The enthusiasm of a Department of Interior official led three businessmen with no ties to the region to seriously invest in Tinian.

The three are members of the president’s Advisory Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islanders — a part-time position outside of their professional lives.

The agreement to develop 40 000 square meters of prime property in Tinian for a hotel and casino resort will be signed by June 15 with license approval hoped for by November before the election and a groundbreaking in March 2006.

The three commissioners are Rudy Pamintuan president of Sherman Consulting Inc. of Chicago Ill.; Akshay Desai founder of American Family and Geriatric Care of St. Petersburg Fla.; and Kenneth Wong president of CIG Asia Ltd. of Holland Pa.

Pamintuan told the Journal “Back in January we had open hearings in Washington. One of the individuals who testified in front of the commission was David Cohen [deputy assistant secretary of the office of insular affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior].

“He talked about the great opportunities that exist in the Pacific islands. After we concluded I made sure I reached him.”

Sherman Consulting’s areas of expertise include public relations and project development Pamintuan said. “I handle all new business development. My expertise lies in government relationships and gaming. We work with clients to create strategic partnerships —we do quite a bit in gaming including Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts.”

Cohen gave Pamintuan a briefing on the insular islands. Pamintuan said “The first island he mentioned was Tinian. Like most people I said ‘Where is Tinian?’ Then I did my research.”

Although invited to join the Department of the Interior’s mission to the islands in May Pamintuan visited the Mariana Islands in early April and spent five days on Tinian.

He said “The mayor’s office was very hospitable and great in creating briefing packets. They set up a multitude of appointments with the various leadership and I learned quite a bit about local government and the islands.” Pamintuan was also shown Tinian’s attractions at length. He said “From a cultural and a historic standpoint it’s a beautiful island.”

Phillip T. Mendiola-Long senior policy advisor to the Mayor of Tinian said “When the referral comes from the Department of the Interior and the person was appointed by the president of the U.S. you step back and evaluate it a little differently from the other investors coming to Tinian.”

Neither Pamintuan nor Mendiola-Long was specific about which areas were being considered for a location. Mendiola-Long said “They are looking at three pieces of land. The land deal should be closed by June 15 between one of three on the table.”

Pamintuan said “We sent out feelers to get an idea of what the asking is. There hasn’t been a lot of precedence in that regard in the last couple of years. My partners do quite a bit of real estate transactions but the commonwealth is different it’s a leasing issue. We’ve been educating ourselves in that.”

The group was also looking for a relationship with the landowner. “A lot of people we’ve spoken to asked for cash up front. We want people that want to be our partners.”

Pamintuan said he and his partners saw investment potential. “To be able to be hitting the Asian market while at the same time be in a U.S. territory and on a pristine island we thought it was a great opportunity.”

Mendiola-Long said the group understood the economic development potential including military buildup and particularly the increase in outbound tourists from China. “We didn’t have to tell them or sell them on that fact. From the mayor’s standpoint we embrace this new investment 100%. With the outgoing garment industry we are hoping Tinian can replace that stream with casino revenue. Since both political parties on Tinian are now pro-casino the group is in the best position. They are coming in at a time when the Tinian economy needs large investment.” He said at a rough estimate the Tinian Dynasty had injected $14 million into the economy annually in payroll without calculating the services required of local businesses.

With an initial investment of $500 000 between the three commission members Pamintuan said the group is moving ahead.

“We’ve looked into the actual development of a hotel and casino resort — in two phases. The first phase is putting together a holding company and raising the necessary funds to accommodate the chase. We are in the process of trying to figure out logistics of that and everything up to the actual licensing process. Phase 1(a) is getting our group set our deal structured and raising the necessary funds for Phase 1. 1(b) is forming partnerships in the islands and bringing our company out there to finalize any agreements. Phase 1 deals with legal aspects negotiations and the various entities tax incentives the number of positions how many slots — all of that we’ve handled. We’re packaging investment packets to bring in a big management company as an operator. We’re able to put together a management team but if we bring a major operator to the island it will be helpful from a marketing sense. It will not just serve a market but create a market and bring people in.”

Mendiola-Long said the group would be meeting in Saipan concerning the qualifying-certificate program for tax breaks environmental impact studies and costal resources management on its next trip to the region. “In late July there is a proposal presentation to the Tinian leadership. The Tinian leadership will then vote on whether this type of casino project meets with the economic development plan of Tinian.” The gaming commission would then start the investigation process he said.

Parmintuan said no management company had yet committed to a casino in Tinian. “The large names are aware of Tinian. A lot of companies in gaming some of them weren’t too familiar with Tinian. When I broached the subject with our contacts a lot of it has been an educational process: where it is; you can’t own land but you can long term lease — they wanted to learn. A lot of my personal time has been spent on how business is conducted — how to structure the deal. We’re looking at a project somewhere between $60 million to $75 million. The Dynasty [Tinian Dynasty Hotel &Casino] came out larger but we want a long-term game plan. We’ll build progressively as tourism and infrastructure grows. We’re talking a small hotel casino resort. We’re looking for a large parcel that can accommodate great growth within five years and 10 years.”

Pamintuan was accompanied on his visit. “I came with a gaming attorney who I’ve worked with on various projects. There were not too many roadblocks that he could see in terms of wanting to build what I think should be there.”

Design had not been solidified he said. “We haven’t had our architects put paper and pencil together. To us the water is an important aspect: there needs to be big pool but there needs to be a lot of private coves with sand water lots of trees quiet breezes. It doesn’t necessarily have to be on the beach. We have looked at proximity to beaches but if we don’t have them then it’s about the views.”

The group had not examined flights and travel agents and an operator might have their own ideas on those logistics.

“A lot depends on the operators. They are going to create their own plans.” Pamintuan said lengthening of the Tinian airport runway and the terminal building were also issues.

“I think the Tinian Dynasty got involved early on and didn’t have those resources. Given the lack of resources they’ve done pretty well for themselves. Hopefully with our efforts and with the efforts of the Tinian Dynasty a lot of small businesses will sprout out.”

He also foresaw the possibility of a relationship with hotels and resorts in Saipan.

His partners had various talents Pamintuan said. “Ken has been involved in the insurance industry. He has a lot of great contacts in China. That was an obvious no-brainer — someone that can use their contacts. He’s done a lot with general contractors around the world and he understands liability. He speaks Chinese and has an understanding of business models. Dr. Desay is a CEO of a managed-care system in the state of Florida. He has been involved in many different industries.

“The more we looked into it as an island itself the more I fell in love with the island. It shows the trust and belief and passion from my other commission members that we should invest in the islands.” His partners he said had “Never seen the place and invested in Phase 1.”

Pamintuan said a U.S. gaming company strategy — applying the Las Vegas model — might not be the best application in Tinian.

“Lots of people create casinos that stick out. We want to create something that blends in. When it comes to design we want to make sure the project promotes in a positive way the history and culture. One thing that’s important to me is putting in a museum. It helps tourism and gives something back. I’d like to take Chamorro to World War II artifacts and put them in one environment for tourists.”

Mendiola-Long said “They came here with the full intent of embracing local customs and culture within the development of the casino. They wanted books to take back and we proceeded to get them the books and histories because they wanted to incorporate that into the design of the project.”

Gaming and other attractions complemented each other Pamintuan said. “History culture family destination education — it’s taking a more mature look at gaming markets. Las Vegas gets the best in entertainment and sports. There are lots of reasons to go now to Las Vegas. It’s the most ideal scenario in any area. From a profitability standpoint it means more long-term potential growth.” MBJ