WITH STORY CROATIA GOLF REFERENDUM - Dubrovnik old town is pictured from Srdj, the hill above the city, Friday, April 26, 2013. The residents of this scenic Croatian Adriatic sea resort will hold a referendum on Sunday April 28, 2013, whether to allow the 1.1-billion euros ($1.4 billion) golf park development project on the hill above the city that many claim endangers their ancient city, often dubbed the Pearl of the Adriatic, and the outcome could have serious consequences on the future of foreign investments in Croatia. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)
DUBROVNIK, Croatia (AP) — A landmark referendum held in Croatia has failed to derail plans for the construction of a large golf complex that could change the face of the ancient walled tourist resort of Dubrovnik.
Officials said Monday the referendum failed because only 31 percent of Dubrovnik voters cast their ballots Sunday. The official requirement for the vote to be valid is at least a 50-percent turnout.
The result meant that the 1.1-billion-euro ($1.4 -billion) golf course designed by Australian golfing legend Greg Norman — which includes villas, hotels, tennis courts, a horse-riding club and restaurants — will be built on the rocky Srdj hill above the historic town.
"Golf will be played on Srdj after all," said Maja Frenkel, the head of Razvoj Golf, the main Israeli investor group behind the project.
The referendum was only the third such vote in Croatia after it in 1991 voted to secede from Yugoslavia, and last year to join the European Union this summer. This was the first such referendum organized by a group of citizens, and not the government as before.
"Of course, we can't be happy with the outcome," said Igor Miosic, a referendum organizer.
The opponents of the project worry that the vast club will choke their scenic city of red-roofed stone houses and aquamarine sea, dubbed the Pearl of the Adriatic, and would represent an environmental hazard without bringing financial gains for Dubrovnik residents.
Backers of the project say it would provide hundreds new jobs in Dubrovnik, would bring wealthier golf-playing tourists to the area and stretch the main tourist season, which currently last only two summer months.
Croatia split from Yugoslavia in the wars of the 1990s, and is currently going through a painful transition into a market economy. The privatization and the closure of once prosperous factories led to mass unemployment.
Its economy relies heavily on tourism, which brings some 7 billion euros ($9.1 billion) a year to the nation of 4.2 million, blessed with a spectacular Adriatic coast and stunning islands.