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Local hotel operator complains of discrimination

Elvis Regis - came home to invest after hearing the Prime Minister addressing Grenadians in Canada

You do not qualify because you don’t have a pool and you are not in Lance Aux Epines.

These demoralising words to a young couple who moved back to Grenada, invested millions of dollars in a hotel property and found themselves locked out of a State-funded soft loan programme for small hotels development.

Elvis Regis worked for many years in Canada, rising to the top of the construction industry and earning top dollars.

On what he is now viewing as one ill-fated day he was among Grenadians listening to Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell as he addressed the Canada diaspora, encouraging them to return home and invest in Grenada.

To Regis, this call to come home and help develop the land of his birth was moving and he pulled up stakes and headed home, investing in what was the Lexus Inn, now Regis Palm, on the Belmont main road.

But after investing about $2 Million of their own money, and getting more encouraging words from Tourism Minister Dr. Clarice Modeste-Curwen, the Regis’ say they have been running into brick wall after brick wall.

Regis said not only is a local law firm engaged in trying to pull the property out from under them for members of the money class in the affluent south of the island but they are also being denied access to a revolving soft loan fund at the Grenada Development Bank (GDB) which was established specifically for use by small hoteliers.

In an interview with THE NEW TODAY, the businessman said he could not believe that he was being denied access to a government programme designed for people like him just because his property, which sits on the coastline, does not have a pool and is located outside of the traditional upscale areas further south.

He said agents within the Credit Department of the development bank went as far as revising the financials in their business plan, without their knowledge, the result of which was that they could no longer meet the loan requirements.

Regis, who owns an award winning home design company in Canada, said the plan was to make units available for short and long term stay, targeting both students of the St George’s University and tourists.

According to Regis, the GDB cut their projected rental fees to students by US$500.00 and their room rate was cut by US$60.00 and when this was questioned, he was told, “you are not located in Lance Aux Epines”.

Regis said the GDB lowered his room rate in the business plan because his seafront property does not have a pool.

The Regis Palm owner has been struggling with the GDB since 2019 and has sought intervention from the Prime Minister, the Minister of Tourism and other senior government officials but not one has been of any help in untwisting the knot of difficulties that he had to face for EC$75, 000.00, after spending in excess of $2 Million of his own cash.

Regis said officers at the GDB told him and his wife that the Ministry of Finance refused to sign off on their loan application.

According to Regis, he has met with the Prime Minister on the matter and the attitude of the Grenadian leader was a far cry from the passionate appeal he delivered in Canada in 2016.

“We met with the Prime Minister and all he could tell us is that he put me onto (Gregory) Bowen (Finance Minister who took over the portfolio from Dr. Mitchell), because he (Dr. Mitchell), not there (Ministry of Finance) any more. When he was there the file came on his desk and he never signed it.”

But Regis believes the real problem is that there are others, close to Health Minister Nickolas Steele, the Parliamentary representative in the South, who want to get their hands on the property which has potential for expansion into a multi-million dollar villa development.

He said that a real estate agency in Lance Aux Epines, a law office in St George’s and friends of Minister Steele appear to be allegedly colluding to get the property and he believes that the roadblocks being set up at the development bank are aimed at frustrating him and forcing him to abandon the property.

He expressed the view that constant police harassment at his business premises in recent months and weeks is linked to attempts to get him out of the property.

According to Regis, a senior police officer in the Southern district even came to the hotel to force officers to issue a ticket for loud noise.

He said the officers informed their superior that they had not witnessed any violations and could not issue the ticket.

He said during that same encounter the senior officer also began probing him about the value of the property and whether he wanted to sell.

Regis explained that part of his plans includes development of a $60 Million villa and yacht dock along the coast line south of the current small hotel.

The project had been submitted through the Citizenship by Investment Programme and Regis believes it was from then that others began to covet the property.

“I invited Nickolas Steele to come and see what I was doing and I showed him the plan. He asked me if I had shown this to anyone and I told him I hadn’t and he told me that I shouldn’t show it to anyone and left”.

Regis said it was soon after this encounter that a woman who described herself as the “life partner” of a man who had appeared on Minister Steele’s campaign platform made an attempt to break a lease to own arrangement which Regis has with the foreign businessman who owns the land and previously ran Lexus Inn.

Based on email communication which THE NEW TODAY was able to see, agents closely connected to Prime Minister Mitchell and the Health Minister have been making overtures to the property owner to buy the place from him.

An email to the owner who is now based in the US, from one Evelyn Merrone of Alborada Development appeared to be questioning whether Regis had not violated his lease to own arrangement and stating that she had parties who are interested in purchasing the property located on the prime Grand Anse shorefront.

A photo obtained by THE NEW TODAY shows the Prime Minister posing with Marrone and Lance Aux Epines businessman, Champie Evans.

The Grenada government was accused of being anti-business by former Ambassador and hotel developer Warren Newfield in May when he resigned from his diplomatic post after a fall out with the Grenadian leader.

Regis said he has experienced first-hand the anti-business stance of the Mitchell-led Administration.

“While recognising the natural constraints of development of small island states, I never thought that the institutions set up by government and the private sector to facilitate development would have in fact been the major obstacles to doing business in Grenada.

“We have encountered stumbling blocks and closed doors to every opportunity that seems to be available to others. If ideas are what is needed to survive then converting ideas into reality is highly unlikely in Grenada”.

Regis was scheduled to meet with Modeste Curwen earlier this week to make a last-ditch effort to get support to complete the refurbishment work on the existing structure.

The $7 Million dollar loan facility exists for the purpose of saving small hotels with fifty rooms or less and during a presentation in the House of Representatives the Tourism Minister claimed that nine properties had benefited from the soft loan programme.

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