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New Projects and Patience
With eyes on the luxury market, El Embarcadero is one project confident that they can draw this segment if high-end accommodations are built. “This one will reset the bar,” says Andrew Ludwig, El Embarcadero developer and owner of Hotel Brisas. Even though Bocas residents will roll their eyes knowing that the waterfront hotel and residence has been in the planning process for years, it seems to finally be getting off the ground. According to Ludwig, the condo/hotel is 100% titled, underwritten by two U.S. title companies, and has received the financial support needed to get the construction ball rolling.
El Embarcadero will offer straight up ownership with the option of putting the condos into the hotel rental pool, earning owners a 70% profit. “Rentals do well here,” says Socarraz. Investors interested in the rental/fractional market will have 52 fully furnished condos to consider, running in the US$100,000 price range.
There is one pressing issue: Will the infrastructure support an influx of tourists? Some question how large projects such as El Embarcadero will affect Bocas Town’s already fragile infrastructure, which is no stranger to blackouts. Big names such as the Marriott corporation have allegedly explored the Bocas del Toro area; however, the lack of infrastructure seems to be the main deterrent. If large projects want to get off the ground, they are going to have to make huge investments in infrastructure—investments many feel should be the responsibility of the government of Panama. Projects such as Red Frog, located on nearby Bastimentos Island, have already tackled the infrastructure issues and now advertise fresh tap water, reliable power and even Internet access.
Patience and persistence still seem to be the name of the game. “You have to be tough,” says Christin Fjeld, longtime resident and owner of The Bocas Wine Trading Company & Lounge. Fjeld was recently featured in an article in Panama 980 Lifestyle and Travel magazine alongside a handful of successful women entrepreneurs in Bocas del Toro, all of whom reiterated a similar sentiment. The Red Frog developers and residents who appear to have made lemonade from lemons might very well be one of the shining examples of this requisite attitude.
© Richard Allen McIntire
The bottom line is that Bocas del Toro possesses stunning natural beauty. What’s more, properties wear an attractive price point compared to the rest of the Caribbean—a price point most real estate experts don’t see dropping. The market is slow, but high-end properties are selling. La Coralina Resort just sold; a Caribbean colonial-style home on three acres priced at US$695,000 just sold; and investors have been snatching up large swaths of land on Bastimentos Island; and Red Frog has a grand opening sales event scheduled next year, where furnished villas on a 1/2 acre of titled land with a private pool and access to a deep water marina are priced to sell in the mid US$400,000. The question doesn’t seem to be whether or not Bocas del Toro will develop a luxury market, it simply seems to be when.
© Richard Allen McIntire
However, the area’s true luxury will always reside in its pristine natural environment. “What Bocas has is nature,” McCarren says. “If you want to go shopping on Rodeo Drive, this is not the place. If you want to see 800-pound Leatherback turtles lay eggs, then this is a great place.”
Story and photos by Beverly Gallagher except where indicated, posted in 2012.