A press statement issued yesterday Rarotonga lawyer Tim Arnold said an agreement between Pa Ariki and Mirage Group Ltd had been finalised last week, opening the way for Pa to have possession of the property returned.
The agreement left Pa Ariki free to negotiate with parties interested in completing the 200-room Vaimaanga resort, and in purchasing a new leasehold interest in the land and buildings, the statement said.
The Cook Islands government had expressed “strong interest” in helping any future lessee realise the vision of the land as host to a substantial four to five-star resort development.
“Pa is now focused on moving forward with speed to identify those interested parties and reach a deal that will work both for the Pa title and for the public interest,” the statement said.
“Government has identified the site as a priority in terms of the growing tourism accommodation market and will be working closely with Pa over coming months.”
News that Pa Ariki has regained possession of the property, which has become one of Rarotonga’s best known landmarks thanks to its long-abandoned Sheraton Hotel buildings, will be welcomed by at least two parties that CINews understands are interested in rebuilding or renovating the existing hotel buildings.
A long-touted plan for the site involves diverting the main road around the back of the old Sheraton Road, leaving potential developers free to incorporate the lagoon beachfront in their plans. However, one of the parties interested in the project is understood to prefer making use of man-made water features such as pools or lakes, leaving the road in its present location.
There have been numerous failed efforts to revive the Sheraton project in the past, and stories claiming a sale was imminent appeared on New Zealand news websites as recently as September last year.
A spokesman for Bayleys Fiji was quoted at the time as saying “serious negotiations” for the “unique” property were progressing well. However, no sale eventuated.
BTIB chief executive officer Teariki Vakalalabure said then that the potential the site offered was huge, but had not been realised for a very long time.
“It is recognised across a wide spectrum of interest in the Cook Islands that Vaimaanga would have a national impact on the economy once (it is) completed,” Vakalalabure said.
BTIB was working with other agencies to ensure work on the abandoned site resumed, he added.
“It is most likely that the site could only be developed through foreign direct investment which will require scrutiny by the BTIB before approvals are granted.”
- Cameron Scott/Release