Antigua: Observer says three months too soon

Antigua Observer:-  The management of Observer Media Group will be seeking an extension of time to vacate the buildings which formerly housed the offices of Sun Printing and Publishing Limited. The media entity was given notice last week that it must pack up from the Pavillion Drive rental property and go by October 31.

The eviction notice, dated July 26, was issued by Nicolette Doherty and Kwame Simon, the attorneys acting on the behalf of the Joint Liquidators of Stanford Development Company Limited (SDC).

In the letter, addressed to Editor of the Observer Media Group, Bryon Derrick, the attorneys advised that in accordance with their mandate under the Winding Up Order to sell the property of SDC, the Joint Liquidators have accepted an offer to purchase the property with vacant possession.

While it was made clear that the building was sold, the liquidators did not indicate in the letter who the new owners are. Observer has been paying rent for the building on a month to month basis since the expiration of a lease agreement some time in 2014.

Chief Operations Officer (COO) of the media company, Darren Derrick, said that the company received the letter on Friday and immediately forwarded the “Notice to Quit” to the Board of Directors which is yet to respond to the current

management. The matter was also brought to the attention of the company’s lawyers, which includes Kendrickson Kentish.

The COO read the letter on the Voice of the People programme yesterday after sharing the news with staff members during a meeting.

He described the notice “as a blow to the company”, citing that over $2 million dollars was spent on moving and renovating the property, and millions disbursed for its upkeep over the years.

The COO also made it clear that the media company is up-to-date with its rental payments, while at the same time outlining that the current management did not get the first option to purchase the property.

According to Derrick, prior to the expiration of the lease in 2014, the company approached the liquidators through their agent, Ambassador Gilbert Boustany, to purchase the property.

Derrick explained that the last bit of communication about the sale of the property was in May 2016 when he contacted Ambassador Boustany to continue the dialogue, but to no avail.

The COO also stated that he wrote the ambassador expressing concern after discovering that Antigua Barbuda Labour Party Member of Parliament, Asot Michael, led a contingent to tour the facilities which are located adjacent to the V.C. Bird International Airport in Coolidge.

In an email to Ambassador Boustany, Derrick asked if he was available to talk.  Derrick said, “I am  very concerned as I am told that Asot [Michael] brought a contingent through the buildings. In my mind, that could only mean one thing, but I await your confirmation.”  He continued, “I fear the liquidators will renege on the deal for the property and that does not sit well with me.”

Staff members of the company have requested a meeting with the board of director to discuss the way forward. The COO said that moving within three months is “a near impossibility” and the company will likely request an extension of the time.

In response to some residents who are suggesting that the solution is to “simply” find a new place and move, Derrick said, “A move is a technically challenging, time consuming and resource intensive. The premises must be sourced then the technicians need to design the studios. For example, the current studios have double walls that are insulated for sound.  In a new space, the double walled studios would first have to be designed and built based existing floor plans.”

The COO elaborated on what sort of work has to go into retrofitting any new building like what was done at the current location.

He stated, “In our current location, Observer has five studios so that means designing and building five studios in a new space.  Beyond that, equipment needs to be ordered, imported and cleared.  It is impractical for Observer to go off the air for months and hope to survive. It is not as easy as packing up a few offices and moving like other businesses.”

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