Three new hotels — including the first to incorporate a casino — are in the works for the island municipality of Vieques, representing a total investment of $55.1 million and the possibility of adding some 200 new rooms, News is my Business has learned.
José Juan Terrasa, the Tourism Company’s director of development and planning, confirmed that the Vista Linda Casitas, the Island Grove and the Le Grand Cofi Paradise — with associated investments of $600,000, $16.5 million and $38 million, respectively — have secured construction permits and are working on financing.
The biggest of the three proposed hotels, the $38 million, 150-room Le Grand Cofi Paradise, would be located on a five-acre plot on the island’s Florida sector, and would include the casino. Once operational, the hotel would be the island’s second-largest property behind the W Resort and would create 150 jobs, Tourism Company data shows.
“That hotel already has the approval from the Planning Board and it is now before the consideration of the Tourism Company’s gaming division, which needs to approve the casino,” Terrasa said. “The Tourism Company is open to having a hotel with a casino in Vieques, although it’s not what we would prefer.”
This is so because the development plans for Vieques call for including eco-friendly elements to preserve the pristine conditions of most of the island’s natural resources, including white-sand beaches and dry forests.
“Visitor activity in Vieques has been focused on ecotourism and nature tourism, and what the Tourism Company wants to achieve is the approval of hotels that offer superior service while taking advantage of the island’s natural resources,” he said.
The two other properties, while not identified as “eco-friendly,” also promise to generate economic activity for the island municipality that as of March had an unemployment rate of 16.4 percent.
The proposed $16.5 million Island Grove project is a condo-hotel complex planned for a 12-acre parcel at the Puerto Real sector, that calls for developing 18 buildings comprising 50 rooms. Ten of those buildings would be residential villas, while the rest would be dedicated to a restaurant and lounge, administrative offices, and other services. A pool and parking facilities are also part of the blueprint, according to Tourism Company data.
Rounding out the trio of proposed projects, and the one likely to be erected first, is the Vista Linda Casitas property. The 12-room hotel to be located at Vieques’ Pilón sector also includes several terraces, a pool and parking.
“That facility has already been approved by the Permits and Regulations Administration and is awating to secure financing, which could come through the Economic Development Bank,” said Terrasa.
Priming Vieques for cruise ships
The Tourism Company, in conjunction with the Economic Development and Commerce Department, are working on an economic development plan for Puerto Rico’s two island municipalities, Vieques and Culebra, begun in 2004.
“Just as it was under the previous administration, this one is also foreseeing that the economic development of both islands should be sustainable and preferably, eco-friendly,” said Terrasa. “That doesn’t mean that every development must necessarily fit into that definition of ecotourism, but they should all incorporate sustainable trends.”
Along with approving new hotel facilities, the central government agencies are working with Vieques authorities to develop the necessary infrastructure to welcome and provide service to a greater volume of tourists. That includes establishing taxi and tourist guide facilities at several key points over the next year.
“One of the initiatives that we’re exploring is the possibility of attracting small cruise ships to Vieques, and for that we have identified the Mosquito Pier as the site where ships carrying 200 to 300 passengers could anchor,” he said. “It would require a relatively low investment to get that facility ready for that.”
Vieques and Culebra are part of the administration’s so-called ‘green triangle,” which spans Puerto Rico’s east coast. The conservation project includes several natural gems in Fajardo, Humacao and Ceiba.