Robert De Niro’s plans for an exclusive Caribbean beachfront resort are meeting stiff opposition from local citizens and lawmakers.
The Guardian reports De Niro and Australian billionaire James Packer are attempting to develop a $250 million, 391-acre mega-resort on the site of the now abandoned K Club resort in Barbuda.
The K Club was once a well-known getaway for Princess Diana and her sons, but has since fallen into disrepair. The club permanently closed in 2004.
Opponents of the De Niro/Packer project, which was first proposed in 2014, have accused the local government of trampling the rights of local citizens to make way for a celebrity-driven project.
The Antigua and Barbuda parliament passed the “Paradise Found” bill last week, making way for the project, which opponents claim will “wipe out” sections of existing real estate legislation.
The law is named for the De Niro/Packer project’s resort and was passed just hours after it was introduced.
The law gives De Niro and his partner a number of financial incentives, including a 25-year tax holiday. In return, De Niro and Packer will build the resort, which features an eco-lodge, a yacht marina, and over 40 upscale cottages with their own private pools. The law also requires De Niro and Packer to construct a new airport on the island.
Due to the larger size of the De Niro/Packer proposal, the law will require the island’s government to lease them 140 more acres in addition to the 251-acres of the old K Club resort.
The new resort is expected to bring hundreds of jobs to the area. However, some local citizens, who are being led by voices of opposition in parliament, contend that the law will strip away the rights of the elected Barbuda Council to “consider and approve” large-scale property deals on the island.
Some of those concerned by the passage of the bill also fear the law will affect the population’s shared ownership of its land going forward.
“A very bad precedent has been set. Every other investor could legitimately claim the wish to have some parliamentary force to give them whatever they desire,” parliament opposition leader Harold Lovel told The Guardian.
At least one opposition leader is unnerved by a lack of transparency with the process of the celebrity project.
During a recent parliamentary session, opposition Senator Jacqui Quinn accused members of the governing Antigua Labour Party of “an unpatriotic, callous abuse of power.”
Around 400 protesters attended the session.
Opposition parties maintain that they are not against the resort’s development, or any positive development, but are merely concerned about the manner in which public land deals are being handled.
“We are being asked to trample on an act that enshrines the rights of the people of Barbuda to hold land in common and have a say in terms of any major developments,” said Lovel.
Lovel and other opposition lawmakers say real estate deals should be made by negotiating existing laws.
The Guardian reports that Antigua and Barbuda prime minister Gaston Browne has been anxious to move the project forward, amid a fear De Niro and Packer will back out of the resort.