The remains of Sheraton Hotel in Vaimaanga. Photo by Brian Baudinet/ 23102035
The old deserted and controversial Sheraton Hotel in Vaimaanga is getting a new lease of life after Rarotonga businessman Chris Vaile took on the challenge to redevelop the site into a high-end apartment property complete with other amenities.
But the recent development surrounding the proposed closure of the coastal main road for a ring road around the property has been met with criticism from the public. Influential entrepreneur Brian Baudinet explains why the community should be consulted before such a major undertaking is completed.
Following an argument over ownership of the land known as Papua 4 at Vaimaanga on Sunday, March 12, 1911, More Uriatua, the leader of the rival clan that claimed to be the legitimate titleholders of the land, was shot dead by European settler William John Wigmore on the site – locally still called “The Sheraton”.
the shooting in 1911 to the battering to death of the Italian negotiator Franco,
who spearheaded the initial project, in a hotel in Vanuatu, the past history of
the Sheraton/Vaimaanga Hotel site sports some pretty heavy stuff.
– More Amoa, Vincent Ingram, Norman George, Geoff Henry, Terepai Maoate, Robert
Woonton, Jim Marurai, Henry Puna, Sicel and the Italians, Sheraton, Hilton,
Covington, Tim Tepaki around 2003 with Fletcher South Pacific, Mark Lyon, Tim
Tepaki in 2017 with “hundreds of millions of dollars” in Chinese backing, Paintball,
$5 access, and Mirage Group – were all involved at some stage.
Cook Islands News earlier this month reported Rarotonga businessman Chris Vaile has plans to divert the main coastal road behind his ongoing venture at the old Sheraton site. Government has “no issues” with the plan. LOSIRENE LACANIVALU / 23100421
in 1911 Metua, the daughter of More Uriatua, placed a “curse” on the land which
is still in effect, and no doubt a story for another day.
first deal on the 14.432-hectare land was signed in 1987 between the Cook
Islands Government and an Italian Bank through their negotiator Franco. Then an
Italian insurance company became involved, and an Italian contractor named
Sicel began construction with some rusty second-hand equipment shipped from
Italy. Sicel went bankrupt after the bank cut the financing and the Sheraton
was about 80 per cent complete.
the early 1990s the Cook Islands Government was left with liabilities of around
$120 million, and eventually – but not without considerable pain – the debt was
settled for $52 million.
will remember at that time the intervention of our own “1996 Financial Crisis”
which resulted in 1500 staff being axed from Government positions, and a mass
exodus to New Zealand and Australia followed.
the Hotel fell into disrepair, successive governments were at fault over about 20
years for failing to find a resolution to a problem they themselves had
also recall the various attempts by residents and Government agencies to
protect and trade and sell many of the assets. Residents know that there are
tiles laid in Aitutaki, railings in Takuvaine, and a spa bath in Mauke.
came and went with the lease changing hands a few times – and only recently has
Pa Ariki entered the fray because no progress was being made by Mirage for a
sale, and there were too many negative stories especially in the NZ media. And
the site continued to be an eyesore.
The abandoned Sheraton Hotel is being redeveloped by Rarotonga businessman Chris Vaile. The first section, which includes 41 rooms and a new swimming pool, is scheduled to be completed by the end of next month. LOSIRENE LACANIVALU / 23100417, 23100418 / 23100419/ 23100420/ 23100421 / 23100422
at last, some action – obviously the view of the current developer is to create
another Muri, with apartments and tennis courts, swimming pools, cafes, shops
and plenty of parking. After negotiating a hairpin bend, and no doubt another
30kph speed limit, the traveller will be relieved to stop for a coffee, or even
a water at the TTV Cafe. And to discover that the power and water will all come
from renewable energy.
what is being created here is a horseshoe road situation, which – if it goes
ahead – will no doubt be copied by other landowners. And why shouldn’t they, to
improve the value of their land by having no road between them and the beach. Perhaps
then we will end up with a number of horseshoes, and an ideal race-track
situation for some of our growing number of bikies.
good example of that would be the land known as Pokoinu 107 where the golf
course plus tennis and volleyball courts are situated, and now commercial food
caravans. This land was taken by Government Warrant around 1953 for use as a
Wireless Station, so obviously the prime use has now changed. And the landowners
are now raising their concerns, and talking about the land being returned so
they can utilise the unused areas themselves – with existing leases retained.
A Google Maps image showing the ring road around the abandoned Sheraton hotel, which is now being redeveloped in Vaimaanga. 23102036
on most of the Cook Islands can have a lot of agreements attached to it, and
this Vaimaanga site is no exception.
putting all those aside, in this situation the Government needs to decide what
is “practical”. Clearly a road around the rear of the site creating a horseshoe
is not practical.
Government has said it is happy with a new horseshoe road, but continuing with
the current road along the beachside seems to be the view of the majority of
the population so far.
Perhaps a referendum should be held, and the Government can then decide whether to take the road by Warrant or not – taking into account how this position my affect other areas.
the road by Warrant would involve compensation, but the question is how much.
understanding is that for a new Lease, the current Leaseholder has paid $50,000
to Pa Ariki, and $150,000 to the previous Leaseholder, along with some
guarantees as to completion of “development”.
is very admirable, and it is great to see the progress and the eyesore being currently
another major factor has to be taken into account – and that is the fact that
the Government has recently spent (Infrastructure Cook Islands please tell us) probably
up to $1 million on a huge rock wall on the beachfront of the property. (ICI
Secretary Elizabeth Wright-Koteka told Cook Islands News: “ICI implemented
foreshore protection on the Vaimaanga foreshore at the Sheraton area, as well
as the Rutaki foreshore. This project
was done in phases over the 2018/19 and 2020/21 financial years, covering an
area of 670 metres. The overall costs
for both Sheraton and Rutaki foreshore project was $1.4 million.”) This can
be clearly seen on the front page of the ICI website at https://ici.gov.ck/ which also includes some Ngatoe Stream work. This
has added considerable value to the land, and surely would be adequate
compensation for taking the road by Government Warrant.
the road was taken by Warrant, beach access is still possible by (as now)
crossing the road just like visitors at other properties must do. Or beach
access can be included in any agreement, either under the road by tunnel or
over the top by bridge – just like in other countries.
question here – if the road was changed to the horseshoe, what happens to the
current power and water and internet lines? That surely would be a huge cost to
move all around the back, and who would pay for it?
Coastal improvements work done by the Government to the tune of $1.4 million. SUPPLIED/23102034
is a flashback –
News 13 January 2004
The concerns of the Cook Island public with respect to the new Captain Cook
Hotel proposed on Pa's land in Takitumu need to be explained and aired publicly
- before the process of the EIA approval is finalised.
Another matter of principle concern is the disadvantage the developers intend
to force upon the people of Rarotonga and the Cook Islands by changing a public
road, introducing two dangerous corners and by an extended detour require the
people to travel a greater distance around their hotel and our island.
This is unprecedented and no one on this island has that right, not even the
government, who are not landowners. Our customs and traditions dictate that
action, and the wise course would be to let the people of this island have
their say on this matter before any confirmation of this EIA.
Were a precedent set on this matter, it could mean that any foreign lease
holder could change the direction of a public road to suit their interests, to
the detriment of the travelling public.
If the government were to do this, they would come under the greatest scrutiny
and we would want to know who was responsible and from what island. No public
meeting has been scheduled to determine agreement on these matters either with
the public or our government and the developer. This is precisely the aim of
hearings on the EIA and is the principal purpose of an EIA report. It would be
wise for the government to make this process transparent if it intends to remain
in our favour. I write in support of Bill Rennie's submission to the
is there still a question of who owns the land?
the landowner is Pa Ariki, but to quote the words to me of one of our first
Land Court stalwarts Judge Jock MacAuley on 19 July 2000: “Pa Ariki is not the
true owner of the Vaimaanga land, although the title shows her name as title
holder. When the courts first commenced on Raro', Wigmore and a European Doctor
(Craig?) wanted to lease the land as it would be NZ’s garden in the winter
times. There were several families planting the land and Wigmore promised them
jobs as paid labour. The Judge at the time thought the best way out of a long
drawn court session to prove ownership, was to title it as Ariki Land. When Pa
was asked to lease to the Government in the 1980s, I told Mike Mitchell that
she cannot give a 60-year lease without the consent of the Ui Ariki. Mitchell
insisted that she had a “Freehold” title and could lease to Government. I still
insist that it was wrong both in fact and in law. However, Marie (Pa Ariki)
would be pleased to see someone take over, as the Government has failed in
a good read is Lily Kairangi Henderson’s letter to the Cook Islands News
published on 11 December 2003 regarding ‘Title Lands’.
on you Chis Vaile for taking up the challenge of an abandoned eyesore, no
matter all of the faults of the past. And good luck to all the participants.
in my view, there should be a lot more discussion and consultation, before the existing
road is closed to traffic.
example, neither lawyers Tina Browne nor Tim Arnold (for Pa Ariki) has
explained the parameters of the new road, and who will actually own it. I thank
Browne for her explanation of the Lease published in the Cook Islands News on
18 October 2023, however what should be considered is what is best for
everyone, and not for just a few.
landowners and leaseholders can do whatever they like with their land, but here
I think the community should be consulted before such a major undertaking is
completed, which will affect everyone.
consideration given to the future disruption to people’s lives, on this site
Brian Baudinet is a highly accomplished and influential entrepreneur with a diverse portfolio of businesses in the Cook Islands and New Zealand. The views expressed in this article are his and do not necessarily reflect the views of this newspaper.