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New development plan for Roosevelt Roads

January 8, 2018

Yesterday, Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares announced the first six private projects they plan to develop starting this year at the Roosevelt Roads base in Ceiba, he trusts to boost the economy and tourism of an area with extraordinary potential with these initiatives.

“This is starting right now. The transformation and use of Roosevelt Roads began and these are the six projects of that transformation,” Rosselló Nevares said in an interview with El Nuevo Día, in which he talked about the projects that are part of the reactivation of the old base.

Rosselló said they anticipate that, together, these projects –led by local and foreign private companies- will create 750 direct jobs at an initial stage and involve a primary investment of over $ 25 million.

“We could not continue with plans, we had to move for this to be developed and, once we completed evaluating all alternatives, we came to this conclusion,” assured, on the other hand, the Secretary of Economic Development and Commerce, Manuel Laboy.

It is one of several attempts to economically develop the former navy base and turn the region into an important platform of job creation. Past administrations have announced millionaire projects, which ended up failing.

For Rosselló Nevares, contrary to previous scenarios, this time the strategy will be successful, since it is based on the impulse of being executed quickly, in the ability to see the project as a multiple one and it is also strategically thought.

“It is not that we are just satisfied with these projects. These have already been mechanized and will be working, but we are already considering the possibilities of other projects. We want to do all this and we will do it diligently, transparently, but also with the sense of urgency it deserves,” he pointed out.

The first six projects will cover the sectors of renewable energy, health, technology, aerospace, transportation and services export.

“It’s very diverse, and then it sets different development lanes. In the end, what we want is to get the maximum potential from this asset and see job creation and investment of private capital as soon as possible,” said Laboy.

How it was designed
As it had been advanced by Laboy during one of the concurrent sessions of the Summit of Public-Private Partnerships (PPP), the proposal of the Rosselló Nevares administration used the master plan developed during the four-year period of Alejandro García Padilla as its basis.

After an evaluation of the document, it was determined to change the strategy. The vision of the past government was to reactivate Roosevelt Roads by hiring a master developer so that he, in turn, could identify different stakeholders that would carry out the initiatives contemplated for the area.

The proposal submitted by Rosselló Nevares, on the other hand, is based on the concept of the “anchor tenant”, explained Laboy.

The concept refers to a business or individual that serves as the main attraction in a property. It is the dynamic that arises around a shopping center or those urban centers that have government activity.

“Maybe the circumstances of the past could provide for evaluating the possibility of a master developer,” said Laboy in regarding the previous plan.

But Laboy said that maintaining the vision of a master developer represents a greater risk because they would bet the future of the project to a single entity and because it also represented a delay in the beginning of the project and, therefore, in the development of the area, a luxury that, he indicated, was not willing to afford due to the economic reality in Puerto Rico.

“The truth is that what we wanted was to execute. Once consulted with the market, the Board of Directors, the six holders (interested companies) and the central government, this was the most effective alternative to direct redevelopment,” assured the official.

The first project detailed by Rosselló Nevares is the concept of a technology park, whose first tenant will be a private company that will operate a call center.

This initiative, he said, should create 600 jobs directly and will comprise a space of 25,000 square feet. “It is aligned with the governor’s strategy of maximizing what the export sector of services through Law 20 is,” said Laboy.

Amendments to Law 20-2012 allow more people to invest in Puerto Rico by making the requirements for obtaining decrees more flexible. The requirement of a minimum number of employees to export services from Puerto Rico with local companies was also eliminated.

The expectation is that the call center will attract other potential technology tenants tied to that service area.

Laboy explained that, in this particular case, it was a proposal that came through a private developer based on market needs. “It’s a good example that we have to facilitate. We are talking about the reorganization of existing buildings,” he pointed out.

“It’s the concept that you have a tenant, that you have a substantial economic activity and surrounding that, you demand other services and products,” added Laboy.

The second project to be developed within the nearly 9,300 acres of Roosevelt Roads, is an industrial park that will serve as the basis for the establishment of companies specializing in aerospace technology.

Contrary to the other projects, in this one, the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Company (PRIDCO) will provide the basic structure so that it is the private sector that brings that first aerospace tenant.

The concept, explained the governor, is one similar to Las Americas Technology Park, in Moca where companies like Honeywell Aerospace are established. “The market has seen Puerto Rico as a fertile space to develop this industry and, therefore, this park would go in that same direction,” said Rosselló Nevares.

The industrial park – which is an inter-agency collaboration – will be located in a space of 124 acres.

Another of the anchor projects – also managed by the private sector – will be the Wellness District, which will serve as the headquarters for what the Premier Health Community will be, an assisted living and primary care center for the elderly.

In this first stage, the concept will have 120 housing units in a space of 75,000 square feet, specifically, where the former Navy Lodge hotel was located.

The initial investment will be $ 7 million for the rehabilitation of the existing structure and the creation of some 30 direct jobs, although that figure could reach 100 by the end of the year, assured Rosselló.

“It is a concept bound to bring pensioners and senior citizens, not only from Puerto Rico, but also from the northeast coast of the United States, who usually go to the state of Florida,” said Laboy.

These concepts, he added, will in turn generate demands from doctors, clinical laboratories and other types of commercial activity in the area. At least, that’s what they’re betting on.

“We are announcing 750 direct jobs, but we could be talking about a multiplier factor between two to three. When you count the indirect and the induced, that figure may be turning to 3,000 in a year, and that is the multiplier effect that we are looking for,” said Laboy.

The idea of establishing an hippotherapy center was always present in the Rosselló Nevares Plan for Puerto Rico, and this area of high natural value seems ideal for this development in a space of 51.5 acres and with an investment of $ 10 million. This project should be ready to operate in the second quarter of 2018.

Other development includes the generation of sustainable energy, an area of great need, even more after the experience of Hurricane Maria. The structure, explained Laboy, already exists, it is a matter of enabling it.

Initially, between one and five megawatts of energy could be generated.

Another maritime route
In addition to the existing maritime route between the Island and Vieques and Culebra for which the government recently announced a PPP, another route (a shorter one) will be established from Roosevelt Roads to the municipality islands.

“It is expected that, by August 2018, this will be able to operate,” indicated Rosselló Nevares, who noted that, “a series of environmental studies” must be carried out before.

He assured that this additional route does not affect the recently announced PPP, but will result in a complement to mitigate the impact caused by María. The proposal also involves the repair of boats.

The idea that Ceiba serves as a port for trips to other islands such as Saint Thomas would be at the discretion of the private company in charge of the project.

“It serves the claims of the residents of the municipality islands, but, at the same time, it is a tool for tourism development,” said Laboy.

Rosselló Nevares emphasized that the plans for the former base do not stop and that other proposals remain in force, such as establishing regional recycling centers, a marina for luxury yachts and ecotourism projects.

“This great asset that we have, which is a great jewel, not only in Puerto Rico, but, I would say, in the Americas, has been -to some extent- a monument to inefficiency … We, in a lapse of one year, have already passed the planning phase and are already executing them,” the governor assured.

Click here to read this on El Nuevo Día.