Quepos, Costa Rica’s Marina Pez Vela is approaching two years of operation in 2012, but where are the jobs and the growth we were promised? After a slow start, the marina’s supporters hope for a pick up in business, if only the economy would put some wind in it’s sails. Harold Lovelady, the Marina’s owner/designer originally planned this as his retirement project, but it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. For more information, read on……
The residents of the Costa Rican port “city” of Quepos, a sleepy little town located 4k North of the world famous Manuel Antonio National Park, have been eagerly awaiting the economic boom they had hoped to see when the building of the World Class Marina Pez Vela was first proposed. The dilapidated old pier, originally built by the United Fruit Company, had become an eyesore, so a new marina was not only badly needed, but was the new hope to generate tourism to our area. The original antiquated pier was designed to accommodate the exportation of bananas back in the 50’s and 60’s, with the remote Quepos town being used as a base camp for the administration of the extensive surrounding banana plantations (they have since been converted to African Palm Plantations). Unfortunately, most area residents are still waiting for the economic benefits that were promised when the Marina Pez Vela originally broke ground. Plagued by the continued slow economic climate and lower tourism numbers, the construction of the Marina has been no ride down easy street.
“Initially there was a lot of resistance, but now it’s clear sailing,” said Harry Bodaan, owner of the Mansion Inn Hotel in Manuel Antonio and president of the Quepos and Aguirre Chamber of Commerce. “Everybody recognizes the fact that a marina the size of Pez Vela is going to bring an enormous amount of business to Quepos. A lot of investors have come to Manuel Antonio because of it … The development of Pez Vela will change the face of this part of the central Pacific.”, expressed Mr. Bodaan last year.
While there has been general support of the on-going construction of the Marina by the local citizens and business owners, the expected financial and tourist boost, with the expected accompanying job opportunities it would create, have yet to be realized. At this time, only about 20 people work at the marina facility, mostly in sales and cleaning or security positions. Though not giving up all hope, the towns of Quepos and Manuel Antonio, with their many nearby Costa Rica hotels, dining establishments, souvenier shops and other small businesses lament that the project as yet to attract the added business so badly needed in this struggling tourist mecca.
The beautiful views of the fairly vacant, yet handsomely designed crescent-shaped marina beckon to those boating, yachting and water enthusiasts that flock to the area to enjoy World Class Sport Fishing, Sailing and Snorkeling tours, as well as excellent Surfing, Jet Ski Excursions, Kayaking Trips and many other adventurous or relaxing water sports. It would seem that further growth would be in inevitable, though the stalled economies around the world are surely holding up the eventual plan. Only a handful of slips are currently rented or owned, but according to the owner Mr. Harold Lovelady, inquiries about owning a slip or investing in the project have remained steady.
Harold Lovelady, is the owner and mastermind behind the Marina Pez Vela. Lovelady, originally retired from the state of Texas after a career in telecommunications, arrived to the town of Quepos some 11+ years ago, with his boat and the ex-pat dream of spending his golden years fishing in what he considers to be “the best fishing location in the world.” After only a short time, he realized the growing need for a marina in the small, but busy tourist town of Quepos; and thus…. the idea of building Marina Pez Vela was born.
Not a man to think small, Lovelady’s original idea took some 11 years to come to fruition and resulted in the soon to be World Class facility of the Marina Pez Vela. A professionally planned 55+ acre state-of-the-art marina, it officially opened it’s first phase in 2010. Located just north of the old United Fruit Company pier in downtown Quepos, this beautiful Marina is not hard to spot, as it can be found just past the main sea wall when entering the famous town of Quepos. Watching on the right side of the road, visitors will spot the thousands of short, stout breakwater plugs based on technologies utilized for the very first time in Costa Rica, these plugs are called Cofferdams. Cofferdams are natural material-filled cellular steel structures, the largest of which measures 18.5 meters in diameter and the smallest 12 meters in diameter. These unique breakwater structures are specially designed to resist the strong ocean waves of the Pacific, enabling the marina’s inner slips and docking areas to remain safe from the dangerous seasonal storms that have been known to sink dozens of expensive charter fishing boats and yachts in this area in years past.
“It started as a small project, but as more people expressed interest in a marina, we had to redesign the original plan to accommodate the potential demand,” Lovelady said. “It was evident we needed to make a larger, world-class marina. So that’s how it turned out.”
The Marina Pez Vela, which officially opened its 97 docking slips in 2010, is still in the first phase of development. In coming years, the marina plans to build a total of 303 slips, a boatyard for maintenance and repairs, a retail shopping center, condominiums and a luxury hotel, all within the confines of the marina’s currently mostly empty lot. The marina’s initial slips are being rented or have been bought by travelers from around the world to include Russia, South Africa, Europe and the USA, to name a few.
Quepos, having suffered for decades with a dilapidated third world pier with unsafe, substandard facilities that were damaging the environment, Mr. Lovelady explained that when a large yacht comes in to fill up with gas, somewhere between 10,000-50,000gallons of diesel fuel is pumped into a single boat. Something that previously caused potential safety and environmental hazards, the marina now provides a formal fuel dock, charging an environmental fee on top of the cost of fuel which is deposited into a fund just in case there is ever a need for clean up of any potential accidents or spills. Another grand potential the facility will likely provide is in terms of the marina’s boatyard. Once finished, this one-of-a-kind facility, will service and repair boats of all types and sizes and will serve as the only facility of its kind on the Pacific coastline of Central and South America. “The boatyard will have 5-ton and 200-ton travel lifts. Between the two of them, it will allow us to pull a boat out of the water up to about the length of 135-feet.” Lovelady said. “We will be able to fix anything that’s broken on anybody’s boat that comes in.”
The majority of boats coming into the Marina Pez Vela are currently tourist yachts and sport fishing charters that work in the area year round. A study in 2008 by the non-profit Billfish Foundation found that fishing tourism generated some $600 million for the Costa Rican economy, accounting for approximately 2% of the country’s GDP (gross domestic product), employing directly and indirectly an estimated 63,000 people. With numbers like that, it is obvious that this project has a huge potential to change the face and reputation of the small town of Quepos.
In addition to jobs that cater to the sport fishing and tourism industry, the Marina is expected to eventually provide work for government positions as well, as members of the Public Works and Transport Ministry and Immigration will all work out of an office near the boat entrance to Pez Vela. Government officials will be responsible to check the boats and their passengers, using the marina to monitor for illegal activity, conduct safety inspections, and ensure that the vessels carry proper documentation and licensing. With the interest to also host offices for the Costa Rican Health and Finance Ministries, the marina slips are equipped with an industrial waste water pump that transports boat waste to a treatment plant, where the waste is broken down and the grey water reused. This is an important aspect of the Marina’s ecological goal to avoid potential health and environmental hazards that a large marina facility could create when in full operation.
As more boats make the Marina their home, anticipation continues to grow in the Quepos and Manuel Antonio areas. According to Marina operators, with the completion of phase three – the hotels, condos and shopping center – an estimated 3,000 direct and indirect jobs would be created by the Marina by the year 2014.
In the meantime, Costa Rica hotel owners in the popular tourist-dependent areas of Quepos and Manuel Antonio, can only bide their time and hope that the many potential marina visitors will help fill the area’s estimated 2,000 available rooms, as well as dine in the many restaurants available in the area. Unfortunately, for now……small businesses that line the 4k road between Quepos and Manuel Antonio National Park will have to be content to limp along struggling with a stagnant economy that has been the root cause of some of the slowest years for the tourism industry in Costa Rica’s history, as well as slowing the final phases of construction on our beautiful new Marina Pez Vela.
How can you help? Send tourists to our area, as they are the biggest boost to our local economy we can hope for! Happy Sailing!!
Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and Hotel Makanda by the Sea.