London & Regional Properties, a privately owned British developer, has won the right to build a new mini-city on the banks of the Panama Canal, The Times has learnt.
The London-based firm, founded and run by the brothers Ian and Richard Livingstone, beat competition from 16 other international firms to be selected as preferred bidder this week.
The $700 million (£355 million) project promises to be one of the largest development projects in the world, covering 2,750 acres, and it could transform the trading fortunes of Panama.
The plan is the most ambitious scheme to be taken on by London & Regional, probably best known in Britain as the firm that bought the old Marks & Spencer headquarters on Baker Street.
The area in Panama, just half a mile from Panama City and right on the canal, covers an area the size of London stretching from Regent’s Park in the north to the Oval cricket ground in the south and from Sloane Square in the west to London Bridge in the East.
At the heart of the 40-year building programme for the “Howard Project” is the proximity to the world’s busiest trade canal and an air-strip built by the Americans stretching 2.75km but which has been largely derelict since US forces pulled out of the country eight years ago.
The site is earmarked for a massive new trading hub, known as a “multimodal port” which will take in both the air-strip, the canal and build vast depots to store all manner of goods that pass through the canal.
Jason Mills, development director at London & Regional, said: “This underlines the attractiveness of Panama as a global investment destination.” About 60 per cent of the trade in and out of the United States passes through the Panama Canal, while the land-site sits on the Pan American highway, a motorway that runs from South America right up to California, accounting for more US trade.
Singapore Airlines has already struck a deal to refurbish its Asian fleet of aircraft on the site.
The area is also earmarked for thousands of new homes, hotels, a golf course and science park, all generating at least 20,000 jobs. London & Regional have teamed up with Isaac and Jaime Gilinski, the father and son Panamanian developers who carry considerable influence in Central America.
Sources close to the deal said that London & Regional did not need any further debt or equity partners for the project. The Panamanian Government invited the World Bank two years ago to run an international auction to select a developer of the site.
London & Regional beat off competition in the final round from the Miami-based property firm Easton Group. Other bidders included the Codina Group, from Florida, and Cabi Control, from Mexico.
Mr Mills said: “The Panamanian Government has been forward-looking in hiring the World Bank in a transparent tender process.” The Panamanian Cabinet is due to ratify the decision to appoint L&R next week, with completion expected next month. A formal master planning application will be submitted three months later.