Catalonia plans $6 bln tourist complex

MADRID Mon Sep 10, 2012 2:51pm IST

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MADRID (Reuters) - Spain's heavily-indebted Catalonia region on Friday gave the green light for a 4.8 billion euros hotel, mall and casino complex near Barcelona aimed at building on growth in tourism.

Details of the project were scarce but the regional government, anxious to tap into a rare growth sector in Spain's struggling economy, said it would run "Barcelona World" in conjunction with La Caixa bank (CABK.MC).

The Catalan government, which lost out to Madrid in a battle to host a large casino complex being planned by Las Vegas Sands Corp (LVS.N), set a target date of 2016 for the completion of the project which it said would create 20,000 jobs.

One in four workers in Spain is without a job.

The Catalan government said "Barcelona World", to be built near the theme park of Port Aventura in Tarragona, would be 20 percent financed by real estate company Veremonte with the rest coming from unnamed investors such as hotel and construction groups.

The tourism project would consist of six themed areas centred around Europe, the United States, China, Russia, Brazil and India.

The regional government, which last week applied for just over 5 billion euros in state funding, said the complex would include hotels, shopping malls, casinos, and office space as well as tourist attractions but gave little detail.

Catalonia is the most visited region in Spain, with close to 14 million people tourists last year. Official data showed visitor numbers increased to July by 2 percent on the same period a year ago.

Veremonte is owned by Spanish building magnate Enrique Banuelos who joined Forbes 100 richest people on the back of Spain's housing boom until his construction firm, Astroc, became one of the first victims of the burst bubble in 2007.

Banuelos has since rebuilt his estate through investments in Brazil and recently returned to Spain through Veremonte's acquisition of a 28 percent stake in technology firm Amper (APE.MC) in May.

Real estate in Spain remains mired in a deep slump as the country sinks into its second recession in under three years as austerity measures aimed at reducing one of the euro zone's largest public deficits bite.

Spain's regions are struggling to control their public finances as tax revenues dry up and they lose their access to capital markets. (Editing by David Cowell)

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