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MovieTowne’s Derek Chin to open T&T to the world

An entertainment mecca
Published: 
Thursday, July 7, 2011
An entertainment mecca

Derek Chin, chairman of the three MovieTowne cineplexes, is working on another mega project: Streets of the World. “If you thought MovieTowne was great, this will be greater. My next project is worth $1 billion. The money is available and I am ready to go. This is behind MovieTowne in Invaders Bay where 80 acres of land is available. We will take the culture of a country and make streets out of them.” Chin announced his next billion-dollar project on June 22 at the Fourth Biennial International Conference on Business, Banking and Finance at the Hilton Trinidad hotel, St Ann’s. Chin gave more details at a follow-up interview on Monday at the Woodbrook office of his company, Telecom Systems (Trinidad) Ltd.

Although he originally budgeted the project to be less than $1 billion, the eventual cost will be much more. “We did the preliminary budget and the first budget came up to $780 million, but it’s going way past that.” Chin gave a breakdown of the budget. “We get approval for the lands. Then we have the infrastructure works, the drainage, the sewerage, the underground lines, electrical connections and utilities. The infrastructure works could cost a couple hundred million.” Add to those cost items planning and building. “Assuming the building is $1,200 per square feet, we have to come up with how many hundred thousand square feet it is and we multiply it by the $1,200 square feet. That could be a budget of $500 million. We are talking about building a city, after all.”

The employment benefits will be huge, said Chin, ever the entrepreneur, who only on June 29 formally opened Texas de Brazile at Fiesta Plaza, MovieTowne, Audrey Jeffers Highway. This restaurant and Ruby Tuesday are owned by the family company, Da Chin Enterprises. “I think we will generate 10,000 plus in direct employment. The construction is going to be massive,” he said. Chin is considering all financing options. “Right now, we are looking at floating a bond to seek the funding to do other things. There are foreign investors who like the idea and are willing to come to T&T and underwrite it. Some of them want to build the whole thing and just rent it out, but I don’t want to give up the local part of it.”

He is considering one serious investor from Venezuela who will provide funding for the project.
“At this time, I won’t give the name of this potential investor.” Venezuela is well known for the construction of huge malls. For instance, the five-level Sambil Mall in Caracas, Venezuela, is the fourth largest mall in Latin America.

Streets of the World
Derek Chin wants to take cultures from around the world and create a street after them. “There would be a Street of Mumbai, a Street of Hong Kong, a Street of the Middle East, a Street of Africa, and so on. There would be a fashion street for women. There would be a mini-carnival street, which (Carnival bandleader Brian) McFarlane would be involved in. These streets would be thematic streets.” There would be additional attractions, like horse and buggy. “Maybe from the (Queen’s Park) Savannah through Woodbrook straight to the Streets of the World, tourists would travel on them.”

Chin also has plans to develop a Carnival museum. “In 2011, what have we done with Carnival? We are still building a Grandstand in 2011. What is the legacy of Carnival? The answer to that is nothing. Let’s build a Carnival museum in wax. Bring them out and show the world all the eras of Carnival.” He said a tourists coming off a ship could spend two hours and spend US$50 looking at T&T’s Carnival.
He wants the Streets of the World project to be an entertainment mecca that would draw tourists from all over. “We are going to create this little mecca, so there would be MovieTowne, Streets of the World, Carnival and everything else in one. We will take T&T and make it a great tourist destination. “In the rest of the Caribbean, you see sailing, cricket and other things. Yet in T&T, we are not selling the country.”

Bureaucracy

Chin has met with the Prime Minister and many government ministers seeking approval for this project.
Before Christmas 2010, he had a meeting with the Transport Minister Jack Warner, Foreign Affairs Minister Suruj Rambachan, and other ministers, at the Prime Minister’s Office. They all supported his plans. “I have been lobbying the Government for a year now, even before the elections. I sent in the preliminary sketches about the concept; I met 19 Cabinet ministers over the last six months. The next minister I am meeting is Bhoe Tewarie, Minister of Planning. He wants to see me. I also met with Jearlean John, Udecott chairman. She also loves it, but that was three to four months ago.

“So I continue to develop in terms of the architecture, the financial aspect, providing the proper models, so it reaches a stage when I make a formal presentation, it will be in a completed form. Up to when I met the ministers a few months ago, I was still developing the plan.” He even enlisted the help of Jim Garber, an American architect designer, who has done work for Disney World. Garber came to T&T last week Tuesday to help Chin enhance some of the plans for Streets of the World. “I have spent about $2.5 million so far in getting the plans alone without any commitment from anybody. So talk about risks. This is what the country needs.” Chin is hopeful of getting approval this year.

“I would like to get the Government’s approval this year. Once we get that, it should take about four years to complete. That land has been sitting there for almost ten years and it’s now an overgrown forest. Nothing’s going on there.” Chin complained that it is difficult doing business in T&T. “I went with the Prime Minister to England to woo investors and I had to lie. It is not easy doing business in T&T. In this country, they look at successful business people as bad, not realising you hire and employ 2,000 or 3,000 people.”


Security at MovieTowne

Derek Chin spoke about the challenge of maintaining security at MovieTowne, which has become a concern in light of an attempted carjacking of a couple’s car at the traffic lights at the Audrey Jeffers Highway, outside the cineplex, on June 18. Chin said managing and ensuring that a large volume of people is safe is an ongoing challenge. “Last weekend, last Saturday, there was 6,500 people in Port-of-Spain, over 5,000 in Chaguanas and 1,200 in Tobago in one day. Saturday and Sunday were a record in Chaguanas, which was 12,000 people and these were just people who paid.”

“You have 30,000 to 40,000 people every weekend at MovieTowne. We do it everyday, seven days a week. It’s a lot of pressure. Our numbers last July for people who paid were 131,000 people. And these are not even the visitors who did not pay.”  Chin has described this latest incident a “scam,” saying there is no evidence to prove that the incident the couple reported to MovieTowne took place. Police are continuing investigations. “It took me 33 years of hard work to reach here and people are trying to bring me down.”