WITHIN three months, earthmoverscould be starting their engines on the PapagayoPeninsula as ground is broken on thelatest undertaking of the upscale tourism development:the Peninsula Papagayo Marina.The planned $15 million marina innorthwestern Guanacaste will be accompaniedby all the necessary marina facilities onthe waterfront, including Customs andImmigration offices, ship and conveniencestores and a gymnasium, planners say.Beyond that, the project envisions awaterfront village of bistros and bars, languageand art schools, pharmacies andstores.“WE are developing our own littletown, our own personality,” said RobertoKopper, director of the project.The project is still in the approvalprocess, Kopper said. Barring any problems,construction could start in June and becompleted by the end of 2006, he said.The first phase of the project will consistof 160 slips with an average size of 50 feet.Keeping in mind its possible clientele, themarina will also offer facilities for megayachts reaching 200 feet.The rate of development of the secondphase will depend greatly on the market.Developers anticipate it could begin by 2008.THE marina will be located at thenortheast end of Bahía Culebra, near theblack-sand Playa Manzanillo and west ofthe Occidental Allegro Papagayo Resort.The site was chosen for its location atthe end of the bay, where boats will be mostprotected from ocean swells and thePapagayo winds, Kopper said.It also will provide easy access to thepublic, a condition of the marina concession,he said, without requiring the public tofully enter the exclusive Papagayo Peninsulatourism project.Public access to the peninsula has in thepast sparked controversy. When the FourSeasons hotel opened just over a year ago onthe peninsula, environmentalists protestedrestricted access to public beaches in front ofthe hotel (TT, Jan. 23, 2004). All beaches,according to national law, are public.The marina project is part of the 900-hectare (3.5-square-mile) Eco-DesarolloPapagayo, which encompasses the entirepeninsula and includes the posh FourSeasons hotel and golf course. It will eventuallyinclude more upscale boutique hotelsand a private residential development.Slips at the Papagayo marina will becomparable in price to those in Florida orthe Caribbean, Kopper said, at about $25-30per linear foot.Whether slip ownership will requireownership of property in the development,as some marinas do, has yet to be determined.“The marina must be backed by a resorttype, where you provide more services andhousing that will directly have a synergywith the marina… a lot of boat owners wantto have condos or a house as an investment,”he said.TO meet with success, the Papagayomarina may have to stand apart. Fifteenother marinas have been proposed up anddown the Pacific coast of Costa Rica.“I think there is room for another threemarinas and that is about it, depending onthe sizes, and the resorts behind it. But themarket is there. We don’t truly know thepotential of the market until we providethe facilities,” Kopper said.Two other marinas are farther along inthe approval process than Papagayo: theGolfito Marina – with 216 slips in the waterand 125 dry slips in the Southern Zone, andthe Marina Pez Vela in Quepos, on the centralPacific coast – with 196 slips in thewater and 100 dry slips, according to OscarVillalobos, technical secretary of Inter-Institutional Commission for Marinas andTourism Docks (CIMAT).Another dozen marinas are in variousstages of the approval process.DEVELOPERS of Papagayo are in thefinal stages of obtaining environmental permissionfrom the National TechnicalSecretariat of the Environment Ministry(SETENA). Once this is complete, they willseek approval from CIMAT and then requestthe concession from the Costa RicanTourism Institute (ICT). The final step isrequesting construction permits from theMunicipality of Liberia.“The Papagayo approval process isgoing well,” Villalobos said. “They ran intoa small problem when they found some(Pre-Columbian) fishing traps near the site.But they are working with the NationalMuseum to protect them. As soon as that iscleared, SETENA should give its environmentalapproval and we will give our technicalapproval.”Kopper said he is confident everythingwill be approved according to plan.The type of commercial developmentplanned for near the marina is not typicallyallowed below 50 meters (150 feet) from thewater line. However, because the developmentwill serve the marina, it is allowedunder the marina law, Kopper said.THE marina and Eco-Desarollo Papagayomake up nearly half of what is knownas the Polo Turístico or Papagayo TourismProject, which encompasses 2,000 hectares(7.7 square miles), starting at the peninsulaand continuing south down the coast.The project has its roots in a late-1960sstudy by the Central American EconomicIntegration Bank (BCIE) to determine possiblelocations on the isthmus for development of tourism projects. The study identifiedPapagayo and a location in Hondurasas the best spots, Kopper said.A law promoting the Polo Turísticoand allowing the government to expropriateland and grant land concessions fortourism development projects was notpassed until 1982.While advocates promote the tourismproject as an economic opportunity for thecountry, nearly its entire 23-year history hasbeen plagued by controversial governmentexpropriations, legal wrangling and mixedcommunity reactions regarding publicaccess and benefit (TT, Nov. 7, 2003).