization has been the main culprit of our inability to issue the notice to proceed because there are no DHS regulations issued which allow the new hiring of our necessary construction workers. Chinese nationals are not allowed to be issued H2," he said.

Tinian residents have started asking whether Bridge Investment will still pursue its casino project.

Bridge Investment hired Tianyuan Construction Group in 2008 to build the casino project on 75,000 square feet of land that the company has leased for 55 years.

Mendiola-Long also said that Bridge Investment has been unable to sell condominium units "until DHS issues CNMI investor rules."

"The only rules out are rules related to existing CNMI investors with CNMI investor status as of Nov. 28, 2009. Therefore, it does not make sense for us to begin construction on a project that is unable to sell condos to the Chinese market. Our fate is dependent upon the regulatory environment the DHS creates for investors and workers from China, both of which have yet to be released," he said.

The comment period for DHS's interim final rule on the CNMI transitional worker program wrapped up on Jan. 8. Over 130 comments were posted online as of that date, and DHS earlier said it will consider comments submitted in the final rule.

Early last year, Bridge Investment said it's "re-evaluating" its plan to build a casino and condominiums project on Tinian based on the global economic crunch and the federal takeover of CNMI immigration.

Bridge Investment secured a license to operate a casino on Tinian in 2005. It earlier planned to build a US$200 million project on Tinian, but scaled it down to US$40 million-US$50 million in early 2008.

Bridge Investment's project, called Tinian Oceanview Resort and Casino, would have had 396 total rooms-268 declared condominium units and 128 hotel rooms-and 30,000 square feet of casino/banquet area. It projected to create 936 new jobs on Tinian.

Tinian, which is allowed to have five casinos and relies heavily on Chinese tourists, has only one operating casino since 1998, the Tinian Dynasty Hotel and Casino.

Besides Bridge Investment, the other two investors are the Marianas Resort Development Corp., which plans to build Matua Bay Resort, and Neo Gold Wings Paradise Saipan Corp.

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