CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Developer Jesse James with plans for the first phase of the Sasina Village Resort complex, which will be built on the island of Savaii. Hawaii-based South Pacific Development Group has obtained a 120-year lease for 600 acres of prime oceanfront land in Samoa.
Hawaii company to build $450M Samoa resort
Samoa project would be largest of its kind
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Hawaii-based South Pacific Development Group, a land planning/acquisition company, is moving forward to build the first major resort on Savaii in Western Samoa.
The oceanfront resort, which is expected to cost more than $450 million to develop, is set on 600 acres of prime leased land. The 120-year lease has been termed the biggest customary land deal in the history of Samoa.
While some minor hotel development exists on Savaii, the endeavor will bring the first major resort development to this rural village, where the minimum wage just went up to $1 an hour.
The first phase of the resort, which requires a $150 million commitment, will feature a hotel, time-share units, a championship golf course, and cultural center to be followed in later phases by additional hotels, private residences and a recreational marina.
Groundbreaking is expected by next year.
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Jesse James, a Hawaii-based developer and chief executive of South Pacific Development Group
, is shopping for partners to help build a $450 million plus eco-friendly resort in Western Samoa.
SPDG, a land planning/acquisition company, will develop the Sasina Village Resort Complex on 600 acres of prime oceanfront land on the island of Savaii, where last month it signed a 120-year lease with landowners, James said. The company, which is in the midst of raising a second-round of capital, is talking to potential hotel partners and co-developers as other investors interested in having a financial stake in its Samoa developments, he said.
Termed "the biggest customary land deal in the history of Samoa -- by far," by Laauli Leuatea Polataivao Fosi Schmidt, a deputy speaker for the Samoan Parliament, the ambitious project is a pioneering effort that lives up to James' name. While some minor hotel development exists on Savaii, James' endeavor, which is expected to break ground within a year, will bring the first major resort development to this rural village, where minimum wage just went up to $1 an hour.
"As they say, it ain't easy. If it was, everybody would be doing it," said James, who made eight trips to Samoa in the past year and a half to clinch the deal.
In Samoa's recent past, leaders had limited tourism growth to 3 percent annually, James said. Leaders now want to expand their visitor industry to create a more sustainable economy, he said.
"It's always been a subsistence economy, but they see what's out there in the world and they want it for themselves," James said.
The first phase of the resort, which requires a $150 million commitment, will feature a hotel, time-share units, a championship golf course, and cultural center to be followed in later phases by additional hotels, private residences and a recreational marina. Development of this scale is unprecedented on Savaii, which is far less developed than Upolu, Samoa's other main island.
Savaii is destined to emerge as one of the most sought-after tourist destinations in the South Pacific, said James, adding that his resort is expected to quadruple Savaii's visitor traffic within the first five years.
"Samoa's unique cultural appeal, peaceful surroundings and tropical beauty are about to be discovered by travelers yearning for a special destination that offers both the rewards of eco-tourism and cultural tourism as well as the magical romantic allure of the South Pacific," James said. "We think the resort will be very popular, especially with visitors from the China, Korea and Japan markets."
Sasina, which is comprised of 65,000 acres of mostly undeveloped land, is known for its adherence to historical Samoan traditions and its natural wonders. SPDG will remain committed to preserving the culture, tradition and environment in Savaii, James said. From its volcanic craters to scenic waterfalls and lava tubes, to rain forest canopy walks, blowholes, surfing, snorkeling and unspoiled beaches alongside traditional Polynesian villages, Savaii offers travelers an elusive glimpse of unspoiled paradise.
"Our company's motto is, knowing what you know about Hawaii now what would you do different," he said.
To lessen the resort's impact on the environment and culture, SPDG has capped planned structures to a maximum four-story height with a 500-foot shoreline setback. Belt Collins of Honolulu will assist SPDG with ecological impact and civil engineering studies that will assure protection of the area's pristine environment.
SPDG will work with Samoa's government, its co-developer partners and outside agencies to create jobs, develop renewable and sustainable energy resources, James said. "We want to give future generations of Samoans an opportunity to prosper and to grow at home, not to grow up and leave to find work and prosperity in a foreign country," he said. "They are experiencing what we have experienced in Hawaii for many years. Their young people are growing up and leaving and going to places like New Zealand."
Leasi Vainu'upo Nu'usa, high chief of the Village of Sasina, said the project is a positive development that will create opportunities for jobs, spawn a new lumber industry and allow local farmers to sell produce to the resort.
SPDG also plans to work with the government to enhance Savaii's burgeoning tourist trade by expanding the airport at Asau and to develop a world-class marina and cruise port at Asau Harbor, James said.