'BCN World', a project with many questions

The Catalan Government announced last September the ‘BCN World’ project, a mega-resort that will be built on the Costa Daurada, near Tarragona and Salou. According to the forecasts, the construction will cost €4.7 billion and the opening is scheduled for 2016. The complex will consist of six casinos and theme parks, 12,000 hotel rooms, golf courts and a smart city, among other aspects. The initiative was presented just a few hours before it was confirmed that Sheldon Adelson’s ‘Eurovegas’ would go to Madrid, although the Catalan Government denied that ‘BCN World’ is the alternative project. While experts validate the economic viability of the project, they do question the suitability of this leisure model in Europe. Just weeks before construction begins, there are still a lot of questions without being answered.

Berta Seijo, Ariadna Vaz, Margalida Vidal

May 29, 2013 10:15 PM

Tarragona (CNA).- The ‘BCN World’ project was announced by the Catalan Government in September, a few hours before Sheldon Adelson’s ‘Eurovegas’ was adjudicated to Madrid. The Catalan mega-resort will be set up on the Costa Daurada, on the coast of Tarragona, and it will consist of six casinos and theme parks, 12,000 hotel rooms, golf courts and a smart city, among other ideas. According to official statistics, the budget will be €4.7 billion and ‘BCN World’ will open its doors in 2016. While economic experts consider the initiative as positive for Catalan finances, many wonder about the suitability of this gambling model in Europe.

Eight months have passed since the Catalan Government revealed ‘BCN World’, but just weeks before building work begins, a great number of unresolved questions remain. For instance, no one knows who the investors are yet. Up to now, neither the Catalan Executive nor the developer Veremonte have unveiled any detail. This is the reason why several organizations and political parties are asking for immediate answers which have to do with issues such as security, infrastructures and environment. News about the investors identity are expected this week.

These 477 hectares of land have the legal status for urban development and are all owned by La Caixa. Veremonte has already closed the deal with this Catalan bank, which will withdraw from the project as soon as building work starts. As a result, the mega-resort will only receive financial support from international investors, whose names are still unknown. One of the possible candidates is a Chinese corporation called SJM Holding, which stands out for its casino business in Macau. According to the promoters, ‘BCN World’ will be divided in three spaces that will be built separately. The third area, ‘Beach Club’, seems to be another controversial subject because it may entail the privatization of part of the coast line, which has always remained public.

Antoni Brull, member of the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) has criticised the opacity that surrounds the project and has also demanded that the Catalan Minister for Territory and Sustainability, Santi Vila, and the Catalan Finance Minister, Andreu Mas-Colell, appear before the Catalan Parliament. Brull has assured that his party does not oppose ‘BCN World’; it just wants to know more about the resort and its possible effects on the local population and the city of Salou. “We understand that there is some specific information which cannot be published, but we cannot approve this complete lack of transparency from the Government”, added the socialist representative on Salou’s city council.

Located between the municipalities of Salou and Vila-Seca, this new tourist complex will be raised near an area that hosts several chemical industries. But, does this suppose real danger for future visitors? This is one of the questions brought up by the radical left-wing and independence coalition CUP, and the Catalan Green Socialist Party (ICV) to the Government. Apart from this, CUP has also pointed to other environmental problems related to ‘BCN World’. “The water and energy supply, and the protection of the territory are facts that have not been disclosed yet. Moreover, not a single citizen has been consulted about the project”, says Lurdes Quintero, member of the party. Along the same lines, the ‘Aturem Bcn World’ (‘Stop Bcn World’) platform has been created. This organisation aims to block the construction of the resort because “it is not the kind of business Catalonia deserves”. 

The experts’ opinion

“The construction sector has led us to the financial crisis, and now we are trying to get out of it by investing in construction; we do not seem to learn from our mistakes”. This is the main issue that CUP’s Lurdes Quintero offers to justify its rejection of the ‘BCN World’ project. Nevertheless, economic expert Barbara Rossi believes that any investment means a positive income for the economy a priori: “under certain circumstances, an injection of investment in the economy will generate a larger impact on the economy itself”.

However, Rossi, who teaches Economics at the Pompeu Fabra University, agrees with Quintero when she states that “the effect on the economy will depend on several factors and, as with any investment, it is important to also consider its broader effects (on the community, the environment and so forth)”.  

Xavier Cuadras also teaches Macroeconomics at the Pompeu Fabra University, and he agrees with Rossi’s opinion. According to Cuadras, an investment like the ‘BCN World’ project could be positive for Catalan finances, but he insists on the need for a foreign investor to make it real, as “none Spanish financial entity can afford this investment in Catalonia nowadays”.

From Cuadras’ point of view, this kind of leisure model, based on casinos and theme parks, has not had a satisfactory result in Europe. “Some examples, like ‘Parque Warner’ in Madrid or ‘Terra Mítica’ in Valencia, both with huge economic losses, prove that”, insists the professor. Therefore, Cuadras believes in the viability of ‘BCN World’, although he is reticent about the suitability of the project within the European model of tourism. 

‘BCN World’ in relation to ‘Eurovegas’

On September 7th 2012, the Catalan Government, led by Artur Mas, made the ‘BCN World’ project public, before the final decision of where ‘Eurovegas’ would be located was made public. A few hours later, the American company Vegas Sands chose Madrid to place the large complex, which will include six casinos and 12 hotels shared out in three different areas.

Both initiatives depend on the construction industry to reactivate the Spanish economy by offering a broad selection of jobs and more tourism calls. ‘BCN World’ and ‘Eurovegas’ are based on ambitious plans. Predictions say they will generate between 20,000 and 40,000 direct and indirect jobs when the projects finish. Moreover, as Professor Xavier Cuadras alerts, the gambling industry has no tradition in Europe, while both initiatives will include casinos.

The Catalan and the Spanish projects need foreign investors to be carried out. Although the company Veremonte has not informed yet about which investors will contribute to building ‘BCN World’, Adelson’s Vegas Sands will provide €2,700 million to ‘Eurovegas’, which will also receive €4,000 million from international banks.

In spite of the similarities, ‘BCN World’ intends to be a family space, while ‘Eurovegas’ promotes gambling tourism. In this aspect, Cuadras believes that “it would be illogical for both projects to address the same market”.

The future complex in Alcorcón (Madrid) will take between 15 and 18 years to finish, although its first part, made up of four hotels and two casinos, will open in 2017. ‘BCN World’ should be completely finished in 2016.