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Developer Making More Changes As Requested By Department Of Natural & Environmental Resources; $579 Million Investment And 18,000 Direct Jobs Hang In The Balance


May 8, 2003
Copyright © 2003 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Puerto Rico may have one last chance to keep Four Seasons from abandoning its plans to build an upscale resort in Luquillo.

Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, a lucrative hotel brand based in Toronto, has been planning for over a decade to manage and partially own a five-star hotel on three plots (San Miguel I & II and La Paulina farms), together comprising 1,300 acres, between Luquillo and Fajardo. In that time, it has encountered numerous hurdles to developing the island’s environmentally sensitive northeastern coast, including the lack of potable water service, the area’s propensity to flood, and the fragile ecosystem.

The developer, San Miguel Luquillo Partners (headed by Juan Ramon Zalduondo) of San Miguel Four Seasons Resort Puerto Rico, has already rewritten and resubmitted--and paid over $1 million for--what he calls the most complete environmental impact statement (EIS) ever submitted to the Environmental Quality Board (EQB).

The developer is now incorporating new changes to the EIS as requested by the Department of Natural & Environmental Resources so that it can again be presented to the EQB. The project, as amended to reflect changes to the site plan, will also be presented to the Planning Board.

If all runs smoothly, San Miguel Luquillo Partners could be working with the Regulations & Permits Administration by early 2004. The project’s feasibility study has been completed and the preapplication for an Afica issue has been submitted to the Government Development Bank’s Tourism Development Fund.

San Miguel Luquillo Partners, however, has been meeting resistance from environmentalists. They hope the project is nixed so that the 350-acre La Paulina farm, on land belonging to the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Co. but leased to the company with an option to buy, can become part of the Northeast Bio-Diversity Corridor. The corridor is envisioned as a 3,200-acre strip of coastal land that when combined with the Caribbean National Forest, better known as El Yunque, would become an environmental preserve.

"Four Seasons is hopeful that we will get it done this time," said Jose Suarez, executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Co. "The company has made it clear that other islands in the Caribbean are pursuing it."

Four Seasons currently only has two resorts in the Caribbean: Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita in Mexico and Four Seasons Resort Nevis in the West Indies. Puerto Rico’s Four Seasons would be different from these.

The tourism-residential project entails a 250-room hotel, 60 to 75 units of fractional ownership (akin to timeshares) for its Residence Club, 25 to 50 units of whole ownership (similar to the condo-hotel concept of the company’s Private Residences), 1,000 residential villas and condos, a 27-hole Arnold Palmer golf course with clubhouse, a tennis center, and a casino. The project will also have a center for environmental research and education.

Suarez believes the time is right for Four Seasons to enter Puerto Rico’s tourism market. "This project will take Puerto Rico’s tourism product to the next level by luring the affluent client who currently isn’t vacationing on the island," he said. "Right now, Puerto Rico as a tourism destination is stagnant."

The Four Seasons project will require a total investment of $579 million and will create more than 18,000 direct and indirect jobs.

A new EIS, a new chance

The new EIS, being prepared by CSA Group, addresses issues left unresolved by the preliminary EIS, which the EQB rejected in January 2000. These include the possibility of flooding and the availability of potable water. The new EIS provides clear analyses of the proposed excavations, extractions, and other forms of ground movement and of the project’s environmental impact on mangroves, hydrological systems, and marshlands.

The EIS includes a series of initiatives to beautify the landscape and improve the condition of the land. Two-thirds of the natural landscape will be preserved; marine turtles and their breeding areas will be protected; 97% of the marshlands will be protected and improved; a secondary water treatment plant will be built and made available to neighboring communities that now rely on septic tanks, and treated water will be reused to irrigate the golf course. San Miguel Four Seasons will participate in the Audubon Signature and Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary programs, which aim to conserve natural resources and improve environmental quality. Four Seasons will restore the natural flow of the Juan Martin and Pitahaya rivers, which run through the property. The company will also establish guidelines for conserving energy and water and for recycling.

Some of the newest changes reflected in the EIS--and meant to gain the support of the Department of Natural & Environmental Resources--involved reducing the number of rooms at the proposed hotel from 350 to 250, increasing the buffer zone between the beach and the development area from 50 meters to 60 meters, limiting the height of the hotel to two stories, forgoing any development on La Paulina farm, providing beach access to area residents and hotel guests via an elevated boardwalk, establishing a procedure for the daily cleaning of the beach, controlling the artificial lighting to protect the sea turtles’ nesting areas, having a biologist regularly inspect the nesting areas, and developing an environmental education program for guests and residents.

What is Four Seasons?

Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts currently manages 58 properties in 27 countries, primarily under the Four Seasons and Regent brand names. U.S. cities with Four Seasons hotels are Atlanta; Boston; Chicago; New York; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; Las Vegas; Austin, Dallas, and Houston, Texas; Los Angeles, Newport Beach, San Francisco, and Santa Barbara, Calif.; Seattle, Wash.; Maui, Hawaii; and Palm Beach, Fla. Four Seasons also has hotels in Bali; Bangkok, Thailand; Hong Kong and Shanghai, China; Singapore; Sydney, Australia; Taipei, Taiwan; Tokyo; Berlin; Cairo, Egypt; Dublin; Istanbul, Turkey; Lisbon; London; Milan; Paris, and Prague.

In August 1992 Four Seasons acquired 100% ownership of Regent International Hotels, including its management contracts, trade names, and trademarks. This transaction made Four Seasons one of the world’s largest operators of luxury hotels.

Two years later, Isadore Sharp, CEO of Four Seasons, and other shareholders sold 25% of their interest in the company to Prince Al Waleed of Saudi Arabia. Four Seasons thus gained a partner whose business relationships and access to capital have catapulted the company’s international growth.

In its commitment to service, Four Seasons goes beyond the lessons taught in employee-training programs. To ensure that potential employees--from dishwashers to senior managers--have the right attitude, all are interviewed four or five times before being hired. New hires must participate in a seven-part training program, which includes working alongside a peer trainer for the first 12 weeks on the job.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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