Uganda: Third developer group for five-star hotel?

The year was 2006; the location was the Shimoni Primary School and the Shimoni Teachers Training College, where the second land give-away from the Ugandan government at the time was supposed to see a five-star hotel under the Kingdom Hotels brand rise and be completed in time for the 2007 Commonwealth Summit.

Children were uprooted from their school, as were students at the teachers training college, to hastily make space for the demolition of the education facility so that construction could begin.

And then there was, apart from regular acid comments in newspapers by those affected from the transaction, SILENCE. Kingdom Hotels, as it soon became obvious, was like the developers of a similar hotel on Nakasero Hill, not able or not willing to progress with and complete the construction, leaving the empty site fenced off.

Fast forward a few years and a Jebel Ali based group from Dubai acquired the land to construct a hotel, due to become the InterContinental Hotel Kampala, but the slow pace of work then ended when the main skeleton of the building was up, then again for the past several years with no further progress seen or heard of, not from the developers and not from the hotel management company.

Now news are emerging that Sudhir Ruparelia has come on board as a key partner through his property management company, seeking to complete the hotel and embark on the construction of a major international scale mall. Construction is at present prices valued at 300+ million US Dollars.

Ruparelia’s hotel portfolio includes among others the Speke Hotel in the centre of the city, Dolphin Suites in Bugolobi, the Kabira Country Club, the Forest Cottages and the two Munyonyo based resorts and conference facilities, the Speke Resort and the Commonwealth Resort at the shores of Lake Victoria. Details received about the Kingdom Hotels site development speak of a 200 bedroom four star hotel – with no mention of an international brand will manage the facility or if it will be another in-house affair – besides which the mall will offer both office and commercial shop spaces, but not residential accommodation, at least not at this stage. Construction, when restarted, is reportedly due to last for between 30 to 36 months.

Other key commercial activities of Sudhir Ruparelia’ vast conglomerate include Crane Bank, Goldstar Insurance, Rosebud – a flower farm producing for export – primary and secondary schools, a university and an extensive real estate portfolio across Kampala and elsewhere in the country, making him the arguably richest man in Uganda today and one of the richest in Africa. Sudhir rose to fame and fortune after a humble start as the owner of the Crane Forex Bureau before rapidly diversifying into real estate, banking, the hospitality industry and other profitable niches which lacked major investors at the time and offered swift returns and lasting profitability.