When Spokane contractor Doric Creager became the project manager for what's being called an eco-luxury destination resort on the coast of Nicaragua three years ago, he had in mind more than just one project that would serve the eco-tourism market.
With the first part of that development, the Aqua Resort & Spa, having opened in January, its developer now is trying to buy land on Lake Pend Oreille for a second project, says Creager, president and owner of Doric Inc.
"The board of directors has made a conscious decision that once this is up and running, they want to come to the U.S. and repeat the model," he says. "That's one of the reasons I agreed to go down there. It wasn't just a trip to Nicaragua."
Not long ago, the developer of the Nicaraguan project, retired California physician Dr. Daniel Rubano, who with his wife, Geri, is a part-time resident of Spokane, flew across the Pacific Northwest "from the Cascades to Flathead Lake" in a chartered plane with other members of the board of directors of Aqua Resort & Spa in search of a site for a second project, Creager says.
"They pinpointed Pend Oreille Lake," he says. "We're in conversations with private landowners that have precisely what we're looking for." Until the site is tied up, Creager declines to say where it is.
The Nicaraguan project is expected to cost about $12 million to $15 million and is roughly 40 percent complete, Creager says.
Defining the eco-luxury market isn't easy, but basically, it's environmentally sensitive development that emphasizes the natural environment and eliminates the unnecessary, says the blog Eco-Luxury.
One overriding facet of such developments is that while the units might be owned by buyers who want a getaway property, they're also targeted at tourists who seek a certain type of vacation destination. In Nicaragua, the law gives owners of units at Aqua Resort & Spa tax breaksas long as they don't live in their properties for more than 109 days a year, Creager says.
"The developer manages it as a condo-hotel," he says.
When the owners of the units aren't there, the units are up for rent, but not to just any type of visitor.
"It's going to favor people who are going to entertain themselves instead of being entertained," Creager says. "It's not Cabo. It's quiet, private."
Think wellness groups. Think yoga aficionados. Think peaceful, but with activities like tropical forest walks, swimming, surfing, sailing, sea kayaking, fishing, diving, and spending time on the beach.
At Aqua Resort & Spa, a week's lodging in a fully furnished unit starts at $1,500 for a family of four, Creager says. Of course, you have to get to Nicaragua, and Creager says that in the three years he has been flying back and forth to Managua, he's paid between $650 and $1,500 for an airline ticket. A shuttle from the resort drives guests and home owners from the airport to the Aqua Resort & Spa, which takes about two hours.
The units range in price from $200,000 for an 1,140-square-foot model to $450,000 for a 2,124-square-foot model.
About 500 square feet of the space in the smaller unit is exterior space, such as decks and balconies, and the larger unit has 800 square feet of exterior space. You can spend a lot of time outside, because the daytime temperature is 80 degrees to 85 degrees year-round, Creager says.
Ten units, including four model units, have been completed, and another six units are under construction. Sixteen of the 24 units the development will include have been sold.
Creager says that while he doesn't know how many units would be built in a project on Lake Pend Oreille if one is done, "the owners have been quite definite about the scope and scale of the project being similar" to that of the Nicaraguan project.
"The intent is not" to build something exorbitant on Lake Pend Oreille, he says.
"Depending on the price of the dirt, up here maybe $400,000 to $800,000" would be the price range of the units, Creager says.
In the Nicaraguan project, the units have their own gardens. Pools are optional. The property transactions are underwritten by First American Title Co., says Creager, who also is overseeing construction of other structures in the development.
The homes are well off the ground, up in the treetops, because "it's a sensitive area. So you bring your living environment up into the jungle canopy," Creager says.
"Our beach is a turtle preserve and breeding ground. It's in a 'monkey trace,' or a 'monkey highway,'" in which howler monkeys live in the jungle, the edge of which borders a beach on La Redonda Bay, on the Pacific Ocean.
A golf cart shuttles owners or guests to their units, or they can walk to them on a suspended walkway. The homes are on elevated, post-and-pier platforms. Seismic codes are strict, Creager says.
"There are butterflies as big as birds, and monkeys carrying on. The bird life is phenomenal," he says. "Every type of fruit you can think of is falling out of the trees onto your deck. Fish are leaping out in the ocean."
Except for the tax law, "you could go there and never leave it," Creager says, adding that the developer's vision "might even include being self-supporting at some point." A separate community garden is self-sustaining and incredibly fertile, he says.
Amenities eventually are to include a bar, infinity pools, a resort restaurant, a spa greenhouse cafe, an organic market, and retail stores. One restaurant and a retreat center are completed. A golf course is a short drive, and a public market is close, Creager says.
La Phyto Spa, a company that's based in Lorient, in the Brittany region of France, is a partner in the venture and will build a La Phyto Spa & Wellness Center at the site. The company's CEO, a Moroccan, is on the resort's board of directors, Creager says. Prominent Nicaragua businessman Armel Gonzales is a partner in the resort project.
Creager, who was spending a week every month in Nicaragua at first, has hired a transplanted American to serve as his superintendent there and now travels to the Central American country about every six to eight weeks.
"All the labor is Nicaraguan," he says. "It's a model project because it employs people before, during, and after the project. It's a real pleasant work force. They're happy to have a job.
"It's like Mexico; most construction is masonry. We had to teach them wood framing."
Because termites can be a particular problem there, materials selection was important, Creager says. Nispero and cedromacho are native Central American hardwoods that are impervious to insects, and are being used in the project, he says.
He refers to the howler monkeys as "my superintendents. They make the scariest noise; when you first hear them, you would be shocked." Guests and owners will see them from their decks, Creager says.
Creager, who is known for custom homes and has won a number of awards for innovative projects, says he helped Rubano modify a design for the project done by Hal Sorrenti, a Canadian architect with experience in Caribbean projects. The Caribbean is on the opposite side of Nicaragua. Adache Group Architects, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., refined the design.
Since opening, the resort so far has "been really, really busy, moreso with tourism usage, primarily with yoga retreats and wellness groups," Creager says.
He adds, "There is very little built on the Pacific side of Nicaragua. There are two functional destination resorts within 50 miles."
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