Hard Rock announced 40 floors; community says 23 floors
In January 2016, Hard Rock International announced the construction of a 40-story hotel in Santo Domingo. However, the Poligono Central community where the hotel would be located is at odds with the promoters of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Santo Domingo over the number of proposed stories and the construction of a casino that would be the largest in the Caribbean. The current zone regulations limit construction to 23 stories.
The hotel is under construction at the intersection of Av. Abraham Lincoln and Calle Andres Julio Aybar. The hotel and casino construction company is already in the process of demolishing and excavating at the site.
With the social impact and construction permission pending, the required public forum (vista publica) was held on Friday, 15 July 2016, where the community attended to hear and debate the project. This public forum is part of the on-going construction consent procedure and project oversight that must be submitted to the Ministry of the Environment to receive permission to build the hotel in the city center. Getting formal community approval for the project is a requirement.
Representatives of several community boards object to the extra floors and the mega casino. In the Dominican Republic, prior to the Ministry of Environment giving its go-ahead for the construction to begin, the project needs to receive the approval of the affected communities.
On Friday, 15 July 2016, the start of the first presentation was delayed by more than an hour when several community leaders noted that officials of the Ministry of Environment were not present. Eventually, Eva Zunilda Espinosa (in charge of public screenings) and David Arias (director of the Office of Access to Information and Social Participation) of the Ministry of Environment arrived and the meeting began.
During the meeting, Empaca, the company hired by the Hard Rock Hotel promoters to conduct the environmental impact assessment, made a presentation that focused on the procedures that were followed in order to develop the assessment. Mario Mendez for Empaca also showed slides with the no-objection from the City Government (ADN) for the demolition and excavation works. At the presentation, Mendez presented no-objection letters from the city waterworks (CAASD) and the Ministry of Tourism (Mitur).
When the public debates were opened, architect Omar Rancier, director of the UNPHU School of Architecture, pointedly asked that the company present details of the project to the people in attendance. He noted the presentation made focused on promoting the environmental impact company and was not the complete presentation of the project that had been expected. Rancier made the point that the letters of no-objection shown by Empaca were not approvals, as he called for the company to comply with the Poligono Central city regulation 94-98.
The architect of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Carlos Aguilar, then took the podium and used a single visual perspective of the hotel to verbally try to explain the project. He said seven floors of underground parking were under construction for approximately 500 vehicles. His generalizations were not acceptable to the public.
In response to the calls for more information, Ramon Colombo, who was the coordinator of the meeting for the environmental impact company, read the short press release Empaca had prepared that highlighted the project was 30-stories high and again offered only some general descriptions of the project. Citing a lack of details, most community residents in attendance voiced their opposition to the presentation.
At that time, Aguilar pointed out to the skeptical audience, that Colombo had misspoken and that in fact, the company is proposing that the building reach 38 stories, not the 30-stories as presented.
By this time, it appeared that the community had heard enough. Speaking at the meeting, city resident Lucia Amelia Cabral highlighted that the interests of the 150,000 residents in the area should be given priority, since their dwellings pre-date the hotel. She compared the construction of the hotel to “putting an elephant in a match box” or releasing a “fire-breathing dragon into the community”. As proof of the likelihood of negative consequences of the proposed project, the residents pointed out the problems associated with the operation of casinos that dot the Malecon.
Also an anonymous neighborhood resident cited concerns that the casino would attract prostitution, drugs and added traffic congestions to the area. Many in attendance called for the company to provide more details on the social impact of the project.
Mirtha Cabral, also speaking for the neighborhood groups, highlighted other hotels had respected the limit on the number of stories of their building. She said that the community would not accept the construction of the mega casino, insisting that increasing tourism could not be used as an excuse to compromise the quality of life of the residents in the area.
The limit has been respected by developers of new hotels in the area, including Holiday Inn, JW Marriot, Embassy Suites and InterContinental. None of the projects of these aforementioned developers were met with community opposition.
Given that the company had not prepared a detailed presentation of the project for the meeting, David Arias of the Ministry of Environment proposed that another public screening of the project be held in the next 15 days. The community called for the announcement of the date and place of the meeting to be placed in a widely read newspaper, reminding organizers that the first meeting was announced in a newspaper whose print edition is best known for publishing divorce notices and other obscure legal announcements in order to simply comply with government regulations.
At the meeting, it was clarified that the company was presenting the procedures for the obtaining of the construction permits for the hotel and not for the casino. The permission for operating the casino would need to be applied for separately, after the construction of the hotel.
In an announcement made on 13 January 2016, Hard Rock International’s Nelson Parker, vice president of casino development for the chain, announced plans to start construction in April 2016 of a “40-story 400-room hotel”. During the announcement, Parker said the property would be home to a 23,000 sq. ft. casino, screening room and nightclub opening to the main pool. The casino would have a race and sports booking facility, high limit slots, 400 slot machines and 40 table games.
The hotel and casino project has been announced as a collaboration of Hard Rock International and All Inclusive Collection from Mexico, with an estimated later 2017 opening date. This would be the second collaboration with the Mexican company. The first is the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana in the Macao area.
Source: DR1, prnewswire.com
July 18, 2016
Category: DR News |