PLAYA FLAMINGO, Guanacaste – Two years after the government shut down the Flamingo Marina, authorities say they are getting closer to choosing a new company to rebuild and operate the marina.
Mayor Pastor Gómez, head of the Santa Cruz Municipality, which oversees Playa Flamingo, said parties interested in the concession for the new marina have until Aug. 18 to submit their bids, a recent extension of the deadline previously set at June 28.
The extension is just one more delay in the process of getting the marina back in business. When the marina was closed in June 2004, boat owners were told a new operator would be chosen by October of that year. By December, Gómez projected it would be by early 2005 (TT, March 18, 2005). But complications, delays and the slow completion of a master plan that laid out exactly what the marina would comprise has stretched the process.
Gómez told The Tico Times last week he believes 10-15 companies have already made concession offers, and that the municipality is entertaining only offers of $12 million or more.
Of that amount, he said, the municipality will take at least 0.25% in an annual fee, which would be $30,000. However, Gómez said he believed the fee could be much higher, as the percentage would be more for larger investments.
The marina, located at the small Pacific coast beach town of Playa Flamingo, in southern Guanacaste, was originally ordered shut down by the Environmental Tribunal – a part of the Environment and Energy Ministry (MINAE) – in October 2003 in response to complaints that the marina was polluting the ocean (TT, Dec. 12, 2003).
Authorities did not actually close the marina, however, until June the following year and said then it was because the operators never obtained the proper permission to operate (TT, June 18, 2004).
According to Oscar Villalobos, of the Inter-Institutional Commission for Marinas and Tourism Docks, the new Flamingo Marina will have a minimum of 150 slips on the water and space for another 75 boats on land. The length of the concession has yet to be decided by the Santa Cruz Municipality, and according to the Marina Law can be for a maximum of 20 years. A reform of that law, however, is being discussed in the Legislative Assembly, and if passed, would mean the marina concession could be for anywhere between 15-35 years, Villalobos said, adding he expects the law to be voted on this month.
According to Gómez, the construction of the new marina would directly and indirectly bring 1,000-1,500 new jobs to the region.
The approval of the marina “as fast as possible gives us the opportunity for a good quantity of jobs,” Gómez said. “I believe having the marina operating would be excellent not only for Guanacaste or Santa Cruz, but for Costa Rica. We are taking about a marina that already has name recognition around the world.”
Area business owners, however, appear more concerned over the land access to their small beach town than sea access.
Steen Oldenburg, the owner of the deluxe Flamingo Marina Resort that overlooks the bay where the Flamingo Marina once was – and would be built again – says business has been affected because of the closure of the marina, but not drastically.
According to Oldenburg, boaters continue to come to the bay – as more than a dozen anchored yachts and sailboats visible from his hotel demonstrated – but they now must get ferried from the shore to their crafts.
“The panga guys are making a killing,” he said, referring to the drivers of the small, motorized boats that take people back and forth between the shore and the fishing and other tourism boats. “The real people who are suffering from this are the local fishermen and guys from Brasilito that work on the boats. Often that’s their only income.”
Oldenburg added that elderly tourists, who benefited from the easy access to boats provided by the marina, and dive operations, which often have to load heavy equipment onto their boats, feel the effect more strongly.
In addition, he said, three or four boats sank in the bay “as a direct result” of the marina’s closure, because as they sat unprotected from the rain, they filled with water and their bilge pumps failed. Had the ships been parked in a marina, he said, owners would have had easy and regular access to check up on them.
The most significant impact on tourism in the area, Oldenburg said, is the deteriorated condition of the highway into town. “It is really atrocious,” he said.
Alessandro Aronne, who runs EcoTrans – a tourism and transportation business – out of Oldenburg’s hotel, said that the tours he sells in the area have “hit the floor” as a direct result of the bad shape of the road.
“A lot of tourists who arrive at the Liberia airport are going to Nicaragua,” he said, referring to the Daniel Oduber International Airport, located outside Liberia, the capital of Guanacaste. “I’m worried about the future.”
According to Aronne, Nicaragua’s better highways and cheaper expenses is what is drawing tourists away.