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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 November 2005, 21:13 GMT
Maverick Perot looks at Maze investment

By Gareth Gordon
BBC Northern Ireland political correspondent

He's the Texan billionaire who twice ran for the White House.

Ross Perot
Ross Perot made his fortune in computers and property
Now Ross Perot, who made his millions in computers, wants to be involved in the transformation of the government-owned site of the former Maze prison.

The BBC has been told that representatives of Ross Perot's property development group - which is chaired by his son Ross Perot Jr - is one of a handful of international developers who have been shown around the 360-acre site.

Tony Whitehead of the Strategic Investment Board, which is driving the project for the government, says the group specialises in developing old airfields like the former Long Kesh site.

It is understood Mr Perot himself may be planning a flying visit to the Maze in January.

Ross Perot is a former lieutenant in the US Navy who went on to become one of modern America's greatest success stories making a fortune in computers and earning the title of "fastest, richest Texan" from Fortune magazine in 1968.

But it is in the sphere of politics that he is best known.

In the 1992 US presidential election, he became the most successful third-party candidate in terms of the popular vote since Theodore Roosevelt in 1912, with a 19% share.

Soccer, GAA and rugby image
A multi-sports stadium is proposed for the site
He was less successful in 1996, but once again received an unusually high vote for a third-party candidate.

He is still a colourful figure, as much admired for his business acumen as he is mocked for his eccentricities.

The children's television programme Sesame Street parodies him with a character called H Ross Parrot.

If his company was to be involved in the Maze, it would be another intriguing twist to what already has been a fascinating plot.

'Notorious prison site'

The transformation of what was once Europe's most notorious prison site into what one official has called "Irelands's biggest building site" is an audacious plan.

It was once a scene of conflict, hunger strikes to the death and at least one infamous prison escape. The government envisages all that being replaced by what would become a leisure paradise with hotels, bars, restaurants, an art gallery; a showground and indoor arena; housing and an industrial zone.

One of the infamous H Blocks would be re-born as a "Conflict Transformation Centre" along with the hospital wing where the ten republican hunger strikers died in the early 1980s.

How the Maze site could look under the new proposals
How the Maze site could look under the new proposals

The latter part is controversial but so, increasingly, is the building of an 85m 42,000-seater stadium for soccer, rugby and GAA.

It has become the centre of a tug-of-war between the Maze site and Belfast where politicians and some other civic leaders still want the new national stadium to be built.

Already two alternative stadia have been mooted, but the government says there is no "Plan B."

Unfortunately for them, the soccer and rugby authorities remain to be convinced, and without their support, there will be no Maze stadium.

And without the stadium, officials say there will be no Maze development. The crunch is coming and soon.



SEE ALSO
Perot 'could invest in Maze site'
29 Nov 05 |  Northern Ireland
Rivals to Maze stadium dismissed
16 Nov 05 |  Northern Ireland
Maze site 'approved' for stadium
30 Mar 05 |  Northern Ireland
Stadium proposal for former jail
25 Feb 05 |  Northern Ireland
Maze could become leisure mecca
23 Feb 05 |  Northern Ireland
Three contenders for NI stadium
20 Jan 05 |  Northern Ireland

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