• The Star Staff

Roosevelt Roads struggles to attract investors

By The Star Staff

More than the challenges brought on by hurricanes and other natural disasters, attracting investors to the Authority for the Redevelopment of Land and Facilities at Naval Station Roosevelt Roads over the past four years has been an uphill battle because of the lack of a budget and resources to upgrade the existing infrastructure at the site.

“This situation limits greatly the efforts being conducted to bring private capital. The redevelopment of Roosevelt Roads requires an infrastructure investment of $250 million,” Authority Director Ian Serna said. “Beyond attracting investment, the Authority is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the existing infrastructure in the Base, including the treatment and distribution of drinking water, the electrical distribution system, the collection and disposal of waste water, roads and telecommunications.”

Despite the problems, some investment has been brought to the former Navy base, which closed some 20 years ago following protests in Vieques and other parts of Puerto Rico over the death of security guard David Sanes in 1999 that included illegally entering the live-fire areas at the military reservation. The closing of the base caused over $3 billion in losses to the area and the loss of thousands of direct and indirect jobs.

Since 2014, the Authority has tried to negotiate a master development contract to implement a master plan, but in 2017 gave up the effort after two failed attempts. It decided to bring in strategic anchor projects that could help bring economic development to the base.

In 2017, the Authority signed a lease contract with Geodis USA Inc., for the storage of materials and equipment from the Punta Lima Windfarm project in Naguabo. In April of that year, it also focused on the creation of a wellness district.

Because of the hurricanes of 2017, the former base suffered about $96 million in damages but despite that, it moved on with plans to move the existing ferry base in Fajardo to the base.

At the end of 2017, Para la Naturaleza inaugurated its new facilities in building 2332 at Roosevelt Roads. On Jan. 8, 2018, then-Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares announced proposed projects including the Roosevelt Roads Microgrid Project for Generation and Distribution of Energy, the development of an industrial park for the Puerto Rico Industrial Co. (PRIDCO), the development of a call center for international calls, the development of a wellness district that includes a community retirement housing and extended care medical services, and the development of an equine therapy center to serve special needs, veterans and Alzheimer’s patients.

On July 3, 2018, the Authority signed a lease with the United Real Estate company for the development of a tourist rental project in the building. The project is known as Ocean’s Club and includes the rehabilitation and reconversion of 150 units into units for mainly short-term rental, as well as the construction of a clubhouse and recreational facilities. The cost of the improvements is estimated at $7.5 million, and the creation of 50 jobs is expected. The units are currently undergoing rehabilitation and a building is already about 95 percent complete, Serna said.

In September 2018, the Authority signed an agreement with the LinkActiv North America company for the creation of the aforementioned international call center at an investment of $7.5 million. Meanwhile, the Authority and the U.S. Navy signed the transfer documents for Solid Waste Management Units 57 and 27, which were environmentally remediated.

It also signed an exclusive negotiation agreement with Loopland Development for the potential development of a tourism project using the former officers’ residences (Capehart). The project has 11 phases and its cost is estimated at $200 million.

The authority in 2019 also agreed to lease 100 acres to PRIDCO for the development of an industrial park.

Despite the pandemic and the earthquakes of 2020, Serna said the base got a $4.5 million subsidy to repair its maritime front and other structures. It also is expected to receive a grant to build the Marine Business Research and Innovation Center for $16 million.

The information is contained in Serna’s testimony to the incoming government transition committee.

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