CINews understands that a “pre-qualification process” for interested parties is now underway ahead of a formal tender process.
Landowner Pa Ariki’s lawyer Tim Arnold confirmed the land was back in his client’s hands and “available to be leased”.
He said: “Pa is hoping shortly to seek tenders and the only reason she has not done so before this date is that she and the government have agreed that any tender documents should meet the expectations of the government, and that they should be notified.
“The reason for that is to make sure that tenders will be received from people who are acceptable to government.”
Mirage Group, which acquired the lease in 2010, has now abandoned its plans for the rundown resort, joining a long list of those who have tried and failed to complete the development.
It is thought developer Tim Tepaki, whose previous attempt to finish the project was ended by the financial crash a decade ago, is among those interested in the lease.
His ambitious plans are said to involve backing from the Chinese government and form part of a wider scheme that would include tourist and infrastructure projects on the outer islands. He has said he wants to use the Vaimaanga hotel as a feeder resort for those hotels.
The so-called Sheraton site has been derelict since the Italian-backed project to build a five-star resort there collapsed in the early 1990s, almost bankrupting the country.
The project was 80 per cent complete when it fell apart, but over the years repeated efforts to finish the hotel have foundered.
The site is said to be jinxed after a curse, condemning any business there to fail, was placed on the land during an ownership dispute that led to a shooting there in 1911.
The curse was reintroduced in 1990 at the ceremony to mark the start of work on the hotel when More Rua, a descendent of the shooting victim, entered the site and split the rock bearing a commemorative plaque with a spear. Nowadays the ghostly 70-actre site has become something of a tourist attraction in its own right, and visitors can tour the area for a small fee and even play paintball there.
The buildings remain standing but have long since lost their fixtures and fittings, and opinion is divided on whether the structures can be salvaged.
- Jonathan Harwood