LIBERIA, Guanacaste – A $19 million international airport expansion expected to come online next year has liberianos hoping the infrastructure improvement will help reignite the regional capital’s cooling development boom.
“It would be great. That’s a way the government is supporting that area,” said Sammy Weisleder, director of the multimillion-dollar Solarium project near DanielOduberInternationalAirport.
As the logistical hub and capital of burgeoning Guanacaste, the northwestern province that has seen billions of dollars in tourism investment in recent years, Liberia has felt the jitters of the economic downturn, said Weisleder, whose Solarium project completed in November the construction of the first Hilton Garden Inn in Central America.
The entire region is eyeing the longawaited expansion of Liberia’s airport, whose aircraft parking lot is being expanded to fit three more planes to accommodate a total of 10, according to Hernán Juárez of the airport’s administration department.
In October, the government granted a $35 million concession for the two-phase expansion of Liberia’s airport to Coriport, a consortium of five foreign and national businesses, including Houston Airport System Development Corporation (HASDC), the soon-to-be administrator of the Central Valley’s JuanSantamaríaInternationalAirport. The project, which will add 23,000 square meters and create waiting room for some 1,500 passengers, is expected to begin construction this year, according to Juárez. The airport currently receives about 500,000 passengers a year.
Weisleder applauded the expansion and said the government needs to look at other ways of supporting the region with financing not only in tourism, but also in other sectors.
“There’s no financing, so there’s no gas for the engine for projects,” he said. For Weisleder, it’s important that as the regional economy grows, it also looks to expand into other sectors and diversify, so it isn’t reliant upon only tourism.
One particularly extraordinary project in Liberia that did receive a boost late last year was the Ad Astra Rocket Company Costa Rica of Tico astronaut Franklin Chang, who signed an agreement with NASA in December for a test flight of his plasma space rocket program on the International Space Station.
The project “strategically positions Costa Rica in the fast-growing global market of space operations,” Chang said in a statement.
The rocket lab is located on the EARTH university campus, between Liberia and the Daniel Oduber airport.
Still, development in Guanacaste largely revolves around the province’s tourism industry, which has come to set the bar in Central America for luxury vacations, and the Daniel Oduber airport makes Liberia the industry’s regional hub. A slew of hotels are being built here, with name brands such as St. Regis, JW Marriott, Ritz-Carlton and Mandarin Oriental.
The Pacific Park project being built by Proycon in Tamarindo, on the coast, is expected to come online in May, and is taking opulence a step further with its ultraluxury, seven-story building with 34 condos and eight commercial spaces on the ground floor, according to the U.S.-Tico venture’s Web site (www.pacificparkcr.com, 2653-). Prices start at $475,000, and units can be reserved with $5,000.
Also, the Parque del Encino condo project (www.parquedelencino.com, 2225-1742) north of Liberia has sold a third of its 385 lots, according to sales representative Jendy Villalta. The walled-in, mixed-use development offers buyers 24-hour security, a commercial plaza, park areas with pools, a clubhouse, tennis courts and high-speed Internet.
Lots are selling at $165 per square meter. Villalta said the development, being built by Costa Rican investors, has noted a dip in interest but is pushing forward with construction.
“We all know things have slowed,” she said.
An exotic tourism attraction south of Liberia is the 100-hectare Africa Mia animal park (www.africamia.net), where zebras, warthogs and giraffes are multiplying as the three-year-old park matures. Zoo workers say two of the female giraffes could be pregnant, though no tests have been done.
On a recent afternoon, one of the reticulated giraffes walked along the edges of its enclosure alongside a group of visitors and suddenly stopped, drawing the attention of the park-goers. It stuck out its elongated neck to try and grab a mouthful of leaves with its long, muscular tongue, but to no avail. The group of visitors stood giggling and snapping photos as the towering ungulate turned and headed back into its grassy pen.
Like the hungry giraffe that wishes its neck were a bit longer, some of Liberia’s business leaders are heading back to the drawing board to figure out how to bring economic growth back within their reach.
Weisleder said Solarium (www.solariumcr.com, 2232-8000, 2668-1221) will likely put construction on hold this year, though that may change if talks with Chinese investors pan out.
The gargantuan 104-hectare, Costa Rican-funded, mixed-use development across the street from the Daniel Oduber airport is now completing its third stage. The project, which aspires to build the region’s first free-trade zone, with banks and a mall, has already completed construction of its logistics storage center and the Hilton Garden Inn, and plans to complete in March the first mixed-use city block, including office space and retail stores.
Weisleder said he sees reason for optimism after the Solarium project’s luxurious 169-room Hilton Garden Inn (2690-8888), Hilton’s fourth hotel to open in Costa Rica, had 30 percent occupancy in December, its first month open.
“That was a good sign. I think Costa Rica has some good fundamentals, and if we focus a little bit internally, we’ll be able to solve these problems,” he said.