Hard Rock Forced to Wait on Decision for New Casino Project in Spain

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Posted on: May 9, 2023, 08:41h. 

Last updated on: May 9, 2023, 11:41h.

Hard Rock International (HRI) has been trying to bring a new casino complex to Spain for more than a decade, so it’s used to waiting. It will have to remain patient, as lawmakers continue to delay the approval of a new Urban Master Plan (PDU, for its Spanish acronym) that would unlock Hard Rock’s investment.

The proposed site for a new Hard Rock International hospitality complex in Catalonia, Spain
The proposed site for a new Hard Rock International hospitality complex in Catalonia, Spain. The company continues to wait for approval 10 years after first suggesting the project. (Image: Catalan News)

The Tarragona Urban Planning Commission (UPC) held a meeting Tuesday, but the modification of the PDU didn’t appear on the agenda. Hard Rock wants to develop its project in Salou and Vila-seca, two neighboring cities in the Tarragona province.

The UPC rejected the global gaming company’s last PDU in 2020, explaining that it didn’t adequately address some environmental concerns. HRI made some modifications in response to the rejection, but still hasn’t found a way to get the UPC to properly review the update.

It will be at least another month before the UPC meets again. At this point, it’s unclear if HRI will have its PDU on the agenda of that meeting.

Politics Get in the Way

The regional government promised to definitively approve the modification of the PDU in the first half of 2023. However, the proximity to regional elections at the end of the month already suggested that a delay was likely.

After months of negotiations to move forward with the budget for 2023, the government promised the PSC to unravel the approval of the PDU this past February. It also agreed to complete all the necessary procedures so that construction could begin in 2024, as well as guarantee the availability of the land until the sale and purchase operation is carried out.

In this regard, the definitive approval of the PDU is one of the conditions HRI must meet in order to move forward with the purchase of the land where it wants its tourist complex. The development would include hotels, a casino, and other shopping and leisure spaces.

In its 2022 budget, the regional government already reserved €120 million (US$131.53 million) to acquire the land, which a bank currently owns. Subsequently, HRI will purchase the property from the government once it approves the PDU.

Coordinated Avoidance

The UPC initially approved the revised PDU in February 2022. Then, in October, the existence of an unfavorable report from the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries, and Food raised new questions about the environmental conditions of the project.

Specifically, there were concerns about how the project might impact environmentally-protected areas in Spain’s autonomous community of Catalonia, where Tarragona is situated. They are part of the Natura 2000 Network, an initiative across the European Union that identifies and protects environmentally-crucial lands or waterways.

This sent HRI and its plan back to the drawing board to make new modifications, and the company diligently complied. That compliance, however, didn’t make approval any easier.

There is still considerable controversy about the project, with protestors routinely disrupting service at Hard Rock venues across the region. It’s such a polarizing topic that an official group, Aturem Hard Rock, emerged to carry out protests and try to block the complex’s progress.

Aturem announced this week that it will hold new protests against the project. It recently gathered in Barcelona, ​the capital of Catalonia, ​to raise awareness. It is also preparing joint efforts with other groups that oppose the project to increase the fight.

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