How to Rebuild Puerto Rico in Times of Crisis

Contractors, developers, business owners and investors gathered to discuss the island’s path moving forward, recovering from the impact of Hurricane Maria in 2017 and the economic recession and outstanding public debt that have hindered multiple sectors and prompted a mass migration, dramatically altering Puerto Rico’s demographic and financial prospects.

During the forum ‘Think Big: Building in the Time of Crisis’, moderated by Waleska Rivera, guests Randy Noel, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB); Nydin Watlington, CEMEX Legal and Public Affairs Manager in Puerto Rico; and PRISA Group CEO Friedel Stubbe, concurred that the most efficient way to rebuild a stronger, more resilient Puerto Rico is to invest in natural disaster preparedness, adapt to new demands brought forth by the age of acceleration—as coined by The New York Times commentator Thomas L. Friedman—and cater to the working-class sector to prevent further migration and the displacement of locals, also known as gentrification.

Noel, a Louisiana native, explained that after the impact of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, the city’s population dropped from roughly 600,000 to about 300,000 residents. Since then, the city has invested in better flood gates, sewer and drainage systems.

Moreover, a new generation of business owners revitalized the city with an upsurge of restaurants and other service establishments. The once devastated city now has an estimated 475,000 residents and growing, with “twice as many” restaurants and locally owned businesses.

“I think the investment that helped New Orleans thrive is that there were so many people—and when I say people I mean 20-year-olds to 30-year-olds—that came to the city to help and never left… So, it completely changed the dynamic of the population and the economy because those people were out doing things that were at a much, much higher level… Now we’ve got all kinds of new technology companies that have come in,” he said.

However, Noel observed that one aspect that could have been addressed differently was the rebuilding of spaces for the working-class population, given that the market value increased to the point that many of these were unable to return, and the increase in available condominiums and rentable buildings that have led to a traffic issue that will cause another upsurge in real estate prices.

“A word of advice,” he said, “address the working-class folks and give them space to live in because they’re going to be critical to boosting these outstanding developments that are coming.”

Watlington echoed this sentiment as she affirmed that—although Cemex has disaster protocols and essential products to overcome natural disasters, such as generators and fuel—the “determining factor” that enabled the global cement company to serve its clients and “work the projects fairly quickly” was its workers.

Regarding Puerto Rico’s outlook, she noted that the island has “a lot of potential” but, for other global players to consider investing, it needs to have an economic development plan that ensures a highly competitive market.

“I think it’s up to us to make better, more sustainable, more resilient construction in Puerto Rico. We are here, so innovation should never stop. We need to embrace this challenge, we need to be part of the revolution… Let’s build a better Puerto Rico together,” Watlington asserted.

District Live an Example for Future Developments

Meanwhile, Stubbe observed that companies and politicians need to look to collaborations that lead to the construction of new places where residents and visitors alike can interact, while considering these spaces’ potential for digital marketability and people’s need for entertainment.

As an example, he pointed to PRISA Group’s $125 million investment in District Live, an upcoming entertainment destination at the Convention Center District that is expected to open in 2020.

This project, already in progress, will include The Pavillon, a performance an events venue with a capacity of up to 6,000 spectators; an Aloft Hotels resort with 175 loft-like guest rooms; a Caribbean Cinemas VIP establishment, with eight screening rooms with reserved seating, a bar and lounging area; Daylight Nightclub by entrepreneur Shimmy McHugh, supposedly the first day and night club on the island; a rum micro-distillery; a café that will serve authentic Puerto Rican coffee; The District Studios, a radio and television broadcasting station with a view of the Central Plaza; Kids Zone, a family friendly attraction which will also offer childcare services; an urban zip line by Toro Verde that extends from the Convention Center to the Central Plaza; and a variety of restaurants.

On District Live, Rivera remarked that “it is a message that we can think big in moments of crisis and we can build big projects that can be globally recognized because I am sure this project will be discussed globally.”

“We have to concentrate on our productivity and we have to build better places where people can interact… We have the lowest taxes in the whole nation… Why don’t we advertise that? Let’s not be afraid; let’s compete. Let’s show the world that we can be great,” Stubbe affirmed.

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Editor’s note: This story was published on the November 6 print edition of The Weekly Journal.

Author: Giovanna Garofalo, The Weekly Journal

Source: The Weekly Journal