Packer is coming; but has paid only 20 per cent for the landView(s):
Australian casino mogul James Packer’s resort in Colombo Fort is yet to receive Urban Development Authority (UDA) approval as the investors have paid just 20 per cent of the total value of the property on which it is to be built. The land, which is located in the corner of D.R. Wijewardene Mawatha and Sir Chittampalam A Gardiner Mawatha, is valued at Rs. 2.4 billion, UDA Chairman Nimal Perera said. Ten per cent of this was first paid seven years ago, in 2007, while another ten per cent was deposited with the UDA subsequently.
“The land has been reserved through the payment of these advances but the full payment is yet to come,” Mr. Perera said. “They have submitted their plans for the mixed development project but they have to pay in full and follow procedures.” “We will approve the plans once the payment is made and if they are in keeping with UDA regulations,” he added. The land had originally been reserved for a car park by Rank Holdings (Pvt) Ltd. Chairman Ravi Wijeratne, Mr. Packer’s local partner. But it is now proposed to build a 400-room resort on it.
The UDA chairman confirmed that the partners had changed the design of their hotel from a single block to two towers. This was in keeping with the recommendations of a World Bank consultant who proposed a modification in architecture for aesthetic purposes. The UDA has also received for approval the plans for a resort being built by Dammika Perera, Mr Wijeratne’s arch business rival. These are also yet to be passed. The property on which the Queensbury Hotel will be built belongs to the Sri Lanka Ports Authority.
The third resort approved recently under the Strategic Development Projects Act — John Keells Water Properties (Pvt) Ltd — is already at construction stage. That hotel is being built on the company’s own property. Meanwhile, the Government has returned to its earlier position that the new hotels could have casinos in them. Cabinet Spokesman Keheliya Rambuwella said existing casino operators could enter into partnerships to set up a business.
“The papers reported that the President has said there will be no casinos (in the resorts),” he told the Sunday Times. “What he said was that no new casino licences will be issued.” Minister Rambukwella said two operators – Mr. Wijeratne and Mr. Perera — are already operating five casinos in Sri Lanka on the payment of an annual tax which started with Rs. 10 million but today stands at Rs. 100 million. “Circumstances have proved beyond the iota of a doubt that it (tax payment) was meant to serve as a licence,” he maintained.
When it was pointed out that no licensing system existed at present, Minister Rambukwella replied that if there had been “a procedural or technical error, if at all, it could be rectified”. “But we will not ask them to close down,” he stressed. “Just because we had ‘mathata thitha’ we didn’t close down all the bars.”