Government discussing ground rules with golf developers

Moving slowly but deliberately, the government has laid out the ground rules for golf-centered real estate projects to four foreign investor groups and is preparing to form joint ventures with each group before the end of the year.

One week after the 6th Communist Party Congress ended in April, Grupo Empresarial Extrahotelero Palmares S.A. — the state company in charge of golf developments on the island — invited the foreign groups to hold successive three-day meetings to discuss terms, Cuban sources close to the negotiations say. At least two of the groups have agreed to terms.

The four projects have a collective value between $1 billion and $2 billion.

The discussions in the meetings were about a chronogram to form a joint venture with Palmares, the ownership split in the joint venture, and ground rules such as who can buy villas and apartments, the terms of real estate re-sales, the visa status of homeowners and their families, private car ownership regulations, and more. 

Most of the rules are politically delicate, involving issues such as whether Cubans or Cuban Americans will be allowed to buy properties, how the government can avoid flipping, and how foreign property owners will be able to import, export or sell their personal belongings.

Cuba Standard has not been able to obtain any details. The investor groups don’t intend to go public with the rules until their joint venture with Palmares is formally established.

At least two groups, Canada-based Standing Feather Inc. and Coral Capital Group Ltd., have signed agreements with Palmares and expect to finalize joint ventures before the end of the year.

The four projects that are in advanced pre-joint venture work include:

•A hitherto unpublicized golf community called Bellomonte in east Havana, by British Virgin Islands-based Coral Capital Group.

•The Standing Feather project called Loma Linda, at Guardalavaca beach in eastern Holguín province.

•The Carbonera project by Britain’s Esencia Group, near the beach resort of Varadero; and

•The Las Alturas project at Bahía Honda west of Havana, in Pinar del Río province, by a Spanish investor group.

Weeks after signing the preliminary agreement with Palmares S.A. in late April, Coral Capital, which had been working without any publicity during five years, is taking the wraps off its project.

Coral Capital Corp. Ltd. has operated the Saratoga luxury boutique hotel in Old Havana since 1997. Now, Coral plans to build a 1,100-unit golf community called Bellomonte Golf & Country Club in East Havana. The 628-acre site at Playas del Este is within the city limits of Havana, 25 minutes from the historical center. Anchored by two 18-hole golf courses, Bellomonte is planned to feature a country club, spa, and 323,000 square feet of commercial space. On a separate 20-acre property, Coral plans to build a 160-room beach hotel and beach club.

Coral won’t release the name of the golf course designer and master planner until the joint venture agreement is signed, expected before the end of the year. London-based Cushman & Wakefield Hospitality did the market study, Cayman-based BCQS International produced the cost estimate.

Meanwhile, Ottawa-based Standing Feather International Inc., a consortium of Indian tribes from Canada also signed a memorandum of agreement in April and expects to break ground as early as September for a $410 million golf community in eastern Cuba, the New York Times first reported.

The $410 million Loma Linda Golf Estates in Holguín province stand geographically apart from the other golf projects closer to Havana and Varadero. Loma Linda is an hour’s drive from Cuba’s third-largest airport, the Frank Pais International Airport. The 520-acre site is anchored by the Loma Linda hill and has direct access to Playa Guardalavaca. An undisclosed number of luxury villas and apartments aside, the project will be anchored by an 18-hole golf course, commercial center, and a 170-room boutique hotel. 

Loma Linda is designed by Graham Cooke & Associates of Montreal.

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