French developer to build mega-resort in D.R.

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NEW YORK - The march of the Caribbean mega-resorts continues.

Just weeks after a Canadian company said it will build the world's largest resort - a lunar-themed property off Grand Bahama - French resort mogul Pierre Schnebelen unveiled designs for Atlantica, a multibillion-dollar development in the Dominican Republic.

Described as a multi-use, residential, resort community that will become the Caribbean's "leading yachting destination and a golf capital," Atlantica - to be built on the country's north coast at Luperon Bay - will add some 25,000 beds to the Dominican Republic's room inventory.

Plans call for seven villages with some 3,000 homes and 20 hotels - including luxury boutiques and high-end international brands - and three golf courses. Two of them will be designed by Arnold Palmer and Jim Fazio.

Theme-wise, Atlantica will be modeled after the French Riviera resort of St. Tropez. Each residence will combine "the charm of Provence with the flavor of the Caribbean," according to a spokeswoman for developer Puerto Luperon Corp. "We want to develop our own unique architecture, which you can't find anywhere else."

Also on the drawing board:  A hurricane-proof harbor with 450 slips and drydock facilities for up to 280 yachts; a transatlantic shuttle to transport yachts between the Mediterranean and Caribbean seas; a day-cruise ship terminal; an airstrip with hangars for 160 jets; a casino; and club and sports facilities.

The project will encompass 12 natural islands and peninsulas to maximize shorefront accessibility for guests. There will be 10 beaches.

Puerto Luperon Corp. plans three phases of development over 10 years. The initial, $150 million phase breaks ground this December with the first 99 town homes and a beach club scheduled to be completed by December 2005. The first of the three golf courses, meanwhile, is planned to open by May 2006.

The developer plans to add 68 town homes and a bed-and-breakfast by June 2006. Sixty additional town homes, 30 seaside "marina estates" and Atlantica's first hotel - the Ambar Hotel - are slated for December 2006.

According to Schnebelen, president of Puerto Luperon Corp., a one-year, $250 million phase of construction at Atlantica will begin about every six months.

Asked if the Caribbean market is big enough to support two mega-developments like Atlantica and Moon Bahamas, Schnebelen said, "Yes, the demand is absolutely staggering.  At Atlantica, we're already preselling about five residences a day."

Schnebelen said there are millions of yacht and sailboat owners on the eastern U.S. seaboard, but not one major marina is under construction.

"So we think that we have a captive niche market," he said.

In his 30 years in the resort business, Schnebelen has participated in the construction of hotels and resorts at some 40 major destinations, including Bar- celona for the 1992 Summer Olympics and ski resorts Val d'Isere and Tignes in France, where he pioneered year-round skiing with glacier-top ski trails.

Today, the region is Europe's premier ski area, with 100 hotels that generate 3 million "skier days" per year, according to Schnebelen. In total, Schnebelen said his ski resorts in France have created more than 75,000 beds and 150,000 new jobs - figures that might have caught the eye of Dominican Republic authorities.

Atlantica is his second development project in the D.R. He also is involved in Cap Cana, a resort project launched in 2000 about six miles southwest of Punta Cana's airport.

The D.R. was selected for both projects based on its popularity, accessibility and development needs, said Schnebelen.

"It is probably the fastest-growing and one of the most accessible markets in the world, just three hours by air from New York City," he said, noting that 150 international flights arrive at Dominican airports each week.

"Secondly, as a country that needs a lot of development, it's among the most favorable destinations in terms of costs, despite all the [infrastructure] handicaps," Schnebelen added.

Yet, even with the expected economic boost the development will provide the Dominican Republic, Atlantica is privately funded and receives no government aid.

For more information, visit www.atlanticadr.com or call Atlantica's sales office in Miami at (800) 889-7341.

To contact reporter Kenneth Kiesnoski, send e-mail to [email protected].

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