|By Trenton Daniel, The Miami
HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
September 14, 2010 --One of Haiti's most powerful families and an Argentine entrepreneur are swiftly trying to build a state-of-the-art hotel in the Port-au-Prince area, marking the latest effort to house visitors involved in post-earthquake reconstruction.
"The idea is this: To rebuild Haiti you are going to need engineers and business people and they are going to need a place to stay," said Edmund Miller, another partner in the project. "What place makes the most sense? That's at the airport and not up in Petionville. Hopefully, this will help get the reconstruction going."
The announcement on Monday to build the hotel near Port-au-Prince's Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport comes as the airport itself undergoes renovation and the nation at large struggles to recover from the January earthquake. The tremor claimed more than 230,000 lives and made 1.5 million people homeless.
Recovery efforts since then have brought relief workers and others from around the world -- only to find housing at a premium as hotel rooms in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area have filled up. Many of the established hotels in the capital were either damaged or destroyed in the 7.0-magnitude temblor.
Organizers are planning to break ground by the end of 2010 on a parcel of land owned by the Mevs family, and finish construction within 18 months. Rolando Gonzalez-Bunster, an Argentine entrepreneur, also is involved. He is the president and chief executive officer of Basic Energy Ltd., which has holdings in the Dominican Republic.
The hotel, which has yet to be named, will be operated by a U.S. firm. Youri Mevs, managing partner of the Haiti-based WIN Group, declined to identify the firm, citing that negotiations were still under way.
$33 MILLION PROJECT
The fully enclosed, $33 million project will be developed next to the airport on 5.3 acres owned by the family. An on-site power plant, water treatment and sewage system will ensure the hotel is self-contained.
Designed by the Caribbean firm OBM International, the property will provide facilities that can accommodate up to 400 guests. It will also include a gym, a swimming pool, spa, and lounges -- all amid a tropical setting. Organizers also promise to comply with international earthquake building standards.
"Once this hotel is up, it will show we can provide value for a clientele," Mevs said.
Efforts to develop Haiti's hotel sector are nothing new.
The heyday of Haitian tourism came between the 1950s and 1970s, when foreigners toured art galleries, dined on the cuisine, and indulged in tropical revelry. The bulk of visitors today are members of the Haitian diaspora, business people, missionaries and aid workers.
In the aftermath of the 1986 ouster of Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, tourists opted to stay away, and Club Med, which opened in 1975, closed. It reopened in 1995, only to close a few years later. Around that time, the Holiday Inn yanked its affiliation from a downtown hotel.
Despite years of sporadic unrest, the hotel industry hobbled along, even expanded.
But when the quake shook Haiti on Jan. 12, some 250,000 residences and 30,000 commercial buildings collapsed or were severely damaged, including the famed Montana Hotel. Around 200 guests died in the hotel crash.
South Florida Haitians watching reconstruction efforts say they welcome the hotel, noting how it would bring desperately needed jobs to Haiti as it tries to rebuild.
"Any type of new business is just positive for the country because it's job creation," said Marie Bell, a member of a watchdog group of South Florida Haitian professionals called the January 12th Committee. "There are going to be jobs in constructing the hotel, selling food [and] selling furniture."
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