Criteria Raises the Price of the Plots for Hard Rock Café Complex in Tarragona

8 October 2018 – El Confidencial

Criteria, the holding company of the investment companies owned by La Caixa, has increased the price of the plots on which Hard Rock Café Entertainment World is set to be built. The new leisure and casino complex is due to be constructed in Tarragona, next to Port Aventura. That is according to explanations provided by sources in the real estate sector to justify the delay in the project, formerly BCN World, which constitutes the largest foreign investment pending in Cataluña and which will involve the disbursement of €2 billion in total.

Criteria had closed an option to sell the land worth €110 million. But that was in December 2014. Now that Hard Rock Café, a multinational from the United States of America specialising in hotel and restaurant complexes linked to casinos, wants to exercise the option, Criteria is claiming that the real estate market has recovered in the last four years and so the price needs to be updated.

Sources at Criteria declined to comment but other sources in the real estate sector explained that a new due diligence process is being carried out to determine the magnitude of the price increase. The new price is expected to amount to around €140 million, a claim that has been rejected wholeheartedly by the Hard Rock Café, which alleges, and rightly so, that the delays incurred by the project (…) which now amount to more than three years, cannot be attributed to the company.

According to the original plan, the project should have been ready by 2015. But, partly due to the withdrawal of investments, and partly due to the political instability in Cataluña, the complex has suffered various delays.

Hard Rock Café is the only company that survived the bidding process for the gambling licences and is now the main party responsible for developing the complex. The forecast investment in Tarragona amounts to €2 billion for the construction of Hard Rock Entertainment World, which will have two hotels and 1,100 rooms, a shopping area with 75 shops – which will be operated by the British giant Value Retail, owner of Las Rozas and La Roca – and a 10,000 m2 casino. The project is expected to create more than 11,000 jobs and will be carried out in phases: the first amounting to €600 million.

When the initial investor withdrew, which was led by the businessman Enrique Bañuelos, La Generalitat subrogated the option to purchase the land, as a way of ensuring the continuity of the project. But that operation is neutral. La Generalitat would only perform a transfer and the final investor would have to pay the price of the plots. The Administration does not want to assume the surcharge that the new valuation would now result in.

Different positions

Each party defends its position. For Hard Rock Café, it cannot make its company or the other investors responsible for the delays incurred and therefore, does not want to assume the additional cost.

Meanwhile, Criteria has renewed the sale option, which had a term of 18 months, on up to four occasions to ensure that the investment would not go to waste, and considers that its efforts should also be rewarded.

An agreement must be reached between the parties soon (…). This project is key for Cataluña and will only serve to turn around the foreign investment figures that have been negative for the Catalan Administration since the independence process entered its critical phase.

Licence in May

In May 2018, Hard Rock Café obtained the licence for the project, which includes the gambling licence for the casino, granted by La Generalitat. That administrative permit arrived a year late due to the political instability in Cataluña. Now, Hard Rock Café, which is owned by a tribe of Seminole Indians (Florida) has three years to submit its plans. La Generalitat expects the building work to begin in 2019. The negotiations with Criteria could mean more delays if the positions fester, warn sources in the real estate sector.

Original story: El Confidencial (by Marcos Lamelas)

Translation: Carmel Drake

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