Saipan Casino Developer Modifies Plans For CNMI Resort

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Alter City Group to build ‘villa-type’ accommodations, not big hotel

By Frauleine S. Villanueva-Dizon

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, May 5, 2016) – The Alter City Group is looking at holding a groundbreaking ceremony in the next two months for their $1.2-billion casino resort project in Puntan Diablo Cove on Tinian. However, there will be changes to their project plan that they hope to submit to the Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality soon.

According to ACG managing director Ken Lin, they will no longer be building massive hotel complexes but instead have villa-type accommodations, at least for Phase 1 of their project, which comprises one-third of their entire property.

"Our first phase has changed in terms of the massive hotel complex like what we originally provided. Now our first phase will mainly concentrate on villa-ish type hotel. We have to redefine our program. Rather than building the hotel, we want to build a resort," Lin said.

Lin added that the all the villas will have 100 percent ocean view and that the architecture will be something that will look like it’s "grown on the ground" using natural materials such as wood and corals to enhance the simple but modern look.

There will be about 300 units of villas with at least 1,500 rooms for ACG’s planned Plumeria Casino and Golf Resort.

The casino, which was earlier proposed to be on the ground floor of their hotel, will be in a separate area as one of the attractions or activities to do in the resort.

With the amendments, Lin said they don’t anticipate having a problem with their major citing permit that was approved last July.

"It should be okay because first of all, our height is actually, instead of six or seven floors, now it’s only one or two floors. Area did not change much," Lin said.

Lin said they needed to "redefine" their program after more careful consideration of their site as well as recent developments in the CNMI such as the upcoming casino on Saipan.

"We revisited that because we want to redefine the right program for us," Lin said, "We need to redefine our program to target a different clientele."

Lin said they sought advice from various experts and weighed in on the advantages and disadvantages of the project and "to define what will be the best program for us."

Since one advantage that they have is their sprawling land, ACG said they have decided to go with the villas instead of rising complexes and they will be building a resort rather than a hotel.

This will provide a different living style as they hope to be more family oriented as well.

They will still have shopping areas, a waterpark, and golf area so that their resort will be "something where you can stay for three days and not go out."

With these changes, Lin said the price tag of their development actually "shoots up more" rather than decreases.

"To a developer time is money," Lin said, noting that with the changes, they might waste seven months on waiting for final designs, plans, and approvals.

However, it will be better in the long run, according to Lin, as they will be able to build much faster and can get the casino up and running rather than wait for the hotel complex to finish.

Lin also said that they will not open a temporary casino but a real casino so that it will already have a "wow" factor and will entice tourists to come back.

ACG, despite being granted the casino license, stressed that the casino will have its own operators.

We’re not experts in casinos, we’re experts in property development," Lin said.

"Casino to us is just a facility," ACG chief executive officer Edvon Sze said.

For now, ACG said they have started clearing parts of their 155 hectare-property and have pieces of equipment ready. However, they are still waiting on other permits such as earthmoving permits that they hope to get next month.

"We’re in the process of getting the earthmoving permit," Sze said.

"In a developer’s point of view, we want the permit yesterday," Lin said, "We definitely urge to have the permit faster."

Lin said that they want to hold a groundbreaking when the site is all clear and set to start construction—which will commence hopefully this year. Phase 1 of ACG’s Plumeria Casino and Golf Resort is expected to be finished in 2019.

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