One of the leading real estate development companies in Central and North America, inaugurates one of its most anticipated “insignia projects”: the launch of two man-made islands. One contains 72 lots and measures 10.3 hectares and the other contains 66 lots and measures 8.7 hectares of new land. The challenge in building these islands located in front of Panama City is clear: to replicate them in Latin America.
-Los Pueblos Group is widely recognized in Central and North America for its luxury building developments, but didn’t you start with social housing projects negotiating with the dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega in Panama?
– Indeed, during the eighties we started with low-income housing while living under a dictatorship. Note that this type of construction for the people always sells, regardless of who is occupying the presidential desk. Every human being needs a decent home and Panama is no exception, and during the Noriega period certain very interesting mortgage programs were created. So, even with Noriega in power, exceptionally good mortgage financing programs for the real estate sector were created. Later, we had the vision to get involved in the construction of malls, offices, high- and low-density residences, industrial warehouses, transport terminals, etc. We have focused on diversification with our projects, which, by the way, has brought us very important plans internationally.
– Did the activation of the Panama Canal also help with the growth of real estate projects?
– Actually, it was a boom, and it has provided unprecedented economic growth, with its greatest effects felt between 2008 and 2009. Today Panama is growing at a rate of 5% to 6%, which has also led to the significant recovery of various industrial sectors, especially in Central and North America.
– How did this idea of building man-made islands start?
– As you know, this type of construction is not common in our countries. Back in 2011, a Mexican construction company built a highway in Panama, and with it, they were given a series of fill rights (sand). They asked us to build this project and we started with this type of cutting-edge, technologically advanced construction, which became islands and which we named “Punta Pacifica”; a project in which more than US$80 million was invested.
-This project comprises two islands. The first was a resounding success in terms of sales within the Panamanian real estate sector. Is the second island still targeting the local sector as well?
– During this second stage, the proportion of international clients has increased considerably due to the success of the delivery of the first island. Today we have a partnership with Compass Development, which has provided us with 36 offices in the United States and more than 100 international real estate brokerage affiliations, with which, I am sure, we will be able to reach new buyers from other demographic sectors and offer a very high level of connectivity.
– What is the business niche or sense that you detected that led to such an unusual building project?
– Panama City is a very dense metropolis. Its residential sector is highly concentrated along the coast of the Pacific Ocean, where most of the homes are vertical, with buildings averaging 50 to 60 floors in number. Therefore, our idea was to create a real estate proposal that was the antithesis of that. In other words, to build a low-density seafront, a 19-hectare regulated community, similar to condominiums.
– In your opinion, how has the real estate market changed with the appearance of these man-made lots or “new land”?
– I believe that this will undoubtedly set a new standard for the future luxury real estate segment in Panama and the Western Hemisphere. First, I am proud to be a pioneer of this innovative achievement. While their construction requires a large investment, their dividend return has been twice as positive.
– What characteristics do these man-made islands have that can be compared to other real estate developments?
-These luxurious beachfront residences are truly unique in the region and if we talk about comparative advantages, just think, with the benefits of buying real estate in Panama, the proximity to the Panama Canal and its location in a hurricane-free zone, this brings a successful development to a whole new level of what we find today in global market.
– Legally, how did these new islands arise?
– Good question. It is quite a complex issue. We have been dealing with this for over twenty years as there must be a legal process for releasing the property (not necessary for a collective use or service), which removes it from public ownership, transforming it into a property asset, which in turn, is subject to private appropriation, which is what the Government in fact did with this type of fill.
– What is the technical process for this type of project?
– In technical terms, both islands have required more than 4 million cubic meters of fill material. Basically, sand or sea fill, with a cost of over US$83 million. These are specific materials, not randomly chosen materials. For example, the rocks must contain specific elements and be of certain weights, and the builder creates a type of rock “puzzle,” so we had to search for every rock individually at sea, more than 16 nautical miles out, as overland, it would have involved such a large number of trucks to transport it that the impact of on traffic of their movement through the various neighborhoods would have been enormous. For this reason, we had to find the principal sand and sea fill more than 70 nautical miles out at sea. This construction used marine elements in its entirety.
– What steps were taken to protect the environment while building engineering works of this magnitude?
– When the works began with the dredging of marine mud, we implemented a meticulous procedure that caused the least turbidity possible to the waters surrounding to the project so that the bottom could be dredged until we reached the marine rock on which the island’s fill rested. To protect the reclamation work from the effect of rough seas, a solid perimeter core made of basaltic rock was built in the shape of the islands different to the fill which was made using sand. The breakwater was designed to protect the islands against the worst imaginable maritime conditions, including waves caused by the El Niño Current, global warming and against other meteorological phenomena.
– Where does the technology for these constructions come from?
– The equipment to implement this is sophisticated and very expensive to use. In our case, the technology we use is of Dutch origin. In this area, worldwide, there are only four major companies with the capability to complete projects of this type. This is a specialized science, the use of sand dredgers that search for sand more than a kilometer deep.
– What is the likelihood that this type of experience will be replicated in other Latin American capital cities?
– I think that at a Latin American level, this could be replicated in the most important cities bordering the sea, and this type of project could be very interesting for countries or cities where the density of inhabitants affects quality of life. It can also be replicated in places where the local government has an important role to play in structuring the project, given that this type of construction starts on land which is initially public and later become private.
– What is your future project portfolio for real estate development?
– Distinctive projects are the future of the real estate market, with grand features. At the moment, we continue with our portfolio of shopping mall projects; we are about to launch a mall with 60 thousand square meters in the province of Chiriqui which borders Costa Rica, and we also have an important portfolio of master plan communities, which is the development of communities with over one thousand real estate units each, each one of which will take us more than a decade to develop.