Famed island developer James Wilson dies at 88

By The Star Staff

James Wilson, the former owner of the El Comandante Racetrack and a well known developer of high-profile infrastructure projects, housin ag, buildings and shopping centers in Puerto Rico, has died. He was 88 years old.

“With much regret, I report the death of engineer Jim Wilson, as he was known in Puerto Rico,” family spokesman Wilson Nazario said in a statement issued Saturday. “The Wilson family, his children and grandchildren worked for more than 30 years designing and developing projects that today have left a solid and modern mark on the island’s infrastructure.”

Wilson, who died early Saturday, managed to create Interstate General Properties, a multinational company, American Properties, Interstate Waste Technologies and more than a dozen companies that developed shopping centers, housing developments, condominiums, and other buildings in Puerto Rico.

“His greatest development was the creation of the St. Charles Associates company, with which he managed to develop more than 200,000 homes and businesses in La Plata, Maryland,” Nazario said.

Wilson came to the island from Ireland with his parents and grandparents, who had obtained jobs to develop the San Juan-Guaynabo ports and part of the gigantic Sergio Cuevas water filtration plant. Experts in the execution of pile foundations in construction, the Wilsons saw the island’s potential for large-scale development.

They built housing developments such as Santa María, El Señorial, San Francisco, College Park, Parkville and others. The Wilsons also developed the Borinquen Tower, the first condominium with more than 10 floors, as well as the El Monte-Monte Mall and Pan-American Building developments. Likewise, they built the El Señorial, Santa María, Monte Mall and Borinquen Tower shopping centers.

With his vision of sustainable development, Wilson acquired El Comandante Racetrack in Canóvanas in the 1990s. At that time, the Wilson family made a substantial capital injection to modernize the facilities and the betting system, managing to position El Comandante Racetrack as one of the best in Latin America. From Puerto Rico, the Wilsons operated the Quinto Centenario racetracks in the Dominican Republic, Presidente Remón in Panama and the Comuneros in Colombia, achieving the Clásicos del Caribe, a top event in Caribbean horse racing.

The acquisition of the racecourse included the land of the old racetrack in Río Piedras and multiple parcels in Canóvanas, the transaction for which allowed the development of 500 acres of land. With that action, the largest planned community in Puerto Rico, Parque Escorial, was created. Today, the property has about 12 housing complexes, three shopping centers and an industrial area housing more than 3,500 resident families in addition to a floating population of more than 40,000 people per day.

Wilson’s last business strategy was to try to provide Puerto Rico with a solid waste recycling system to convert waste into electrical energy. In an alliance with Thermoselect in Italy and Japan, Wilson got Caguas Mayor William Miranda Marín interested in building a waste-to-power generation plant under a gasification, pyrolysis and plasma process for the treatment of urban waste that would have to handle about 20 tons of garbage daily. However, the project did not become a reality after Miranda Marín’s death.

Wilson was married to Barbara Wilson Wilson for over 60 years. The couple had six children: Kevin, Elizabeth, Thomas (Tom), Michael, Mary and Brian Wilson.

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