An artists impression shows former develop Mirage Group's plans. STUFF/SUPPLIED/23100427
A published author and former Government minister has weighed in on the ongoing Sheraton debate, labelling its background “a nightmare”.
Iaveta Short, author of False
Start in Paradise, which offered
readers “a bird’s eye view of the turbulent periods” following self-government
in the Cook Islands, described the Sheraton project’s chequered history as a “nightmare if you think
many people got involved, it was a disaster.”
redevelopment of the abandoned Sheraton site was announced by Prime Minister
Mark Brown in May 2022 after Cook Islands News persisted with questions.
The redevelopment is being
led by Rarotonga businessman Chris Vaile, managing director of Radun Limited –
a recent partnership formed with landowner Pa Ariki.
The concept for the site
envisions a “sustainable, mixed-use, village-style development that will
include residential, short-stay and tourist accommodation, recreational
facilities, local stores and markets, eateries and other ancillary services”.
More recently, questions
have been raised around government’s “no issue” statement regarding the closure
of the coastal main road in Vaimaanga to make way for the Sheraton
The latest drama follows a
long line of attempts to turn a decades old dream into a reality.
The development has been
plagued by a long run of failures over the past four decades.
Iaveta Short pictured at home in Rarotonga. 23102060
Short recalls the dramas.
“It was a dream, the people
in charge were dreamers,” he said of the early days.
Short was High Commissioner for the Cook Islands in
Wellington when the resort development got underway.
He said there were whisperings and doubts in New Zealand and the Cooks at the time.
“Part of the problem is we had a lot of young people
with qualifications who couldn’t handle it; it is still part of the problem
today,” he said of Government involvement in the project.
“That is the hallmark of a disaster when you have
people of little experience making decisions.”
Short said it was clearly a disaster from the
“If you have people who don’t understand there will be
“You have to pay administration costs upfront; a
little country like the Cook Islands can’t handle that.
“When you get into contracts of that size, you need
proper advice; a lot of people in government don’t know.”
Short estimated initial costs at $50 million, about
$200 million in 2023.
“Proper advice today is expensive.”
He knew at the time that New Zealand was looking at
the development from “the outside” and wonders if it would have been wise to
ask the nation for advice in the early stages of the project.
“You know when government masters are charged with
doing the project they don’t care about the cost.
“They only see the glory, not the hard work.
“The accountability is not there and the public voice
Short said he is not sceptical, but positive, a
“You can’t turn eggs into gold; if you hold an egg
long enough it will go rotten.”
A rough timeline of events surrounding the beleaguered
resort shows rumours circulated in Rarotonga about who would win the rights for
the Sheraton project in 2018.
At the time it was alleged that a group of Chinese investors
had made a tender offer on the site.
It was announced at the end of 2017 that New Zealand’s
Mirage Group surrendered its lease.
Mirage Group, which acquired the lease in 2010,
abandoned its plans for the rundown resort, joining a long list of those who
had tried and failed to complete the development.
The site had 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 had 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
The buildings remain standing but have long since lost
their fixtures and fittings, and opinion is divided on whether many of the
structures can be salvaged.
Short was the first Cook Islander to graduate with a law degree from Auckland
University and returned home to be in the midst of the difficult winds of
change that followed self-governance. He was a minister in the Sir Tom Davis
government, High Commissioner for the Cook Islands in Wellington, and the go-to
man to solve many of the problems of government across the political divide. He
holds a chiefly (Mataiapo) title on Rarotonga and was awarded an OBE in 1995.
He has retired from politics and public service and is a businessman on