The Reserve by Ritz-Carlton; Dorado Beach Resort, Puerto Rico
(Pictured from left: Friedel Stubbe, Federico Stubbe, Alejandro Helbing) If you say “Dorado Beach,” it conjures up Laurence Rockefeller and the heyday of the Caribbean’s post World War II luxury resort boom. Later it became associated with the Pritzker family and Hyatt during that company’s golden age. This December the 1,400-acre “great park” and its three championship golf courses will shoot back on to the world tourism map with the opening of the first Ritz-Carlton Reserve in the Western Hemisphere. With hopes the hotel can shine a spotlight on Puerto Rico’s resurgence of luxury product, the pressure is on for a big hit. Recently Elite Traveler Editor-in-Chief Douglas Gollan made the short drive west from San Juan where he spent the afternoon with Dorado Beach Co-Owner and Developers Prisa Group Chairman Friedel Stubbe and son President Federico Stubbe and General Manager of the Ritz-Carlton Reserve Alejandro Helbing.
ET: Obviously this is a big event?
Federico Stubbe: My father says a developer is only as good as his last project. It’s something we think about everyday. It’s a great history starting in 1958 with Laurence Rockefeller and we’ve been here 22 years. Puerto Rico has so many different things to offer, and being part of the U.S., with security and safety for investments. Puerto Rico hasn’t really exploited its potential. We want to use this to put Puerto Rico back on the tourism map and elevate the view of Puerto Rico.
Friedel Stubbe: I went to Harvard Business School where I met Edsel Ford II. Right away he knew Dorado because he used to come down here with his family. Dorado is a community. If you look at great communities, they are built around great parks. In London you have Hyde Park, in New York there is Central Park. Dorado is the Great Park of the Caribbean. This is important for Puerto Rico.
Alejandro Helbing: My background includes the Bulgari in Bali, Ritz-Carltons in Spain, Montreal and Dubai and before that Hyatt in my native Argentina. Until I came to Puerto Rico I had no idea what a dynamic destinations this is.
ET: How many new jobs are you creating?
Friedel Stubbe: The construction has created 750 direct jobs, and the hotel will have 350 ongoing jobs.
ET: Can you give us an overview of The Reserve?
Alejandro Helbing: You come in through the park with all its lush foliage. We also have a helipad. You drive up to our arrivals pavilion. You are greeted as you get out of your car, and walked up stairs through beautiful water features of lily ponds and when you get to the top of the steps you look out to a spectacular ocean view. From here you are taken right away to your suite and anything that needs to be done is taken care of there so you never are waiting. There are 11 buildings with guest rooms and they are split with six on one side and five on the other. Off to one side at the arrivals pavilion is a library and on the other side will be a gallery with exhibits of local artists and Jose Andres specialty restaurant. The restaurant does room service for the hotel so if you want to dine in your room, or on your terrace you can have Jose Andres.
ET: What about the suites?
Alejandro Helbing: Su Casa is our top suite. It is a standalone 6,000 square foot Spanish hacienda with four bedrooms, separate living room and dining area. If you were here when it was a Hyatt this was the restaurant (the rest of the hotel was razed) and we have restored it completely. There is a full back yard with a private infinity-edge pool overlooking the ocean. There are large front and back lawns that are perfect for parties. There is a space for outside massages. You have your own butler. There are also 14 one-bedroom suites, each with walk-in wardrobe, deep soaking tub, indoor and outdoor shower. Ground level suites have their own private plunge pool while second floor suites have a rooftop Jacuzzi. Suites are 2,800 square feet including outdoor space. Su Casa is $30,000 per night and one-bedroom suites are $2,500 per night depending on season.
ET: How about other amenities?
Alejandro Helbing: Of course there is the 54 holes of golf. In addition to Jose Andres we have Positivo Sand Bar, small bites, al fresco lunches and you can have your feet in the sand. Encanto Beach Club Bar and Grill offers guests freshly grilled meals at lunch and Asian-influenced cuisine at dinner and is located right on the beach. We will also have a coffee bar with Puerto Rican coffees and gelatos we will make on site. As you enter the spa, there is an apothecary portal is the gateway. It is filled with local botanicals for health, beauty and culinary purposes. Then there are the purification gardens with warm and cool pools and waterfall showers and steam pavilions. There are 14 treatment rooms including two tree house treatment rooms. Then there is the Jean-Michel Cousteau Ambassadors of the Environment program, and of course all of the trails for biking and hiking, kayaking, kite-sailing anything you want.
ET: How are sales for the Residences going?
Federico Stubbe: We initially thought it would be second homes, but we are finding it is the fourth or fifth home and the most expensive go the fastest. We have nonrefundable deposits on 12 of the first 13 and we are going to do 13 more, including some five-bedroom homes.
ET: How do you want to position Dorado Beach?
Friedel Stubbe: If you want a great community you need great education and great healthcare. We established the first TASIS (The American School in Switzerland) in the Western Hemisphere. The original is in Lugano and there is one other in Switzerland. We are working with Goldman Sachs to build a 160-bed Johns Hopkins hospital. The world is a smaller place. I was in Hong Kong and I went into an Armani Café. I thought it was going to be Italian music but it was filled with Chinese dancing to Puerto Rican salsa. Our Latin culture is an entertaining culture. Right off the top you have Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin and Mark Anthony. Why can’t we be the Hawaii of the East? We have the Spanish, Latin and Indian cultures. We really need to do a better job of getting the word out about what we offer. People who come here say they had no idea of all the things Puerto Rico offers. If you look at Hawaii, they attract visitors from Asia and North America. Puerto Rico should be able to attract visitors from the entire Americas and Europe. Miami is a big swamp, and look what they’ve done from a big swamp. I never expected to be sitting with Russian and Chinese investors. We’re starting to look at Puerto Rico in a different mindset.
Federico Stubbe: This is a quality destination. Old San Juan has amazing history and architecture, there is great music and restaurants. There is a quality cultural scene. I just went to the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra the other night with my wife and it was excellent. Then you have all of nature – the rain forests, kayaking, biking, surfing, kite-surfing, the world’s best zip line.
ET: Friedel, tell us about your background.
Friedel Stubbe: My grandparents came from Germany in the late 1800s. We were in the land business but for agriculture. We are still in the land business, but my business is the platform for people to pursue happiness. John Naisbitt in Megatrends talks about big ideas and we have been building places people could retire after work or after a life of work. If you look back to our first developments in the 80s, we were reserving 50 percent of the space for green. It was at the time everyone else was forgetting the greenery. Then in the late 80s when Eastern Airlines was selling off assets we had a chance to become involved with Dorado Beach.
ET: Any early indicators on response to The Reserve?
Alejandro Helbing: We’ve already closed five incentive bookings from some top companies.
ET: Any other thoughts?
Friedel Stubbe: If you think about going from A to B, it’s easy to figure out the fastest way. Our goal is to figure out the most pleasant way.