Plans for Lavish Papagayo Resort Unveiled

November 24, 2006

The partners behind an “ultra-luxury world-class resort” unveiled their plans this week at the resort architect’s ultra-luxury Santa Ana home, and bestowed upon Costa Rican President Oscar Arias a crystal pineapple as a gesture of gratitude for supporting their project.

More than two years before the developers plan to open the Punta Papagayo resort, they’re already claiming to have thought up “the finest resort in Costa Rica.”

The Costa Rican government has granted 60 acres between Playa Hermosa and Playa Panamá, in the Pacific northwestern province of Guanacaste, for the development of the five-star resort and spa planned by Minnesota developer Kirchert Pakonen and Regent Hotels & Resorts, a hotel and cruise ship operator that is part of one of the largest private corporations in the United States, Minnesota-based Carlson Companies.

The lavish resort will feature a luxury hotel, private villas, a spa and wellness center, pools and estate home units “cascading down the hillside” toward three beaches, said Jack Westergom, a hotel industry consultant who is helping manage the project. The project will also feature a restaurant island in a pool with floating bungalows for dining served up by “one of the world’s top 50 chefs.”

Westergom said Costa Rican architect Ronald Zurcher is currently designing the “socially conscious and environmentally sensitive” project slated to open 2009. It is expected to create some 700 direct jobs.

“We feel your soul … we will reflect the passionate nature of (Costa Rican) people,” Westergom said after stumbling over a short introduction in broken Spanish.He spoke to a crowd of tourism developers, government officials and press packed into a tent pitched in Zurcher’s ample backyard on a windy Tuesday.

“I’m happy to hear that Regent respects local culture,” President Arias said, adding he hopes future projects like the Punto Papagayo resort will learn from tourism development in Pacific beach communities such as Manuel Antonio and Tamarindo, which “got out of hand and lost control of the equilibrium between nature and concrete.”

Arias highlighted the importance of foreign direct investment such as this project to help stimulate job creation and economic growth in Costa Rica. Though project developers were tight-lipped about the project’s price tag, Tourism Minister Carlos Benavides said it is more than a $100 million investment.

“We have to take advantage of the opportunities this globalized world gives us,” Arias said.

More Conscious Developers?

Benavides told The Tico Times that in recent years, tourism developers in Costa Rica are becoming more conscious of the need to integrate into the community and respect the environment.

Zurcher said as he designs the project, he will keep in mind that in the face of the booming international tourism market that is investing heavily in Costa Rica, “(Costa Ricans) don’t want to globalize our culture.”

“We don’t want to replace gallo pinto with an Egg McMuffin or a hamburger,” he said.

He said his design will infuse Costa Rican flora and fauna, colors and history into the architecture. He pulled up a power point slide of artifacts, some pre-Columbian, which appeared to be sculptures of turtles and other local fauna. He said those forms are a source of inspiration for his designs.

Wilber Espinoso, a San José taxi driver who was born and raised in Guanacaste, said tourism development has changed the region in which he was once unable to find a job.

“I came (to San José) because I’m the poor man I am,” he said, adding there was no work in Guanacaste three decades ago. Now there are jobs in construction and tourism, he said, but real estate and the cost of living have skyrocketed, hitting the working class hard.

“It used to be $20 for a plot of land. Now I spend that much drinking beers,” he said, laughing.

Conroy said the company aims to train and keep local employees, and develop them to become supervisors and managers.

Benavides said low-density, environment-friendly, culturally sensitive tourism that the Papagayo development claims it will bring is the type of tourism he sees leading the industry into the future in Costa Rica.

“This is the type of development that doesn’t strip us of our identity and doesn’t pervert nature,” he said.

 

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