Millionaire investor and developer Nicholas Prouty, who has called Puerto Rico his home for five years, said Monday the U.S. government must provide the island at least $40 billion in funding for relief and recovery efforts.
He said that help from the U.S. government must include a complete waiver on any equity contribution to help that the Federal Emergency Management Agency provides, which is typically 25 percent.
“Puerto Rico doesn’t have that kind of money. The federal government must also provide the governor [Ricardo Rosselló] more flexibility with regard to spending this money. There are all sorts of fluid situations occurring and we cannot have our chief executive with his hands tied behind his back,” said Prouty, CEO of Putnam Bridge, a firm engaged in the acquisition and management of distressed landmark properties in the United States and abroad.
Those investments include the acquisition of Ciudadela in 2012, a mixed use real estate development in Santurce and Puerto del Rey, the largest marina in the Caribbean, for which he paid $47.5 million in 2013, and pulled it out of bankruptcy.
So far, the U.S. government’s response to the disaster Hurricane María caused in Puerto Rico has been “weak,” Prouty said.
“I don’t think the U.S. fully understands the impact that has taken place here. Puerto Ricans are American citizens and Americans need to help their fellow brothers and sisters right now,” he said, vowing to make sure federal response from now on is adequate.
“Following Hurricane Irma, we got María. It has been a one-two punch of gargantuan proportions,” he said.
As far as his operations go, Prouty said the hurricane did some damage to Ciudadela, principally breaking between 60 to 70 windows, which should be boarded up by today. The cranes that were erected to build the third phase of Ciudadela sustained no damage, he confirmed.
“When I acquired Ciudadela, those windows that broke had been manufactured to hurricane code, but hurricane codes have changed since then. The windows at the third phase of Ciudadela will be up to that code,” he said, adding he is working with insurance companies to make sure the broken windows are repaired.
Putnam is also working on securing a high-capacity generator for ValCor, the company that will manufacture the replacement and new windows to be installed, he said.
The luxury high-rises in Santurce is providing residents with power through generators, potable water and security. Now, the executive is working on establishing communications, through a dedicated link, he said.
“I was working with FEMA today to have uninterrupted Wi-Fi access at Ciudadela,” he said.
However, he noted that the technology will not only benefit residents, but will also become a key element in managing nonprofit help coming from the U.S. mainland, in partnership with the Foundation for Puerto Rico.
“We have to make sure the Foundation has the infrastructure it needs to manage that process, so communications are essential,” Prouty said.
Over in Fajardo, the executive confirmed the marina lost about 35 boats out of 2,000 registered there. They were principally sailboats that have already been pulled out of the water.
The building itself sustained the storm, given that Putnam Bridge invested almost $2 million in hurricane preparedness over the last year. Breakwaters that were put in were critical to avoiding major damage at the facility, Prouty said.
Prouty has yet to determine the economic impact Hurricane Irma had on his properties, but confirmed it will come down to the cost of the windows, business interruption and water damage.
The executive, who has been very vocal about his appreciation for Puerto Rico and its people, said the hurricane will not set back his plans to continue developing and building on the island.
“We’re going to continue. We probably had about half of the full crew come in today from Bayside Construction and Bird Construction who will for now, fix the apartments that need help, get the debris out of the way and take care of repairs in the next week. Then we’ll go back to building again. This is not stopping me at all,” Prouty said.
Puerto Ricans, he said, have served with valor for the U.S. and its per capita involvement in the military is not higher anywhere else in the world.
“So if you believe in veterans and the military, you believe in Puerto Rico. Lots of Americans don’t understand that relationship and I’m doing all I can to make them understand and get the help we need right now,” the executive said.