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Coamo Springs Natural Thermal Spa & Golf Resort
The $200 Million Master-Planned Tourist & Residential Complex In Coamo Will Bring Economic Growth And Much-Needed Jobs To The Islands Southern Region
By JOSE L. CARMONA
May 8, 2003
A fountain of hope: Coamos hot springs--long neglected as a tourist attraction--will be the key component in the development of a 150-room, five-star resort hotel & natural thermal spa, 100 condo-hotel villas, and 577 residential villas
The grand opening of the upscale 106-unit Santa Catalina Grand Villas residential project in Coamo Springs on May 22 will kick off the $200 million Coamo Springs Natural Thermal Spa & Golf Resort project in Coamo.
The project, the brainchild of Coamo native Hector Torres Zayas, entails a $14 million, 150-room, five-star resort hotel & thermal spa whose construction will begin in February 2004, 100 condo-hotel villas, and 577 residential housing units bordering the existing 18-hole championship golf course.
Coamo Springs Natural Thermal Spa & Golf Resort will be located beside PR-546, on 400 acres in Coamos San Ildefonso sector, best known for having Puerto Ricos only hot springs.
Coamo--50 miles from San Juan in the islands south--and neighboring Santa Isabel and Salinas are among the municipalities with the highest unemployment (17.6%). The Coamo Springs project will create hundreds of direct and indirect jobs during its construction and operational stages and will spur other projects that will benefit the regions economy.
The Coamo Springs Natural Thermal Spa & Golf Resort project is divided into two parts: the expansion of the golf course and the development of the tourist-residential complex. The latter includes the resort hotel and spa, the condo-hotel villas, and the residential developments, beginning with 56 of the 106 units of Santa Catalina Grand Villas.
The hot springs, the areas pleasant weather year-round, and easy highway access and proximity to the San Juan metro area, to Ponce (15 minutes), and to other areas make Coamos San Ildefonso sector the ideal place to develop a golf course, resort hotel, and spa.
The golf course
Torres Zayas acquired the 6,767-square-yard lot on which lies the 72-par, 18-hole golf course in 1986. Since 1998, he has invested $17 million to rebuild the golf course, to purchase an adjoining 400-acre plot, and to create the master plan for the resort hotel & spa.
He contracted Gomez, Vazquez, Aldana & Associates (GVA), a Guadalajara, Mexico-based architectural firm that specializes in hotels and resorts, because of the firms emphasis on incorporating nature into its project designs. GVA is the 10th largest architectural firm in the world, according to Architecture magazine.
In 2001 alone, Torres Zayas spent $1.7 million to plant 150 trees, including Flamboyan, Reina de las Flores, eucalyptus, and oak, as well as 450 palms. New cart paths on the golf course and a 160-vehicle parking lot were also built.
More trees were planted in 2002 as part of new landscaping at the resort. A gazebo was built between the seventh and 13th holes to give golfers a place where they can take a break to have a drink and a bite to eat.
A 6,500-square-foot clubhouse, currently under construction, will open next year at an $800,000 investment. The structure of wood and Spanish tile will have a restaurant serving Caribbean cuisine, a snack bar out on the terrace, a pro-golf shop, and lockers and showers for club members, guests, visitors, and the community. Tennis courts, swimming pools, and a jogging track will be built near the clubhouse later.
"Studies have shown that golf is the third reason why tourists visit Puerto Rico, after water sports and casino gambling," said Torres Zayas, owner of Coamo Springs Golf Club. "After nearly four years in operation, Coamo Springs Golf Club has exceeded expectations, attracting some 30,000 golfers and guests annually."
The golf course has confirmed the areas potential, attracting thousands of local and foreign golf enthusiasts, said Torres Zayas. The addition of a resort hotel will guarantee that more golfers will visit the island, he added.
Access to the golf course will be limited to current club members, Coamo Springs residents, and residents of Paraiso de Coamo--a Pulte International Caribbean Corp. project directly across from Coamo Springs. Players who are willing to pay green fees will also be welcome.
Resort hotel & spa
Even though Coamos hot springs are legendary, they have never been seen as an economic development tool for the southern region, much less as the center point of a world-class tourist-residential project--until now.
"The Coamo springs have tremendous therapeutic, historical, and ecological value," said Torres Zayas. "If used correctly and protected, they could turn the southern region into an international tourist destination and the portal to the Caribbean."
Torres Zayas said Coamo Springs five-star resort hotel and spa would compete with highly regarded Caribbean and stateside spa destinations such as Cuisinart Resort & Spa in Anguilla, Costa Ricas Hotel Martino, and Mount Princeton Hot Springs in Colorado. Coamos hot springs, however, will ensure that it has no competition in the area.
A recent study commissioned by Torres Zayas identified the need for a five-star spa-hotel on the island for travelers seeking holistic therapies and for those seeking relaxation.
"Market studies indicate that 60% of foreign travelers seek the natural spa concept, with an average stay of five to seven days and daily expenditures of $500," said the Coamo native. "The development of a natural spa-hotel will have a positive impact on the local tourism market."
Although the resort would be aimed at tourists with annual incomes of $100,000 or more who are looking for a spa with hot springs, Torres Zayas said the resort would also provide a new first-class tourism alternative for island residents.
The master plan for the Coamo Springs Natural Thermal Spa & Golf Resort calls for the 150-room, five-star hotel; the natural spa; restaurants; 100 villas developed under the condo-hotel concept; meeting facilities for 500 people; tennis courts; an equestrian center; a jogging track, and the golf course. There will also be an area for an 8,200-square-foot shopping & community center.
Torres Zayas is coordinating with the municipalities of Coamo and Santa Isabel so that local farmers can provide fresh produce for the resorts restaurants, providing a boost to the areas economy.
Several hotel operators are being considered to operate the resort hotel and spa. In the interim, Key Management Group Inc. (KMGI) has been retained as operator-consultant. The American Academy of Hospitality Sciences (AAHS) would be in charge of bestowing its highest symbol of excellence on the hotel, the International Five Star Diamond Award. KMGI Partner & Executive Vice President Walter Kohlross is a trustee and board member of AAHS.
The 150-room hotel and villas will have a Caribbean / Mediterranean design. The spa and swimming pool, both of which will use Coamos famed thermal waters, will occupy 17,000 square feet to 20,000 square feet of semi-enclosed space (allowing rain and natural light to filter in).
The villas will be spread across the fairway in clusters of three-story-high buildings. Each cluster will have 24 first-class rooms and each building will be equipped with elevators.
Santa Catalina Grand Villas
Torres Zayas first residential project in Coamo Springs, tentatively called Santa Catalina Grand Villas, is one of four luxury housing developments currently being built on properties near the hot springs. The others are Paraiso de Coamo, Las Fuentes de Coamo, and Mansiones de Coamo.
Santa Catalina Grand Villas is the first of several residential developments totaling 577 units as outlined in the Coamo Springs master plan. The first 56 of Santa Catalinas 106 units will be launched on May 22. The residential projects, including single dwellings and grand villas, will be constructed in three phases, to be completed by 2008.
The two-story Santa Catalina Villas will be available in five designs with three floor plans: two bedrooms and two-and-a-half baths, three bedrooms and two-and-a-half baths, and three bedrooms and three-and-a-half baths. They will measure 2,400 square feet to 3,579 square feet and will start at $315,000. Homeowners will have the option to add a Jacuzzi, a swimming pool, a water cistern, a terrace, and a fountain.
The villas will feature intelligent home technology, increasing energy efficiency by combining natural and artificial lighting and using natural and mechanical ventilation--trees will even be used as protection from the suns light and heat. All homes will feature central air conditioning, a carport, and an area for golf carts.
Coamos hot springs
Coamos fame dates to 1864, when a 20-room hotel was established to take advantage of the municipalitys six sulfur-rich springs, whose therapeutic value soon spread by word of mouth around the island.
That hotel is now a budget 48-room inn called Parador Baños de Coamo, which boasts its own thermal-water pool. The original hot springs, next to the inn, are open to the public, but their condition has deteriorated and they dont meet health and accessibility standards for the elderly or people with disabilities.
In December 2001, the Supreme Court handed down a decision nullifying the Puerto Rico Tourism Co.s 1995 sale of both the inn and an adjacent 24-acre property, returning the inns ownership to the Tourism Co.
The lawsuit was filed in 1998 by Coamo Springs Golf & Tennis Club owner Hector Torres Zayas.
Torres Zayas argued that the sale by the Tourism Co. to Antonio Umpierre and his wife, Annabel Monclova, was unlawful because a site consultation hadnt been presented to and approved by the Planning Board. Torres Zayas also argued that he had the right of first refusal on the property, which the government had earlier expropriated.
As a Coamo native, Torres Zayas is aware of the importance of protecting the hot springs, which are unique in Puerto Rico. Accordingly, he is giving his unconditional support to the governments plan to restore and develop the springs.
Now that the inn is back in the Tourism Co.s hands, Torres Zayas is asking to be allowed to participate in the process to select its operator.
Whats more, he says the inn must be incorporated into the Coamo Springs resort hotel & spa project to ensure its success.
"We have requested that the inns facilities be incorporated into our master plan, which would significantly improve the inns condition and allow it and the thermal waters to be used by all," said Torres Zayas. "We intend to contribute $500,000 to the fund set up by the municipality and the Tourism Co. to improve the inns facilities."
Torres Zayas said Coamo Springs would be willing to invest $3 million in improvements to the inn, including restoring its 48 rooms, building another 30 rooms, and improving the recreational facilities. This work could be completed in one year.
"Coamo Springs and its natural spa represent a new vision for the islands southern region," said Torres Zayas. "For that vision to become reality, and to compete favorably against other hotels in the Caribbean, we must rely on the resource of Coamos hot springs."
According to a recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), up to 83,000 gallons of thermal spring-water go unused every day. Torres Zayas says his proposed resort hotel and spa would use only 1,666 gallons a day.
The Coamo Springs project has the endorsement of the USGS, Coamo Mayor Juan Carlos Garcia, the Puerto Rico Tourism Co., the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Co., the Economic Development Bank, and the Department of Natural & Environmental Resources.
Coamo / Santa Isabel becoming a hub for development
The area of Coamo/Santa Isabel, in the islands south, is becoming a development hub, with nearly $500 million of investments in the pipeline.
In addition to the $200 million Coamo Springs Natural Thermal Spa & Golf Resort in Coamo, residential homes, a thoroughbred racetrack, and a shopping & entertainment center are slated for the area.
There are currently four luxury housing developments--with units priced at around $300,000--being built on properties near Coamos hot springs. These are Santa Catalina Grand Villas at Coamo Springs, Pulte Homes Paraiso de Coamo, Interlink Groups Las Fuentes de Coamo, and Mansiones de Coamo. An additional 761 units priced at about $120,000 have also been approved for construction.
The proposed $45 million Parque Ecuestre La Esmeralda, a thoroughbred racetrack, will be built on a 502-acre farm in Santa Isabel. The racetracks design allows for large entertainment events. The racetracks grandstand will seat 4,000, its front apron another 4,000, and bleachers on the grassy area another 3,000.
El Comandante Racetrack in Canovanas is currently the islands only racetrack. There is licensing available for three racetracks: one in the north (El Comandante), one in the south (La Esmeralda), and one in the west. The racetracks second development phase calls for a 250-unit condo-hotel, a strip mall, a pavilion for thoroughbred auctions, a Paso Fino equestrian center and jumping arena, a training center, a cafeteria, offices for racing authorities, and a recreational area for employees and visitors. Racetrack owner Emerald Princess Inc. plans to hold important Paso Fino and jump-horse events, in which he expects visitors from throughout the Caribbean and Latin America to participate.
These initiatives would boost tourism to the area, increasing revenue for the municipalities and benefiting the regions economy. It is estimated the proposed racetrack, currently in the permitting process, would create between 3,000 and 4,000 direct and indirect jobs.
That the racetrack will be in the heart of horsebreeding country is a big plus, as it will facilitate operations for horse owners and promote the establishment of more horse farms.
Although construction of the $12 million Plaza Esmeralda shopping center in Santa Isabel is expected to begin later this year, construction of the first freestanding tenant, a Texaco Fast Lube, is already underway.
The 100,000-square-foot mall will surround the ruins of a circa-1800 cotton warehouse. A pedestrian bridge will span the ruins to join the two wings of the malls main building. An international jury at the 2002 Puerto Rico Society of Architects & Landscape Architects convention honored architect Abel Misla for integrating the ruins into the malls ultramodern design.
The shopping center will have five freestanding buildings in front of the main building. Two already have tenants: Texaco Fast Lube and Margaritas Mexican Restaurant. Negotiations are underway for the remaining freestanding buildings. The main buildings anchor tenant will be La Bolera del Sur, a 24-lane bowling alley. An 18-lane expansion is planned. There will be 450 parking spaces at the mall, of which 100 will be covered.
Plaza Esmeralda is slated for completion 21 months after construction begins later this year.
Tourism Co. to develop brand identity campaign for islands southern region
After launching Porta del Sol--a brand identity for the islands west coast--last year, the Puerto Rico Tourism Co. (PRTC) now plans to do the same for the southern region.
For marketing and promotional purposes, the PRTC has divided the island into five regions: north, south, east, west, and mountain. Porta del Sol was the first brand identity created. Its campaign highlights the west coasts tourist attractions, from Isabela to Guanica. The southern region is to be next.
The PRTC recently created a southern region committee with representatives from the Ponce & Southern Region Tourism Forum and the Puerto Rico Hotel & Tourism Association. The committee members, led by Jose Reyes, will help the PRTC to devise the souths brand identity and its accompanying campaign, which they hope will be ready by years end or by early next year.
The PRTCs southern region covers the coastal area from Patillas to Yauco. Guanica is excluded because it is considered part of the western region. The agency has already published a pamphlet about the southern region, highlighting Coamo, Coamo Springs Golf Club, the legendary hot springs, and other tourist attractions in the area.
Once the souths brand identity has been determined and its campaign launched, the PRTC will create a website for the region with a link to its own website, www.gotopuertorico.com. The souths website will provide general information as well as interactive maps of access routes, cities, sites of interest, restaurants, and other tourist attractions. The PRTC is working with several air carriers to provide direct service to the area.
The project in a nutshell
Where do our guest come from?
Room nights for fiscal year 2002
U.S. mainland 1,032,629
Latin America 35,956
Other countries 17,757
*Includes airline crew and others not specified.
Puerto Rico Hotels & Paradores
Total Registrations 1,826,052
Occupancy Rates 61.8%
Total Rooms Rented 2,506,214
Total Rooms Available 4,056,260
Source: Puerto Rico Tourism Co.
This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.