A four-hour drive north of San José, Liberia sprawls out on Guanacaste’s arid plains at the intersection of the
and the highway to the coast.
People call the provincial capital the crossroads of Guanacaste, a reputation that has been helped along by the rebirth of the DanielOduberInternationalAirport. The airport has given hundreds of thousands of tourists an option for skipping San José, and the Ministry of Public Works and Transport is getting ready to expand it (see separate story, Page S8).
A few years ago, a development company called Desarrollos Weisleder Lipszyc (DWL) looked at this crossroads and saw potential for more than just a tourist and truck driver pit stop.
DWL saw a hot market that in the near future was going to need housing, retail, office space and storage. So it decided to build those things – all in the same development.
Welcome to Solarium, a massive, mixeduse development right across the street from the airport that in a little more than a decade will change the dynamic of the Liberia metropolitan area.
The development will include a lot of firsts for the region, including the first airport hotel and the first “logistics center” for companies that need easy access to the airport.
Solarium even has space reserved for a free zone for export manufacturers, though the developers have said that part of the project is on hold.
Sammy Weisleder, the director of DWL’s project department, compared Guanacaste’s tourism boom to California’s gold rush.
“Everyone’s looking for gold,” he said.
“But no one’s providing services.”
DWL finished buying the 104 hectares for the project three years ago. Construction got started on the first phase – the logistics center, or warehousing – in June 2006, and by October of last year they had something to inaugurate.
That initial phase of the project cost $24 million,Weisleder said.
Construction on the next phase kicked off at the beginning of this year. Workers are building what will become a Hilton Garden Inn, which will have 159 rooms and all the amenities of a luxury hotel catering to professionals on business and tourists taking a breather.
The next phase in the project, on which workers are about to break ground, is an office building, followed by the first block of a “lifestyle center,” which will include a12-acre recreational park and residential zone with about 800 apartments.
It’s not the first time DWL has worked on a mixed-use development. One of its most visible projects is Brisas del Oeste, a tower on the west side of San José’s La Sabana Park.
Brisas del Oeste is a mixed-use condominium tower, a concept that many other developers are now using to construct their own condo towers around La Sabana in something of a mini-boom that is revitalizing the west side of San José.
“We asked, ‘What can we bring to the residential industry that will do something different?’” Weisleder said.
Like Brisas del Oeste, the final stages of Solarium will include luxury condominiums and restaurants. The overall plan, Weisleder said, is to create nothing less than a self-contained urban development, which will take from 15 to 20 years.
If that time frame is long-term, so is DWL’s vision for the region. The company’s literature points to the future construction of a cargo terminal at the international airport, which would put Liberia on the map for something other than tourism.
All those professionals are going to need a place to live, and at the moment Liberia is experiencing something of a housing crisis, with demand pushing prices through the roof.
At the same time,Weisleder said he has his eye on a quirky project being undertaken by Franklin Chang, an ex-astronaut and perhaps the country’s most famous celebrity.
Chang recently opened a laboratory outside Liberia to research and develop a plasma engine that could be used on spacecraft traveling to Mars (TT, Dec. 22, 2006, June 22, 2007). Chang’s research team has already met with some success, and pulled down a few contracts for the device.
Weisleder’s theory – and Chang’s intention – is that the success of the plasma motor will turn the region into a tech hotspot. When that happens, he said, Solarium will be ready.