Ever wonder what it would be like to work in paradise? Federico Sanchez-Ortiz, the developer and CEO of InterLink knows. He works every day in Bahia Beach, Puerto Rico. Visitors include Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony, as well as Bill and Camille Cosby. Carlos Beltran and Oscar de la Hoya have bought homes at this tropical-looking Garden of Eden. In October 2010, the St. Regis will open a 139-suite hotel with a Jean-Georges restaurant, Fern, and Puerto Rico will have its first five-star resort. We recently caught up with Fede.
Tell us about the project. Bahia Beach Resort and Golf Club is a 500-acre beachfront property, just 16 miles east of the San Juan airport. It is surrounded by natural reserve, on the foothills of El Yunque Rainforest. We have a beautiful, two-mile natural, sandy beach with two reefs that flank the bay and protect the beach. We also have great vegetation. This was an old coconut plantation that was preserved over centuries.
How did it become designated a Certified Gold Audubon International Signature Sanctuary? We said the protagonist has to be the natural environment. It’s the right thing to do, but it will also be the spearhead of our development. Every building at Bahia will be below the tree line. We don’t want buildings towering over you, as you walk down the beach. We asked Audubon International to help us, and they created the guidelines for a habitat creation and transplanting trees. The golf course is irrigated and maintained in an environmentally-friendly way.
How long has Interlink been involved? Since 2003. It was a property owned by a group in California that had held it for over 15 years but never ended developing it. I went to Harvard School of Design for the Advanced Management Development Program. I did an independent, feasibility project of buying Bahia Beach and making it a world-class resort which I submitted in July ’03. We submitted it to our bank, Banco Popular, in September and we closed the purchase in November of ’03. We joined forces with a local real-estate firm, Munoz Holdings.
How many units will there be and what are they like? Probably around 700. We have a number of small, residential clusters, everything from golf villas, or condos that begin at 1700 square feet and range from $700,000 – $900,000 to beachfront townhomes that run about $3.5 million; to St. Regis-branded estate homes that are 6,000-10,000 square feet on an average of an acre of land, which range from $3.8 million to over $7 million. And they’ll have all the services, an a la carte list of amenities from the St. Regis, including butlers, housekeeping, room service and catered dinners by the chef.
Are Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony buying? They’ve been on property three times. Carlos Beltran loaned his house to them once. They were great guests. They’re of Puerto Rican descent, and they said they felt very proud that there was a place like this in Puerto Rico that they could show their friends from the States and from abroad. Jennifer would exercise by pushing her twins on a stroller around the property. She said she felt very comfortable, at ease, safe.
Can one stay by the night? Yes. It depends on the time of year and the unit, but a one-bedroom unit would be around $400 per night and for a St. Regis-branded estate home, it could be over $2000 or $3000. An average hotel room will be around $600 per night.
What’s the biggest appeal of Puerto Rico? We think Puerto Rico had its glory days when Conrad Hilton opened the Caribe Hilton in the late 40s, early 50s; then Laurance Rockefeller opened Dorado Beach in the 50s. And now, it’s a renaissance for Puerto Rican tourism. We have the best airlift in the Caribbean.
What do you like to do when you’re not working? People ask me about Bahia, ‘How can you work there and also have a second house out there? How can you relax?’ I enjoy it. I golf. I love being on the beach with the kids. I love to cook. I love to eat, of course. But being one with nature really makes me and my family feel very good. I love to travel, too.
What are some of your go-to places in the cities you frequent? In New York I love the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis, Jean Georges, Perry Street in the West Village and Balthazar in Soho. In Boston I go to Via Matta restaurant in Back Bay. In Puerto Rico I love Casino Metro. Its bar/lounge is the coolest new spot in San Juan.
Is it in your new hotel, the Sheraton Puerto Rico? Yes, but don’t take my word for it! I’m just saying what the local newspapers are saying. Check out the Puerto Rico Daily Sun.
Photo: Richard C. Murray