ZAGREB – A referendum on a controversial €1 billion ($1.3 billion) project to build golf courses, villas and hotels above Croatia’s Adriatic resort of Dubrovnik has failed due to insufficient turnout, officials said Monday.
Such an outcome paves the way for a project by Israeli businessman Aaron Frenkel and Australian golfer Greg Norman, the former world No. 1, that critics say will spur massive and ugly real-estate development.
Only around 31.5 percent of 38,000 eligible voters cast ballots Sunday in a first such referendum in the former Yugoslav republic, far below a required 50 percent threshold for the vote to be valid, local official Kate Braj- lovic was quoted by the HINA news agency as saying.
“It would have been bad for an investment climate in Croatia if the referendum halting investments in golf courses at Srdj had passed,” Tourism Minister Darko Lorencin said after the vote’s outcome was announced.
Voters were asked whether they supported a “master plan that will allow construction of golf courses, houses and hotels” on Srdj mountain above the medieval tourist town. For the project to be rejected, more than half of the voters would have had to say “no” in the southern town, which hosts 700,000 visitors each year.
Norman, known as the Great White Shark for his aggressive style in golfing, is to open a golf academy at the project site, local media reported. But several local nonprofit groups have warned against a “sham,” arguing the project was primarily focused on obtaining grounds for real-estate construction in the exceptionally attractive area.
The project calls for construction of two golf courses, two hotels, 240 villas and 400 apartments on 310 hectares of the land.
Investors have accused those who oppose the plan of “manipulation,” and assure that it will create jobs and contribute to the extension of a tourist season.
Economic experts cite improvement of the investment climate as a key reform the Croatian government should undertake to revive the country’s economy.