PHUKET: Investment group ING Funds (Thailand) has chosen a 350-rai plot of Treasury Department land in Mai Khao as the preferred site for the Phuket International Convention and Exhibition Center (ICEC).
The announcement came during a meeting of the project’s siting committee chaired by Phuket Governor Niran Kalayanamit at Phuket Provincial Hall on Thursday.
In announcing its conclusion, ING Funds (Thailand) Managing Director Maris Tarab told the committee his firm hopes to fund the three-billion-baht project at the island’s northernmost tip through a limited public company that would be set up by the Treasury Department, if the idea is approved by the Finance Ministry.
The seaside site was chosen over a 250-rai locale privately owned by the other finalist, Anuphas & Sons off Chao Fa West Rd in Wichit.
The two locations were among four sites put before ING Funds for consideration after Tourism and Sports Minister Suwit Yodmanee in August gave the go-ahead for the project to be developed with private-sector investment.
In its study comparing the two sites, ING Funds cited lower land rental costs as an important reason for choosing the government land. Taking all economic factors into account, the total cost of renting 250 rai at the Mai Khao site, with an option to expand, over 30 years worked out to 150 million baht compared with 1.845 billion baht for the private land, the ING Fund study report concluded.
The 350-rai site, located between Tah Chat Chai School and Sirinath National Park, was also chosen over another 130-rai plot of state land nearby, due to its larger size and the impressive sea views it will afford, K. Maris said.
The land is held through the Treasury Department’s State Property Management and Services (Ratchapassadu) Office.
“By choosing this site we will help promote tourism not only in Phuket, but also in nearby provinces such as Krabi and Phang Nga. This location will also help spread development across the entire island and will not worsen the traffic situation in and around Phuket City.
“It is also near the provincial sports center complex and other support facilities, and will have adequate space for parking,” he said.
Though near the airport, the site has been criticized as being too remote from Phuket’s main population centers.
Under the proposed design drawn up by the Chiang Mai-based architectural firm Axis Group, the center will occupy a total of about 308 rai. Of this, 103 rai will be occupied by building structures and 69 rai would be earmarked for parking. The remainder of the land, set back 20 meters from the high-tide mark, will be left open.
The plan calls for a stingray-shaped main arena surrounded by three plazas and a main entrance lobby, along with two exhibition halls, a food court and restaurant area, meeting rooms and support facilities.
K. Maris accepted that using government land, while less expensive, would require the government to first establish a public limited company. ING Funds would then have to outbid any rival firms interested in investing in the project.
For the project to be a success, it would require more than just approval from the many government agencies involved, K. Maris said.
“We will need government support in helping to find groups to use the facility as well as public transport to shuttle people to the center from hotels around the island. We will also need basic infrastructure, including water, electricity and telephone lines. As discussed earlier, we also need assurances that the government would not assist in funding a competing facility in the future,” he said.
Gov Niran said he agreed with the siting decision presented by ING Funds and has appointed the provincial Treasury Office to study the issues involved and move forward in seeking approval.
There is still interest among many other private-sector groups in investing in such a project in Phuket, he said.
“We are waiting for the government to support us. The Treasury Department will have to set up a company to present the project to the Finance Ministry. After that the project will still need Cabinet approval. All of this will take some time, but if we begin now the process should be completed in about two years time,” he said.
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