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Joshua can apply, bid for Cobblestone Inn – PM

Joshua can apply, bid for Cobblestone Inn – PM

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The service of an eviction notice on the operator of the Cobblestone Inn was not done to get at the business woman personally, but in an effort to give everyone an equal opportunity to bid to run the Government owned property.

“This is not an anti-Ann Joshua matter,” Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said.

This comes after Joshua, who has been operating the hotel for the last 30 years, was served last Tuesday, with a ‘Notice to Quit’ the premises by September 30, 2016, by solicitor for the National Properties Limited (NPL), Grahame Bollers.{{more}}

Speaking on WE FM’s ‘Issue at Hand’ radio programme on Sunday, Gonsalves said he was reluctant to speak on the matter, because it should have been dealt with between NPL and Joshua.

“But Ann has chosen to put the matter in the public domain and I have read all sorts of comments and heard about all sorts of comments being made.”

The Prime Minister disclosed that the Government has decided that in the interest of transparency and proper development of that property and other government property, there should be an open tendering process, but first, the relationship with Joshua must be ended legally.

“A public tender process will commence and Ann herself can apply and bid for the property like any other Vincentian; there’s nobody that the Government has in mind in respect of the property, absolutely no one,” he said.

“Now, it may well be that Ann Joshua is in the driver’s seat to get a lease on a proper basis; after all she has equipment there.”

Gonsalves noted that although Joshua does not support him politically, he has maintained very cordial relations with her.

He said that he has “gotten licks” from a number of people, including supporters of the New Democratic Party (NDP), who accuse him of leaving Joshua in the building because she is his first cousin, while other persons could not get a chance.

According to the Prime Minister, when Joshua acquired the property (under the NDP administration), there was not an open tendering process and even after the Unity Labour Party (ULP) came into office, she stayed in the building and the relationship went on.

Following the establishment of the NPL in 2002, major renovations and expansion works were carried out on the property, which included the conversion of the ground floor that was previously occupied by retail shops to hotel suites.

The result of the conversion realized a total rentable area of 11,629 square feet, an upgrade from its previous size 9,067 square feet.

Gonsalves noted that when the extension was done, NPL could have put the building up for tender, but they didn’t.

Instead, a lease agreement was put in place, which Joshua signed, from March 1, 2005 to February 28, 2010 for the property, including the additional square footage.

The lease started at $18,000 per month and each year increased by $1,000.

Gonsalves said since the lease ended in 2010, it has not been renewed; the arrangement has been on a month-to-month basis.

He recalled speaking to Joshua in 2009, who then wrote to him, requesting his intervention in the matter so that the rent could be reduced.

“Now… I’m Prime Minister, she’s my first cousin, I can’t go and just direct that there be a reduction,” he commented.

Gonsalves said he contacted the director general of finance and planning, Maurice Edwards, who recommended a 10 to 15 per cent reduction, although Edwards had stated that the rent was not unreasonable from a market standpoint.

“I spoke to National Properties and they gave a 10 per cent reduction, from $21,000 to $18,900 for a year.” Gonsalves said.

From March 1, 2011, the rent was increased to $24,150.

Gonsalves said that Joshua has spoken to him and the NPL for further reduction; however, the NPL stated that she refused to provide them with the audited financial statements or management accounts when asked to do so.

“If you say you’re not making any money, well show the people; show your landlord; they may give you some consideration in the way that I had asked them to give you consideration at an earlier period, in 2009.”

The Prime Minister said he spoke to Joshua himself and she refused to give her accounts, stating, “it is not their business.”

He noted that the rate at which Joshua was being charged is very reasonable.

“This rent of $24,000 is just $2.07 a square foot you know. I want anybody who is renting property around town ask if they could get prime property like that for $2.07 a square foot… people would be amazed that it is only $24,000.”

Gonsalves recalled that 11 years ago, a professional valuer said the rental value of the building should be about $33,000.

In 2012, during the months of June to August, Joshua’s arrears balance increased to $72,450. In light of this, the manager of NPL wrote her a stern letter, addressing the issue of delinquency on November 27, 2012, August 1, 2013 and June 1, this year.

Gonsalves said he has been advised that by the time the ‘Notice to Quit’ was served last week, the rental arrears were $48,300 for two months. He said Joshua paid some money the day after she got the letter and arrears now stand at $21,150 for one month.

The Prime Minister suggested that Joshua explain to the CEO of NPL that two and a half months is not enough time to leave the property, because she has guests booked into December. He said Joshua could request that the date be pushed back to December 31.

“What is wrong about that? I would expect that would be the normal reaction of a tenant if she is interested in the matter as a business, as distinct from making it a political issue.”

Gonsalves said he has spoken to NPL’s CEO about the desirability of having the bidding arrangements before Joshua received the letter.

He, however, added the letter was discussed with the NPL board and their lawyers.

The Prime Minister said he expects that shortly the tender document would go out and it would, among other things, describe the property and state the landlord’s view on how the property should be developed. (AS)

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