On the heels of COP21 and increased global awareness and commitment to reduce carbon, development with a purpose has finally found paradise. A powerful and much needed kinship between pioneering real-estate developers and cultural heroes has begun to converge to temper the negative impacts of tourism with more lasting, balanced, and sensible sustainable lifestyle solutions.
Take for example the Chileno Bay Club in Los Cabos, Mexico, where the developers have integrated LED lighting and solar panels to deliver cost effective energy efficiency and carbon reductions for homeowners.
And in Park City Utah, developer Sean Kelleher's Echo Spur project is marrying functional design with advancements in building materials, water management, energy efficiency and solar in an effort to deliver more affordable sustainable living options for buyers. The "eco-sensitive" Echo Spur project appeals to both the ecologic and economic impact of the development on the local environment and on buyer's pocketbooks. The project is said to have lower monthly ownership costs because the homes use less energy and are constructed to have lower maintenance costs.
This past month I caught-up with Colin Hannan of the Foundry Collective, a development group and operator of experiential hotels and resorts, about how his firm is accelerating residential solar projects in Belize through their new developer financing option for buyers.
Mr. Hannan's second luxury development in Belize, Itz'ana Resort & Residences (named after the Mayan god of Day and Night), will be comprised of 66 luxury waterfront cottages and villas once completed. Located in the coastal village of Placencia, Belize, Itz'ana Resort and Residences is nestled on 16 miles of Caribbean peninsula bordered by sea on one side, and lagoon on the other. Itz'ana's cottages and villas feature architectural design by the Boston-based architect, Roberto de Oliveira Castro, who is native of the Central American region.
Mr. Hannan remarked, "...Sustainability is a common thread in all the work we do at the Foundry Collective. At Itz'ana we saw an unmet need to make solar a more accessible and affordable opportunity for our customers. Local-level banking and financing in Central American countries like Belize is challenging, often requiring more time and cost than most investors are willing to tolerate. So we created our own developer financing model as a solution to accelerate the solar opportunity at Itz'ana. It provides an immediate finance option for our customer, it deepens our commitment for sustainable development in Belize, and it aligns with our long-standing values and commitment at the Foundry Collective to be a premier developer of sustainable luxury real-estate."
Mr. Hannan noted that many of their buyers frequently asked for other sustainable options. In response, and to make carbon-reduction technologies more attractive to buyers of luxury homes, the Foundry Collective team created the developer financing option.
Mr. Hannan added, "We work hard to bring a progressive mindset to all of our developments. We're committed to incorporating sustainable value into the design, operation and complete experience for all of our properties. We get inspired by the local community and our customers. We listen to their needs and goals - and work hard to reach mutual, dignified outcomes. We take our responsibility very seriously and have discovered that buyers and communities are responding very favorably to our shared values."
And those shared values and buyer-friendly finance options are resulting in sales. Phase one of Itz'ana, which included 39 residences ranging from $295,000 to $1 million, is 75% under contract. The Foundry Collective has launched the second and final phase at Itz'ana, which will include 27 additional residences ranging from one-bedroom cottages to five-bedroom villas.
But for Mr. Hannan, his journey is about much more than simply making the sale. Everything in real-estate is local, as someone once aptly noted. And responsible real-estate development at the local-level is gaining momentum throughout the world. It's not only about building "greener," more efficient structures. Leading practitioners of progressive real-estate development have come to understand that sustainability is also about assessing (and addressing) all facets of where and how people live, play, work, entertain and rejuvenate. As principles of sustainability have infiltrated the business of real-estate, forward-thinking developers like the Foundry Collective have realized that it's about enriching the entire ecosystem.
For example, in Belize Mr. Hannan's team has invested in a "pop-up" restaurant, Limilita, which builds its daily menu exclusively on local food suppliers. The menu changes daily and represents healthy local fare that is responsibly sourced, and subsequently supports the local fishing and agricultural economy.
The Foundry Collective team's vision of sustainable living hasn't ended there, however. They've collaborated with Samuel Amoia, a New York City designer, and established the sustainable furniture collection, Itz'ana Home. Itz'ana Home is a fusion of Mr. Amoia's visionary design and locally crafted, finished bespoke home goods. Itz'ana Home's unique pieces are handmade from personally selected hardwoods by local Central American artisans.
Like many countries in Central and Latin America, Belize remains majestic, underdeveloped and at a development crossroads. Just as the Maya ruins continue to provide intrigue and wonder, Belize's rich history provides the backdrop for its future. Tourism and the service industry represent the lion's share of the Belize economy, but the country continues to carry a significant foreign debt burden. While tourism has enriched the country, Belize contends with a diversity of development challenges including high rates of unemployment, crime, and HIV/AIDS.
Hannan remarked on this dichotomy, "As a developer, we feel a responsibility to give back to the community and better these social and economic challenges, but it's also important to understand that Belize is a place of contrast. The country is prized by locals and travelers for its pristine environment and its underdeveloped charm. We want to protect what makes Belize unique, which is its reputation for being a place of adventure, wonder and ecologic integrity. By promoting sustainability with solar, the entire community benefits."
Belize delivers an unparalleled utopia for eco-tourists. Intersecting both North and South America, Belize transcends a range of climates supporting an abundance of habitats and diversity of wildlife. The country's terrestrial lands are some of the most protected in the America's. Over 60% of the land surface in Belize is covered by forest, and nearly 37% of the land area is officially protected.
Offshore, the second-largest barrier reef in the world, the Belize Barrier Reef, occupies nearly 190 miles of the country's territorial waters. The reef is one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world and is also recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site for its unique habitats and significance to conservation of biodiversity. The reef provides a critical habitat in support of the country's fishing industry. As such, the reef is popular among snorkelers and scuba divers as one of Belize's top tourist destinations.
Another tourist favorite, the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is considered one the premier efforts supporting the preservation of jaguars in natural habitat. Further, the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, recognized as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention, encompasses 16,400 acres of pine savanna, logwood swamps, lagoons and creeks, which provide essential habitat for globally endangered species such as "Hicatee," the Central American River Turtle, Yellow-headed Parrot and the Mexican Black Howler Monkey. Crooked Tree's pine savannas also provide significant habitat for the Jabiru stork.
Entrusted by his customers and locals, Hannan is intimately aware of the ecological importance of Belize. Hannan noted, "Tourism is the country's number one industry, and we are a part of that. The service economy has enormous potential. The Maya ruins, the barrier reef and wildlife sanctuaries, each of these are core attractions for global travelers. But an essential question for us, one that we work at every day, is how do you grow and not exceed your limits? How do you hold onto the unique character of the region and its people with dignity?"
For Hannan and the Foundry Collective, local-level partnerships have been integral to achieving success. Fernando Paiz, a successful businessman with interests in real-estate, telecommunications, agriculture, energy and retail, has been a key advisor and partner to the Foundry Collective team in Belize.
Through their association with Mr. Paiz the Foundry Collective team has been able to obtain regional credibility and reputational strength as they've put their creative design and development solutions to the test.
Mr. Paiz, who also serves as the President of the La Ruta Maya Foundation, has been instrumental in preserving the Maya heritage. The foundation has secured, cataloged, and preserved more than 3,300 antiquities into a world-class collection that they are working to make accessible to the public. Hannan noted that they were collaborating with Mr. Paiz to establish a Belize arm of the La Ruta Maya Foundation. More than 250 unique artifacts have already been donated, some of which will be on display at the Itz'ana and its sister resort, Ka'ana.
It's only fitting that Mr. Hannan's team is actively supporting Mr. Paiz to conserve and educate the richness of the Mayan culture. Their efforts are symbolic of the sustainable future they've committed to jointly pursue at Itz'ana Resort and Residences and throughout the region.
Thousands of years ago, the Mayans discovered balance by building and integrating structures and monuments in their natural surroundings, orchestrating them to the movement of the stars. Today, through the efforts of cultural heroes and sustainable development pioneers like Mr. Hannan and Mr. Paiz, Belize has partners to preserve its past, protect its future, and find its new-age sense of balance and prosperity.
Hannan remarked, "There is so much at stake in Belize, and the future of the country is being decided by many. We view our role as developers as bettering the destination in ways that build sustainable value, not just economic profit. That's why we've put our money where our mouth is with our developer financing option for solar at Itz'ana. For us, this is a partnership for creating a better future in Belize."