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Editorial: EB-5 could help, not hurt Jupiter

Staff Reports Saturday, January 8, 2011
It may seem as though there are “citizenships for sale” in the federal government’s EB-5 program, which offers the opportunity to earn a specific number of green cards to individuals who invest $500,000 to $1 million in American businesses. But this isn’t necessarily the case. The program is under the federal immigration folks, and it has very precise requirements for those who choose to invest, including a comprehensive background check. The regional centers with their various projects that apply to participate in EB-5 are scrutinized as well. Locally, Nick Mastroianni of Allied Capital & Development of South Florida is in China now with Jupiter’s finance director, Michael Villella, to host seminars with four agencies that are the link with potential Chinese investors. The intent is to raise $80 million so construction can begin on Harbourside Place, the entertainment hotel/restaurant/retail complex in Riverwalk. “Do you think it’s easy to travel to China? Not really,” Mastorianni said, adding that Villella’s presence will help give his pitch to the government-conscious Chinese greater weight. “But the Chinese have most of the world’s EB-5 applicants, and they are loving the U.S. Immigration Fund, of which Harbourside is part. Estimates are that Harbourside will create 800 jobs, and about 1,200 jobs indirectly. The entire U.S. Immigration Fund encompasses Jupiter, Palm Beach Gardens and Riviera Beach from the east coast to the Beeline.” There are downsides to this program, and certainly abuses, particularly when other Regional Center businesses tell the investors their investment or permanent green card is “guaranteed” or that the city or state backs the project financially. Town Manager Andy Lukasik said “at no time have I ever heard Nick or his consultants ever suggest that our local government will save the Harbourside project if it isn’t functioning properly. It’s the furthest thing from the truth.” If Mastroianni is successful, this long-awaited project on a sliver of land north of the Indiantown Bridge will be under way, the money the Chinese investors are providing to give it a financial boost will be used to help it and other projects bring much needed jobs to the area. Eventually the town will benefit from the taxes the entity will provide.