Fri | Sep 20, 2019

Marlie fallout leaves Sagicor, client at odds over tech park

Published:Friday | May 24, 2019 | 12:13 AMAvia Collinder - Business Reporter
Executive chairman of Marlie Technology Park Limited, Valrie Grant.
Executive chairman of Marlie Technology Park Limited, Valrie Grant.

The relationship between tech park investor Valrie Grant and Sagicor Group Jamaica has soured, and now she is looking for new partners to follow through on the project that is partially formulated around women in the tech sector.

Sagicor Bank Jamaica and Sagicor Investments Jamaica, both subsidiaries of Sagicor Group, are backers of the large tech park planned for Marlie Mount by GeoTechVision, a company headed by Grant, who is a geospatial specialist.

But a year into the initial announcement of their partnership, Grant, who has berated Sagicor in a release and a blog post and questioned its motives, accused her bankers of failing to release funds for working capital for the Marlie Mount project since June 2018, under their financing agreement.

She charges that Sagicor now has different ideas about how the land should be developed. But the conglomerate is refuting her claims, which it describes as “misapprehensions”.

In the release emailed to the Financial Gleaner, Grant also said she was now looking for new backers, while later confirming that the loan from Sagicor Bank remains active and that Sagicor Investments still owns a stake in her project.

Asked about the fallout, financial conglomerate Sagicor Group Jamaica said, via email, that it could not comment on specifics due to client confidentiality, but: “We do, however, wish to assert that the allegations made in said release are inaccurate,” the company told the Financial Gleaner.

Sagicor also said Tuesday it made several efforts to contact Grant after seeing her statement, without success, but was still trying.

“We look forward to meeting with Ms Grant to address her misapprehensions about our loan-approval process and any other concerns, at her convenience,” the company said.

US$30m partnership

The Marlie tech park is planned for a 68-acre site in the Marlie Mount community in St Catherine.

In a previous interview with Grant last year, she said the development would cost US$30 million. The project’s first phase included a BPO facility, for which the first 300 seats should have been finalised by September 2018, and eventually built out to 3,500 seats. A 100-room hotel and small-scale manufacturing facility would be added later.

Sagicor Group confirmed to the Financial Gleaner back then that Sagicor Investments Jamaica Limited, through its managed funds, would invest US$3 million in the venture, while Sagicor Bank Jamaica would provide a loan of US$1.9 million.

As part of the agreement, both Sagicor Investment and Marlie Technology Park Limited are shareholders in IQ Park, the corporate vehicle that owns the property slated for the project. Sagicor Investments held the larger stake of 60 per cent in IQ Park. Marlie Technology Park borrowed from Sagicor Bank to finance its portion of the acquisition cost for the land.

Asked for clarification on whether Sagicor Investments would exit the partnership, Sagicor Group promised a response but had not followed through up to press time.

Grant, who is both managing director of GeoTechVision, which has offices in Jamaica and Guyana, and executive chairman of Marlie Technology Park Limited, said in an online blog that her bankers for the Marlie Mount project “simply see this as an ideal location for another housing development”. But: “This was never the vision,” she added.

The tech park is expected, said Grant, to feature a regional centre of excellence, light manufacturing, a campus for training and development, a conference and retreat centre, a technology innovation centre focused on women in the tech sector, and a technology commercialisation centre.

She said Marlie Technology Park Limited was promised three loan facilities, but only the loan towards acquisition of the land was disbursed.

“The working capital disbursement, which was expected since the first week of June 2018, has not yet happened,” Grant said.

She is now looking to raise around US$7.5 million within four months from other investors and is open to different financing options, she added.

avia.collinder@gleanerjm.com