court settlements, multiple partners raise suspicion
By Dave Kaiser
Controversy after controversy about the Whispering Head Resort and the Chritophe Harbour Marina are causing “red flags” to go up about the solvency of the project and if it will be possible for investors, including the St. Kitts and Nevis Sugar Industry Diversification Fund (SIDF), to pull out of the project without losing money. Concerns about the project were raised recently when Dwyer Astaphan, former National Security and Tourism Minister commented to The Observer about the solvency of the project and revealed that proceedings were underway in South Carolina.
In reviewing events related to the project, it has changed ownership so often and various backers have come and gone so quickly, it is almost impossible to keep track.
In his commentary, Astaphan drew attention to a by Summitbridge National Investments IV LLC civil action lawsuit filed against Charles P. ‘Buddy’ Darby and related companies in South Carolina to enforce a consent arbitration award totaling some $8.8 million, part of $12.75 million borrowed to finance the acquisition of a yacht – presumably the sole occupant of the Christophe Harbour Marina.
Darby was ordered to appear in court on Nov. 18, 2016, to produce records and other details of his financial affairs in this regard, and told not to dispose of any assets of more than $1,000 in value without the court’s permission.
Astaphan also referred to another civil action against Darby in South Carolina by SunTrust Bank seeking to recover the balance of $186,205.26 plus interest on a consumer note signed in 2011 in the original sum of $399,999, as a result of Darby’s failure to make agreed monthly payments of $4,830.
“This should be a red flag for entire country. Think of the consequences, the implications of defaulting on a loan of $399,000,” Astaphan said. “When I project into the future with Darby, all I can see is inability and improbability.”
To verify Astaphan’s allegations, The Observer located two South Carolina, County of Charleston, Court of Common Pleas documents, indicating a decision had been reached on Aug. 8, 2016 in which SummitBridge was awarded $8,816,343.20 against the partners in the project, plus 8.75 percent interest until the settlement is paid in full. The decision held Moultrieville Cayman, LLC and Carney Cayman Corp. liable for $5,877,562; and Charles P. Darby III liable for $2,938,781.20. After the judgment was finalized defendants had 90 days to appeal the decision but no appeal was made.
In his commentary, Astaphan alleges SIDF funding was provided for the project and only 11 out of 24 berths have been completed in the marina. He said Darby’s luxury yacht is berthed in one of those slips. He said there are no golf courses and no more than 25 houses have been built.
The Observer contacted Hemington Consulting, a UK independent consultancy advising Range Developers. A spokesperson in charge of the account confirmed the Park Hyatt project is well underway and will open in 2017. He referred us to Mohammed Azaria, Range Development vice president.
“We are delighted to be completing the Park Hyatt St Kitts,” Azaria told The Observer. “It will be one of the finest hotels in the Caribbean and is providing jobs for the locals and a prime destination for holiday makers.”
Neither the company consultant or Azaria would comment on the controversies that have plagued the Southeastern Peninsula.
None of the involved parties would officially comment to The Observer about the status of the project or their position. The Observer found The Chritophe Harbor website still describes the project as a viable real estate investment opportunity and lists email addresses and phone numbers in St. Kitts and Nevis and Charleston, SC. We called the U.S. contact numbers, where two assistants took messages asking Buddy Darby to provide his side of the story, information about the court decision and status of the project but were told, “Mr. Darby is in a meeting and will have to return your call.” He never returned our calls.
Despite several requests for comment, the St Kitts and Nevis government has not responded about its position on the matter. The Christophe Harbour public relations firm, The Brandman Agency, did not respond to a request for its reaction or comment for publication on the issues raised by Astaphan.
“But there’s no Whispering Head Resort, no Mandarin Hotel, no Tom Fazio golf course,” Astaphan said. “Where are the amenities for the marina which should’ve been done some time ago? Yes, there are slips at the marina, but what you may see there is Mr. Darby’s luxury yacht, and little else.”
Astaphan comments as a concerned citizen who has patiently stood by, waiting for benefit to come from the area. He describes the project as “a speculator’s dream maybe, but a population’s nightmare.”
The project was envisioned in 2005. Astaphan traces the Southeast Peninsula from centuries ago, when it was an undeveloped area, to today. Development began in the 1980s when the Government announced it would build a road to the area, resulting in dramatic increases in land prices.
“While some sales took place, there was, again, little benefit to the country,” Astaphan complains. “Instead, the old game continued.”
Astaphan said at the same time, the group which developed the Four Seasons Hotel on Nevis bought a large parcel on the Peninsula, “not necessarily to develop it, but to block anybody else from doing so until they could recoup their investments in the Four Seasons.”
In 2005, the Douglas Government announced a deal with Auberge Firesky to construct the Whispering Head Resort, but nothing visible happened.
In 2006, the Government acquired 852 acres of land in the area to turn over to the developers. In quick time, the land holding would grow to 2,500 acres, which is just under 4 square miles in area….over 5 percent of the total land mass of St. Kitts. That’s a lot of land, especially on a tiny island, in a tiny country, like ours. At the time, a politician boasted that this project would pump US$20 billion into this country’s economy over a period of 20 years.
“Ten years later, he’s out of office, and we’re still waiting,” Astaphan laments.
Astaphan said, “In 2007, Charles Pinckney ‘Buddy’ Darby rolled his South Carolina entrepreneurial machine named Kiawah into town, and joined in the big deal with Auberge Firesky and J. B. Turbidy,” Astaphan explained. “We were told that they’d bring in US$600 million to build a marina, a golf course, three hotels, including a Mandarin Hotel and the same Whispering Head Resort, as well as restaurants, commercial facilities and 2,000 residences. The marina project would be named Christophe Harbour.”
The chain of events continued, according to Astaphan, when in 2008, Auberge Firesky pulled out of the deal. In 2013, U.S. corporation South Street Properties bought Kiawah, but did not want to be associated with Christophe Harbour, so sold it to the Darby Investment Group led by Buddy Darby after a business split with his family. A significant chunk of the financing to get Mr. Darby into this new deal came from our own SIDF which was given shares in the project until repayment of its loan to the Darby Group.
Also in mid-2013, Range Developments began construction of the high-end Park Hyatt Hotel at Banana Bay, an area that is part of the Christophe Harbour set up.
Despite of what Astaphan described as “a number of silly and unnecessary obstacles that seem to have been thrown onto their path, the Range folks have developed the only hotel at the Southeast Peninsula, and theirs is the only project of note in the area that has proceeded steadily.”
Astaphan said the Park Hyatt is there, almost done.
“Give credit where credit is due. Range Developments have done a great job with the Park Hyatt,” Astaphan said. “I’ve visited the site, it’s busy, and the hotel will be impressive, God willing.”