The Puerto Rico Symposium in Miami With Historic Announcement


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The Governor of Puerto Rico Pedro Pierluisi made the historic announcement at The Puerto Rico Symposium in Miami that Puerto Rico was officially out of bankruptcy. The message was well received by over 250 industry leaders from both the public and private sectors.  The event was organized by The Urban Land Institute South East Florida / Caribbean and The Puerto Rico Builders Association.


Governor Pedro Pierluisi
Governor Pedro Pierluisi makes historic announcement


The Symposium was kicked-off by Scott McLaren, President ULI SE Florida / Caribbean. Scott spoke about the longstanding relationship and collaboration between ULI and the Puerto Rico Builders Association. He highlighted the work on the ULI National Advisory Services Panel on social, economic, and physical resilience in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico.

Scott Maclaren finished his remarks by recognizing  Vanessa de Mari, the new President of the Puerto Rico Builders Association and the first women president in the organization’s 70 year history. The Symposium was dedicated to this historic accomplishment. In attendance were some of Puerto Rico’s top government leaders.  This included the Honorable Pedro Pierluisi, Governor of Puerto Rico, Manuel Laboy, COR3 Executive Director,  Maretzie Diaz, Deputy Director PR Housing Department CDBG-DR, Natalia I. Zequeira, Commissioner of Financial Institutions, and in attendance, the Secretary of Housing of Puerto Rico, William Rodríguez Rodríguez. The keynote address by the Honorable Pedro Pierluisi, Governor of Puerto Rico’s highlighted the island’s economic accomplishments, the end of Puerto Rico’s population exodus, and the conclusion of the bankruptcy which was officially announced the day of the Symposium.

In the private sector, Ricardo Alvarez-Diaz, CEO, Alvarez-Diaz & Villalon discussed some of progress of the island’s rebuilding after the 2017 hurricanes Irma and Maria. The reconstruction of the island was  a constant theme throughout the day with specific examples of over 900 started projects.

The first panel, “Why Puerto Rico: Stories of Success,  was a testament to the resiliency of the development community. Moderated by Andrew Carlson, SVP Country Manager, of JLL the discussion highlighted the historic growth of the island’s hospitality sector with the construction and/or renovation of over 3,000 new room keys from El Conquistador, Grand Reserve (formerly known as Coco Beach), Sheraton, AC , and many others. The panel included Federico Sanchez, President & CEO, Interlink Group.


Speakers Panel
Dan Kodsi, Brad Dean, Rafael Rojo, Andrew Carson


Dan Kodsi, CEO, Royal Palm Companies, Rafael E. Rojo, President & CEO, VRM Companies. Also in attendance was Brad Dean, CEO, Discover Puerto Rico who highlighted the island’s impressive tourism growth (ADR and occupancy rates) during the Covid 19 pandemic and new expansion of tourism throughout all U.S. feeder markets.

As Puerto Rico seeks to build back its tourism and other industries, the financial sector will invariably play a major role. One of the goals of the Puerto Rico Symposium was to facilitate the conversation of growth in both traditional banking as well as new Fintech, IFEs, and other debt/equity players.  Natalia I. Zequeira, Commissioner of Financial Institutions, explained the ease of regulations and process for new financial institutions as Puerto Rico shares many of the same regulations of the U.S. states on the mainland. Ms. Zequeira also mentioned that International Financial Entities (IFE) can now participate in special opportunity projects.

Michael McDonnell, Executive Vice President, First Bank, that recently re-opened its  construction division, was bullish on the island’s economic prospects and announced that the Puerto Rico will achieve positive economic growth (GDP) this year– something it has not done in over a decade.  Banesco USA announced the U.S. Department of the Treasury, will invest more than $8.7 billion through ECIP in institutions across the country – Banesco USA is the only bank recipient located in Florida or Puerto Rico.

Over the last few years, we have all hear about the 80 billion dollars of relief aid that has been allocated to Puerto Rico and is coming. In the “Myth versus Reality panel: Federal Funding Opportunities on The Island,” moderator Ella Woger Nieves of Invest Puerto Rico helped lift-up the proverbial transparency veil. Manuel Laboy, the COR3 Executive Director spoke with detailed facts of the funding by agency with FEMA authorizing 5 billion for temporary work, 21 Billion for 9,000 permanent projects and 800 that are currently under construction today. He also discussed the next wave of over 900 projects that are currently under engineering and design.  Much of this work will be channeled through CDBG-DR and the PR Housing Department. Maretzie Diaz, the Deputy Director PR Housing Department, explained the process for companies wanting to participate in the island’s rebuilding of housing and infrastructure. Mahdu Beriwal, Owner/founder of EIM provided first-hand knowledge of the rebuilding work in Puerto Rico.


Adam Greenfader, Ricardo Alvarez-Diaz, Pamela Pautenade, Vanessa de Mari, Alfredo Martinez, Emilion Colon


Keynote Speaker Pamela Pautenade, Ex. Deputy Secretary of HUD, was also on hand to share her experiences about the collaboration with the Puerto Rico Builders Association during the 2017 hurricanes crisis. In a moving conversation with Ricardo Alvarez-Diaz, Mrs. Pautenade explained the dedication of the island’s public and private sectors and dispelled any rumors about misuse of relief funds.


Keynote Lunch Address
Andrew Farkas, Adam Greenfader


Puerto Rico, like much of the Caribbean is in the process of bouncing back from the Covid 19 pandemic.  Adam Greenfader, who chairs the ULI Caribbean Council had a high level sit down conversation with keynote Speaker Andrew Farkas, CEO Island Capital Group. The conversation was focused on social equity and specifically what  role the financial sector has in supporting the region with a particular focus on sustainability, ESG, and helping economic migrants return back to their island homes.

In the last few years Puerto Rico has become known as blockchain capital of the world. While thousands of tech savvy individuals have moved to the island to take advantage of federal tax incentives they have inadvertently created a new economic driver for the Puerto Rico.


In our “Fintech & Financial Innovation panel in Puerto Rico, Moderator Nathan Whigham, Founder & President, EN Capital discussed the growth of this huge industry. Rodrick Miller, CEO, Invest Puerto Rico, explained what his group is doing to change the paradigm in Puerto Rico from selling tax incentives to focusing on the island’s quality of labor, education system, and proficiency in bio science and other innovations. Stephen Inglis, CEO, Importal explained his new portal to monetize tax credits and  Yael Tamar, CEO & Co-founder, SolidBlock explained how her company is integrating real estate and blockchain.

After a marathon day of conversation it was amazing to see the room still full for our last panel “Growth Industries and Tax Incentives” moderated by Carla Campos and an all-star team including  Jorge Ruiz Montilla, McConnel Valdez,  Francisco Luis, of Kevane Grant Thornton and Rogelio “Roy” Carrasquillo, of the Carrasquillo Law Group. In this panel, specific programs like the Tourism Tax Incentive were explained in detail and there was robust conversation regarding how these incentives have created new jobs in manufacturing, life sciences, construction, and agro-science.


On behalf of all of us at the Puerto Rico Builders Association and The Urban Land Institute SE Florida/ Caribbean, thank you to all of the people and sponsors that made The Puerto Rico Symposium possible. We are all hopeful that together both the public and private sector can create long lasting sustainable economic growth.



For more information about investing in Puerto Rico visit our web site or contact us.

AG&T is a real estate development and consulting company founded in 1998 with headquarters in Miami, Florida. Our  track record spans over 55 real estate development projects in Puerto Rico, Sint Maarten, Costa Rica, Panama, Mexico, Dominican Republic, and various other Caribbean islands.


Strong turnout at the first 2019 ULI Caribbean Roundtable Panel

Strong turnout at the first 2019 ULI Caribbean Roundtable Panel.
Presentations by Emilio Colon Zavala, President of the Builders Association of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Alvarez Diaz of AD&V, Robbie Karver of EY and chaired by Adam Greenfader of AG&T. Big Shout out to Julie Medley, Mallory Baker, Max Helden and the whole ULI Southeast Florida team for putting this amazing event together.




Some of the biggest takeaways:

  • Growth is forecasted at a 8.1% with growing airlifts. In spite of the tumultuous 2017 hurricane season, the occupancy rates were around 65% in 2018 and should peak back up to 70% across the region in 2019.
  • Access, Access, and Access continues to be the principal driver for hospitality. 
  • “The Caribbean region today is seen as a maturing destinations with more diversified land offerings”, quoted Robbie Karver.
  • Looming recession talks in US was downplayed for the Caribbean region as the lack of a significant of new supply (compared to 2008) should help bolster the region.
  • Caution was noted about citizenship programs (CIP) for several Caribbean governments not necessarily generating revenues as expected.
  • Smart money is looking at Puerto Rico with lots of incentives for tourism development, tax benefits for those wanting to move/start business on the island (law 20/22), and billions of dollars of recently approved US Federal grants. 95% of Puerto Rico is an Opportunity Zone. 
  • Institutional capital seeking better rates than on the US mainland although Caribbean hospitality lending is ‘cautiously optimistic’ with focus on shorter ramp up period of less than three (3) years.
  • There is strong demand for world class Marinas and for Big-Big yachts.
  • Resiliency is getting into new developments and is having very little negative effect on the IRR.

Other Events 

The roundtable conversation highlighted a series of events that will be taking place in 2019 (email for a full schedule).

  • OCT 23-25 ULI Mexico – Latin America Conference (Cancun)

Vision Awards

ULI will be highlighting development projects of excellence at its Annual Vision Awards Event which will be held on September 5that the JW Marriott Marquis. If anyone would like to submit a Caribbean project please contact

Coming Next

For the next roundtable the following items were discussed as potential areas of interest:

  1. To discuss a list of hospitality projects that are getting funded in the Caribbean Region, share details on projects and the funding
  2. Bahamar project and case study
  3. Sources of hotel financing and the interplay of mezzanine financing
  4. The synergy of luxury cruise ships and private islands
  5. The business of Cannabis in the Caribbean
  6. The effect of Hurricanes on hotel supply and competition
  7. Sargassum seaweed and its adverse effects on the region

This first meeting was open to ULI members and guests.  Subsequent roundtables will require membership for participation.  Please email Max.Helden@uli.orgif you need details on joining.

Undaunted By Puerto Rico’s Financial Mess, Hospitality Industry Blazes Ahead

Bisnow Article by July 24

“As you can imagine, things are a bit crazy here,” said Emilio Colón-Zavala, president of ECZ Group and head of the Puerto Rico Builders’ Association, this month — even though it has been almost a year since Hurricane Maria slammed his homeland.Puerto Rico is still recovering from hurricane-related infrastructure failures (the water system was long-neglected and the electric company has had five CEOs in a year) as well as a decade-plus financial crisis.

The commonwealth owes creditors a whopping $124B, and bondholders are fighting over who will be repaid. Investors are looking to scoop up distressed properties or take advantage of generous tax incentives, and cryptocurrency entrepreneurs have invaded with a vision to remake the island and run it on bitcoin. Meanwhile, residents still struggle; the average family income is about $20K.  Amid these challenges, the hospitality industry is putting on its best face and charging sunnily ahead. Most hotels in the commonwealth are back open or will resume operations by the time high season begins in September; some already had record occupancy for spring break.  Colón-Zavala and other experts will discuss these converging factors — and the state of the hospitality industry throughout the Caribbean — at Bisnow’s Caribbean Hospitality and Investment Summit in Miami Aug. 23.


Carla Campos, executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company (a government agency), said the hospitality industry was seizing this moment to come back better and stronger. As of May, she told Travel Weekly, 12,000 of Puerto Rico’s 15,000 hotel rooms were operational and the other 3,000 were being remodeled. She said the reopening of the St. Regis, El San Juan and the Ritz-Carlton in October would be recovery milestones. The hurricane made Americans more aware that Puerto Rico is “a U.S. territory and you don’t need a passport to go there, that there is easy access from U.S. cities,” Campos said. “That puts us in this position to seize the opportunity to capitalize on this increased awareness and convert it into awareness in travel.” In addition to her agency, a Destination Marketing Organization — a private nonprofit corporation responsible for the promotion abroad of Puerto Rico as a tourist destination — was established with legislation last year and will be funded with $25M annually. Brad Dean, the former head of Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce, will run the DMO and recruit both leisure and business travelers. 

Colón-Zavala said in addition to remodels, new construction is on tap. A JW Marriott, Aloft San Juan Convention Center, Aloft Ponce and Four Seasons Cayo Largo are all in the works. “We have already like $1.9B in projects in the pipeline,” Colón-Zavala said. “It’s going to be like a 4,000-room increase — like 5% of hotel inventory. We have 15,000 hotel rooms in Puerto Rico and the pipeline is almost 25% more.” That means builders are in high demand — “You get proposals left and right,” Colón-Zavala said — but contractors are being selective about which jobs to take for fear of not getting paid in a timely manner. Private insurance has been slow to pay claims, and some government agencies don’t have funds due to the commonwealth’s financial crisis. FEMA is still active, and is siphoning workers from other jobs by paying 25% to 50% more, Colón-Zavala said.From an investment standpoint, Colón-Zavala said people from around the world have been interested in Puerto Rico; there is a lot of interest from China. Investors should look not just at hotels and resorts, but also at public-private partnerships in infrastructure, Colón-Zavala said. He said private companies have recently been awarded concessions to run a ferry service, a major highway and airport operations. 

Numerous solar companies have also descended on the region. “A year ago, people would not buy solar with batteries because of the expense that it represented,” he said. “This year, it’s the other way around — you would be crazy not to buy a battery with your solar panels.”    Sion Capital founder Jonathan Kracer, who advises real estate investors and will also speak at next month’s event, wrote recently that there is forward momentum pulsing through the 30 major Caribbean islands. All-inclusive resorts are doing brisk business, and low-cost airlines from all around the world have increased flights to the region. Kracer told Bisnow that following last year’s hurricanes, “I was surprised by the lack of a cohesive communications strategy to change traveler misconceptions about the conditions in the Caribbean. Only about eight islands of the [about] 30 in the Caribbean were most impacted by Hurricane Irma, and the perception of damage impacted demand volumes in the whole region.” Ultimately, though, he said that better construction techniques and stricter building standards would bode well for the region. Right now, he said the best move for investors would probably be “acquiring older independent assets or damaged properties from the recent hurricanes, and renovating and professionally managing them … As tourism is the most important economic driver for the region, the Caribbean is very resilient and will bounce back.”  

Another panelist, Rogerio Basso, principal investment officer for multilateral development bank IDB Invest, said “We have a heightened appetite to explore greenfield operations in the Caribbean and are also seeing growing interest from regional banks to fund hospitality transactions. Rising interest rates, however, are putting pressure on developers to not overextend themselves on debt and ensuring projects have sound fundamentals to withstand market trepidations.”

Hear more about tourism, hotels and investment in the Caribbean at Bisnow’s Caribbean Hospitality and Investment Summit Aug. 23. 

Puerto Rico After The Hurricanes: Investors And Bitcoin Cowboys Are Circling

By Deirdra Funcheon as Published in Bisnow South Florida

Puerto Rico has been desperate for aid that has been too slow and insufficient following hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. But a few on the island say the attention followed might ultimately be a net positive for the commonwealth. “The bottom line is that Puerto Rico in the next two to three years is expected to see strong growth — 3 to 3.5% of GDP,” said Adam Greenfader, principal of Miami-based AG&T Development and Advisory Services. “It hasn’t had growth in 12 years. A depression is defined as negative economic growth for three quarters, so for all intents and purposes, Puerto Rico has been in a depression for 12 years.”


Greenfader married into a family that facilitates Section 8 housing throughout Puerto Rico. He then became a developer there himself. Currently, he serves as the liaison to the Puerto Rico Builders’ Association and the chair of the Urban Land Institute’s Caribbean Council. Greenfader points out that while last summer’s hurricanes devastated the commonwealth, jobs had already been scarce for more than a decade as the government faced a crippling debt crisis, owing $123B and declaring bankruptcy last spring. Though an estimated 150,000 Puerto Ricans fled to the U.S. mainland after the hurricanes, between 60,000 and 70,000 residents had already been leaving each year of the crisis. Puerto Rico’s current population is about 3.5 million, down from a peak of about 4 million, Greenfader said.

Turnaround efforts began years ago. Reforms enacted in 2012 enticed businesses and high net worth individuals to relocate to Puerto Rico by taxing corporate profits at a flat 4% and eliminating taxes on dividends, interest and capital gains for anyone who resided at least half the year in Puerto Rico. For anyone selling a company or large amounts of stock, these measures could result in saving millions of dollars on taxes. Famously, Putnam Bridge Funding CEO Nicholas Prouty invested more than $100M and relocated his family. Billionaire John Paulson bought several hotels. Michael E. Tennenbaum founded Caribbean Capital & Consultancy Corp. Goldman Sachs and various hedge funds moved in and bought distressed mortgages for pennies on the dollar. 

Greenfader said that about 1000 high net worth individuals moved to the island, and about 200 are coming each year. Cottage industries sprung up to cater to these ultra-wealthy.  Then last year’s hurricanes blew through, knocking out power and killing 64 people directly and 4,645 in total, according to Harvard University. Though the U.S. government responded painfully slowly, $18B in aid has been approved from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and billions more are expected, Greenfader said.

Recovery is slow, but happening. Tesla built a solar array to power a children’s hospital. Doctors are being offered tax incentives to stay in Puerto Rico. Private insurance companies have started to pay claims, so 60% of hotels are now operational, Greenfader said. He believes that when the economy improves, exiles will move back. 

Publicity around the hurricanes certainly brought attention to the commonwealth. Immediately after the hurricanes, only about half of Americans knew that Puerto Rico was part of the United States; that number has since risen to 76%. Following the disaster, dozens of cryptocurrency entrepreneurs relocated to San Juan to buy hundreds of thousands of acres of land, take advantage of the tax structure and set up a “crypto utopia.” Greenfader suggested there is more opportunity for economic recovery: Puerto Rico’s tourism industry makes up only 6.5% of gross domestic product, whereas on many Caribbean islands, that figure is 50% or more. That is by design, he said; in the 1950s and ’60s, laws were structured to keep out the Mafiosos who ran Cuba. It could be increased substantially. 

Furthermore, the island has long had a mishmash system of collecting property taxes, partly because so many homes are built informally or illegally — “People get a paycheck, buy [a] few beers, invite their friends and family over to build a wall at a time,” Greenfader said — and partly because the tax code hasn’t been revised since 1950s. “A property worth a million dollars might pay no more than $2K, $3K in taxes for a year,” Greenfader said. A better system of collecting taxes could be implemented to make the government more solvent.  Although he is optimistic, Greenfader acknowledged the challenges.

While Puerto Rico is a diverse society, where rich and poor have long mixed freely, the influx of people taking advantage of the tax breaks is “adding an upper class the island never had before,” he said, and there has been some blowback. Workaday employees are facing pension cuts and austerity measures as Puerto Rico grapples with its debt. Currently, according to Democracy Now, 55,000 residents are in foreclosure and the government is turning to privatization as the solution for economic woes, which will enrich investors but hurt the working class. In a Bloomberg article Monday about the search for someone to buy the country’s beleaguered electric company, which goes so far as to ask potential buyers how they would like to be regulated, a Puerto Rico resident said, “We are tired of people coming here to get rich and take advantage of us.”  Some grass-roots organizations have taken shape to resist Wall Street — forces that author Naomi Klein explores in a new book, “The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Rico Takes On the Disaster Capitalists.”

Greenfader noted that insurance premiums will likely continue to rise, and the Jones Act, a shipping law that requires goods to stop in a mainland port, makes commodities expensive. Whatever economic policies prevail, at least new construction on the island should be more resilient. Greenfader said builders already adhere to codes that mirror Miami-Dade’s, which were made stronger after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. They use reinforced concrete and no wood. Going forward, he said, there is a commitment to using more sustainable designs, particularly in the energy space, such as solar power arrays and micro electric grids. Today, about 10,000 customers in Puerto Rico who lost electricity after last year’s hurricanes are still without power. 

Read more at:

What Can Cities Do to Go “Blue”?


In a number of projects and proposals, architects and urban planners are working with water instead of against it

In 2003, Jacques Lacour and his brother, Ovide, built a fishing lodge on a sliver-shaped lake called Old River that was once part of the Mississippi, near Batchelor, Louisiana. Leveraging local knowledge and techniques that had been developed over decades, they hit on an architectural concept that is becoming in vogue as climate change drives flooding events around the world. They made their business, called Old River Landing, amphibious.

 Instead of building Old River Landing on a foundation, the Lacour brothers built the whole structure on a base of polystyrene foam—8,100 cubic feet of it. That was enough to float the building in the event of a flood, leaving an extra tolerance for the action of waves from storms or boats. For added stability, sliding sleeves on each corner of the building encircle vertical poles, meaning Old River Landing can go up and down, but it settles back into place, impervious to the water currents and waves that might push it about.

Batchelor is an agricultural community, specializing in sugar cane. But Old River hosts anglers, who come up from Baton Rouge or Lafayette and stay in private or public lodges called camps. Starting in the late 1970s, some homeowners started making their camps amphibious. Now, when the lake rises, so do the camps.

 Architecture firms in the Netherlands and elsewhere are offering upscale versions of these amphibious houses, or even homes that float outright. In the famously vulnerable Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation contracted the American firm Morphosis Architects to build an amphibious home called the FLOAT house. And the Buoyant Foundation Project, a nonprofit founded by Elizabeth English, an associate professor at the Waterloo University School of Architecture in Ontario, uses modern engineering techniques to retrofit houses in flood-prone areas.

“We need to acknowledge that the water is eventually going to do what the water wants to do, and shift our approach, as human populations living on the Earth, from one of trying to dominate nature to one that acknowledges the power of nature and works in synchrony with that,” says English. “We’ve already set ourselves down this path of dams and levees and water control systems, and it’s really hard to turn back. But we don’t need to keep replicating that. We don’t need to make the situation worse. It’s time to step back from the approach of control and fortification.”

When Hurricane Katrina flooded 80 percent of New Orleans, displacing a million people and causing more than $100 billion in damages, English was working at the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center on the aerodynamic behavior of windborne debris. The disaster, especially the failure of the levees, made her realize that flooding could do far worse damage than wind ever could. More recent hurricanes, too, have had their effects exacerbated by the design of the cities they have hit. While Hurricane Irma caused less-than-expected flooding in Florida, Hurricane Harvey was catastrophic due to the rainfall it dumped on Houston. City planners have attributed much of the flooding there to the prevalence of blacktop and concrete, which keeps water atop the landscape rather than letting it settle in.

To protect homes from flooding, FEMA encourages static elevation (raised houses) and won’t certify amphibious homes for the National Flood Insurance Program, meaning residents often have to climb stairs and deal with the visual impact of elevated houses. “The response of the Federal Emergency Management Agency was, in my opinion, entirely insensitive to the cultural context of New Orleans in particular, and South Louisiana in general,” says English. The permanent, static elevation was disruptive to the aesthetic feel of the historic neighborhoods there. A student told her about Old River Landing, and she began to discover amphibious homes in other parts of the world.

But there are more ways to work with water than mitigating flood impacts. Architects and urban planners are reevaluating all the ways cities interact with water, from transport to recreation to energy to drinking water, and their ideas have the potential to fundamentally alter cities the way the car did in the 20th century.

“Cities that today start to embrace water and take advantage of the skills of water, will be the cities that have a better performance economically and socially and politically in 20 to 30 years,” says Koen Olthuis, founder of Waterstudio, a Dutch firm that has found designing around water to be more than a niche market. “When situations change—and that’s happening now, the environment is changing, the climate is changing—cities have to react. You have to change the skills and the performance of the city to give a reaction to this situation, and the reaction should be not fighting it, it should be living with it.”

Olthuis calls this idea the Blue City, and sees a coming progression, from green cities (low impact) to smart cities (connected and responsive), to blue cities, which use water to be both of the previous. An ideal city, he says, would accomplish this by using water to achieve three types of goals—to reduce energy needs, to generate energy, and to store energy.

Waterstudio designed this energy-generating seawall, called Parthenon, for Arabian Oddysea. (Waterstudio)

Waterstudio is working with Oddysea Development to showcase these strategies and more in a multipurpose entertainment resort on a one-square-kilometer man-made island in Bahrain. Called Arabian Oddysea, the project is scheduled to break ground in 2019 and be completed in 2023, according to chairperson Dara Young. The estimated $6 to 7 billion project will include shops, hotels and restaurants, as well as an aquatic sanctuary, a man-made mountain and an Arabian horse track. But along with—and integrated into—the entertainment, Arabian Oddysea will incorporate water in ways designed to improve energy efficiency.

“Integrating ways to sustain our needs by channeling energy allows us to lead by example. Bahrain was first to discover oil, so we’d like Bahrain to be the first in the region to introduce architectural hydropower,” says Young. “Over the next five years, the gulf countries are expected to need to generate 40 percent more electricity than they are now … and it’s important to stay ahead of the curve and come up with alternative solutions.”

To do that, Arabian Oddysea is incorporating several Waterstudio-designed elements that each use water in a different way. One is a sea wall, but it’s not designed like normal sea walls, which tend to be big chunks of concrete that waves smash up against and eventually demolish. Called Parthenon, the seawall is made of columns of turbines hanging underneath like the pillars of its namesake. As waves flow in and out, they drive the turbines, which generate enough energy for about 50 houses, but also reduce the action of the water so that behind the wall, the water remains calm.

Another feature is an array of floating solar panels that lie just beneath the surface of the ocean. In hot climates, exposed directly to sunlight, solar panels quickly exceed the optimal operating temperature. But when water is allowed to flow over them, they absorb sunlight at a balmy 80 degrees. There will be floating solar panels just offshore of the man-made island in Bahrain. (Waterstudio)

All that energy needs to be stored, somehow, and batteries are expensive. Arabian Oddysea plans to use it to pump water into tanks housed high in tall buildings called blue batteries, and then let it flow back down to run turbines once the sun is down. According to Young, 25 percent of off-peak energy needs will be housed in the blue batteries.

Another element of the Oddysea is a system of water-filled tubes running through walls and floors in buildings, squares and city streets. The water pumped through helps cool the city, reducing load on air conditioning.

Even the entertainment will incorporate water, says Young. The horse track will be suspended over water features. The water drained from the blue batteries will tumble down 200-foot “hydrokinetic waterfalls” that house the turbines.

Othuis’ vision doesn’t stop with the Bahrain project. He speaks of floating museums or stadiums that could be shared between cities across bodies of water, or even whole cities that move, or expand and contract, with the seasons, increasing density to maintain warmth and opening like a flower in the summer. A true blue city would incorporate these designs and more to treat water like a tool, rather than a threat.

“There are many things that won’t work, [and that] will maybe always be part of a futuristic scope or vision,” Othuis says. “But you see that some of these ideas in the end will be part of the next generation of cities.”

Oddysea is somewhat unique in its scope, its price tag, and its virgin landscape. But there are many other ongoing projects and proposals that tap specific innovations to address smaller aspects of water management. A permeable concrete from a UK company called Tarmac can absorb 600 liters of water per minute per square meter. A Danish architecture firm has designed a parking garage that sits atop a water reservoir and rises atop floodwaters as they drain into the reservoir. Dikes in The Netherlands now house sensors that can give managers advance notice of overloading, allowing them to evacuate or divert water when one part is getting too much stress. In San Francisco, new developments over 250,000 square feet are required to install and operate grey water recycling systems.

Danish architectural group THIRD NATURE has designed this parking garage that sits on top of a reservoir. In heavy rain, the reservoir fills with storm water and the garage rises.
Danish architectural group THIRD NATURE has designed this parking garage that sits on top of a reservoir. In heavy rain, the reservoir fills with storm water and the garage rises. (THIRD NATURE)

With the Bahrain project, Waterstudio has the benefit of working on a new development, where designs aren’t constrained by what’s there already. Much of our waterways, however, already share coastlines with buildings or other structures that would need to be adapted or discarded. That is what Baca Architects and H+N+S Landscape Architects, are doing on the Waal River in the Netherlands. A 1995 flood led to the development of that nation’s Room for the River program, which seeks to accommodate the changes to the rivers there, and the Waal River is a flagship project for the program.

At a bend in the river, near the German-Holland border, the town of Lent was at risk. A low-lying area just inside a higher peninsula, sort of a short cut for the river flow, was liable to flood. Over the last decade and a half, the city relocated around 50 dwellings and farmsteads, and H+N+S dug out a channel, turning the peninsula into a seasonal island. Now, the river would have space to flow, alleviating flooding not just in Lent, but downstream as well.

“This marks a fundamental shift in thinking, to date, in Holland, Germany, the UK, who have consistently built … with the presumption in terms of policy is we hold water out,” says Richard Coutts, director of Baca Architects.

 The landscaping has been completed, and bridges to the new island of Veur-Lent have been built. Now, Baca Architects are working on designs for the space. It’ll include parks, a campground, and an equestrian center. New homes will be developed based on the flood risk of their location. Those on the water will float, able to rise and fall with the tide each day. Those vulnerable to the expected seasonal variation of up to 12 meters will be amphibious in a similar manner to Old River Landing. Higher still, houses will be built with a flood-resilient lower floor, to minimize damage in the case of larger floods.

If the Veur-Lent project goes well, it could serve as a model for other cities and riverways. But there are still regulatory hurdles to building in a style that’s unfamiliar. FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program denies coverage to floating homes, while extending it to houses that are on the ground and likely to flood. Amphibious buildings, like Old River Landing, are ineligible at any price. Just like many of their neighbors, the Lacours built it anyway.

“It’s a way of life that we’re all accustomed to,” says Lacour. “Growing up on the river, there’s nothing like firsthand experience of seeing what water can do, and if you try to, you may find a solution for those situations. I think we’ve adapted to the changing conditions of our rivers.”



Conway + Partners Image Gallery

Conway + Partners brings an innovative approach to every project. I am impressed by their level of market knowledge, professionalism, and creative genius.

Conway+Partners is a full-service, integrated branding and marketing agency, headquartered in NYC, that specializes in the real estate and hospitality industries.

Santiago Conway says it best:

Working with a diverse roster of global clientele, we are driven by creativity and innovation to garner real world results. Our signature approach and dedication to sharing our expertise means we act as more than an external creative partner – we become a member of the team. Our efficiency, cooperation and all hands on deck approach ensures a successful final result, whether a classic luxury property or innovative new hospitality concept.

Below is a sample of some of the amazing work.



One Ocean South Beach



Brickell City Centre