The storm clouds from the global financial crisis are finally dissipating over Nicaragua’s central-Pacific coastline.
After two years of hunkering down to wait for a break in the inclement investment climate, Milagro del Mar Beach & Golf Resort resumed construction this week on its luxury beachfront condominium project, which will soon become the first major hotel brand to open on Nicaragua’s Pacific coast in more than 20 years.
Though Milagro del Mar has not yet announced which international hotel group has agreed to manage its beachfront tourism project, developer Roger Keeling says the paperwork is signed, the financing is in place, and the sun is finally shining.
“In the next few weeks, we will be making a full public statement about who our hotel partner is going to be and what the project is going to look like when it opens in the first quarter of 2014,” Keeling told The Nicaragua Dispatch. “Several major hotel projects have been planned on the Pacific, but because of the reorganization that we have gone through, we will be the first to market.”
Milagro del Mar, a tourism project operated within the landmark master development Gran Pacifica—a sprawling 2,500-acre coastal project one hour west of Managua—originally started construction on its 42 oceanfront condo project in 2009, just as the financial crisis started to darken Nicaragua’s horizon. The developers tried to push through the storm, but got only halfway through second-floor construction before being forced to stop the cement mixers as funds started to dry.
“The financial crisis hurt a few of our buyers to the point where folks needed to be released from contracts. That, plus the complications of the financial crisis on our investors, created a perfect storm and we had to make a decision to step back and reevaluate the project and take it a different direction,” Keeling says. “So we spent the past two years putting together a new plan with a new face. But the good news is we have weathered the storm, we have persevered and this week we started construction again to complete the project by the first quarter of 2014.”
While some of the initial investors pulled out during the crisis, Keeling says nearly two-thirds of the original investors stuck with Milagro del Mar during the two-year reorganization period, clutching fervently to their dreams of owning a luxury beachfront condominium in Nicaragua. Now, thanks to an infusion of new private capital from Central American investors, the project is ready to pick up where it left off.
“Milagro has raised financing from Central American investment sources to complete the $14 million Phase I of the project, $6 million of which had already been invested before the project was halted in 2010,” says Keeling.
Keeling, who for 11 years owned a high-end residential and commercial development firm in Atlanta, Georgia, says Milagro’s partially constructed structure built in 2009 still has good bones. After a few days of prepping the structure for resumed construction, it was ready to go, he says.
With the private investment in place and the forthcoming hotel deal ready to be announced, Milagro del Mar is ready to get back to the business of selling real estate.
“In the second week of November we will restart our destination tours, and that is really our sales experience,” Keeling says. “Now that we are confident and have funding in place we are confident to go back to market. Our initial response has been very strong.”
Phase I of the Milagro del Mar is for 42 condos, a restaurant, lobby and offices. Phase II, scheduled for completion near the end of 2014, will be 42 additional villas that will go on sale starting in December. Phase III of the project will be 128 hotel suites, bringing the total hotel project to 212 units.
In addition to resuming construction, Milagro is also working to improve and expand its golf course.
“We spent this past year improving the conditions of the golf course and we will continue to focus heavily on that because the traveler coming here wants a pleasurable golfing experience,” Keeling says. “The improvement and expansion of the golf course is a major part of the plan for developing our portion of the project as a tourist attraction first, because we believe that the way to eventually sell real estate on the property is to first attract people to the property so they can experience it and enjoy it.”
Nicaragua—despite its great surfing, tropical weather and safety— is still a difficult sell to people who have never been here, Keeling notes.
“It’s difficult to say, Hey come buy in Nicaragua; it’s much easier to say, Hey come try Nicaragua,” Keeling says. “And then you can get them hooked on the country because they see what a pleasurable experience it is and they want to keep coming back.”
All’s well that ends well
Keeling has built commercial office buildings, luxury subdivisions and more than 300 luxury mansions in the greater Atlanta area, but he says nothing he has tried has been as challenging as building in Nicaragua. In the end, extraordinary patience and perseverance—by both the developer and the investors—will bring the project to successful fruition, he insists.
“It has been an incredible challenge and battle like nothing I have ever dealt with or tried to do before. But it’s not in my DNA or our corporate or personal philosophy to give up and leave people hanging,” Keeling says. “I was determined all through this that we were going to fight through to the end to stand by our commitments and take care of people the way they deserve to be taken care of.
“This is going to have a happy ending,” he insists. “It has taken a lot longer to get this sorted out on paper, but there is going to be a happy ending.”