Interview with Desmond Taljaard of London & Regional Properties Ltd on the first high end large scale golf and beach resort development in Cuba
Anyone who’s traveled in Cuba, probably thought at least once that it would be the ideal location to transform into a golfer’s paradise in the Caribbean. Its climate, topography and geographical proximity to the United States makes it perfect. Currently, there are only two golf courses in Cuba, one in Varadero and the other in Havana.
Desmond Taljaard, is the Managing Director at London & Regional Properties Ltd, an international global investment and development firm with a property portfolio of circa £9 billion. L&R property stakes in hotels span the globe, from London to Monaco to Panama. Mr Taljaard spoke with me last week on the progress of L&R’s Carbonera Golf & Beach Resort in Cuba.
Realizing the potential for golf tourism and hoping to drive inward investment to the tourism sector, in 2002, Cuba’s MINTUR group set out to identify locations ideal for developing golf resorts. In the process, they came up with 10 suitable sites for golf course development. One of these prime locations was identified on the coast near a small village named Carbonera in Matanzas province. Carbonera is located between Havana and Cuba’s resort hub, Varadero, with quick access to the airport.
In 2007, the plan for the location at Carbonera was expanded to include a mixed use resort development. Britain’s Esencia Group originally held the property but in February of 2014, L&R bought out Esencia’s interest in the Carbonera project. At this time, it became a joint venture with Cuba’s Grupo Extrahotelero Palmares.
Approvals of the resort’s master plan were finalized in 2015 by the Cuban government agency UTITT year. The Carbonera Golf & Beach Resort is the first of its kind in Cuba. The fact that the project is underway and moving forward is generating a lot of excitement not only with L&R but the Cuban government is equally excited.
The project will be delivered in three phases. Projected costs of the total development are estimated at $500 million. An exact figure is unknown and will only be known once soil movement studies are completed later this year.
L&R’s ambitious plan for the high-end development is twofold; it aims to capture “the essence of the Island” and to “ensure future sustainability of the environment and tourist economy of Cuba.”
There’s another aspect to the project which is going to generate a lot of buzz around the globe. Not only is this going to be a first class luxury resort and golf course in Cuba, but it’s going to be selling freehold residential villas and apartments to foreign buyers.
L&R obtained the right to develop residences on the site. This real estate is not going to come at a bargain basement price. For the well-heeled, there will be 1,000 high-end residential units in the form of 202 villas and 798 apartments up for grabs. The coastal development will feature a five star luxury hotel and an 18 hole championship golf course. Other amenities on the Carbonera Resort property will include a lagoon and beach club, a country club, a tennis club, retail and leisure facilities, and an adventure gardens.
Situated on 395 acres (160 hectares) of prime coastal property, the project will break ground in Quarter three of this year. It is currently in the pre-construction phase of land surveying and site testing. Those working on the development are a combination of Cuban and international professional executive expertise and Cuban subcontractors. The target date for the first Deliveries of Phase One is early 2020.
Owners of the villas will receive title for the purchased property from the Cuban government with the additional comfort of title insurance from an international title insurance company. Currently, due to the U.S. Embargo against the Island, U.S. title insurance companies are not expected to participate.
In the context of the normalization process between the U.S. and Cuba, L&R’s development is not dependent on the outcome of the negotiations. The size and scale of the project will succeed with or without an influx of American tourists and buyers. Without a doubt, normalization would be a boon to the project but, Taljaard said, “it’s not dependent on it.”
Interesting to note were the experiences of L&R working with the Cuban government on the development of this project and moving it forward to where it stands today. Mr Taljaard described the experience as a satisfactory one. Because of the size of this project, it’s not a straightforward one simply because it’s never been done before. Mr Taljaard said it will be easier for the second guy, but “no one remembers the silver medalist.”
I was curious to know whether there had been any delays due to “government bureaucracy.” Mr. Taljaard found the Cubans willing to cooperate and work together to come up with solutions. L&R worked with the Cuban authorities to develop standards where none had existed before.
Mr. Taljaard said, “I admire the pioneering spirit of the Cubans. The speed at which the project moves is not really a bureaucratic issue. If a process appears slow it’s easy or lazy to point to government bureaucracy, but the actual truth of the matter is certain standards are still being developed or refined. For example, international buyers need international property insurance. International property insurance requires standards such as the ‘hurricane storm surge standards’ because we are designing and building houses for the international buyer. So the Cuban and L&R experts sat down together and developed the standard.”
On working with the Cubans, he added, “Everything that the project has needed, the Cubans have worked hard to provide. For example, there was a highway that dissected the resort. The authorities agreed to relocate the road. The Cubans “get it” and have a vested interest in the successful completion of the resort. Senior ministers of the government are keenly interested in this very exciting project and monitor the progress of the project.”
The Carbonera Golf & Beach Resort will put Cuba on the list of the world’s most exclusive golf resorts. For Americans, Cuba is seen as the “forbidden fruit.” One can only imagine the 29.03 million Source American golfers will be itching to play the greens at Carbonera right from the “get go.” No doubt Congress members who continue to resist the removal of the embargo but passionate about the game of golf will have a change of heart they read this news.
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