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One of three pools at at the Four Seasons Costa Rica Golf Club at Peninsula Papagayo | by Dick Johnson NYC
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One of three pools at at the Four Seasons Costa Rica Golf Club at Peninsula Papagayo

Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo


* * Costa Rica


For decades the remote Pacific Coast of northern Costa Rica — the Guanacaste province — was the domain of die-hard surfers and backpackers, with other visitors deterred by the grueling five-hour drive from the country's main airport in San José.


In 1982 the Costa Rican government passed law 6370 allowing for the development of the State owned area of land known as Polo Turistico Golfo de Papagayo located in the province of Guanacaste. The area includes tropical dry forests, 15 miles of Pacific coastline and 31 separate beaches Guanacaste was mostly the domain of cowboys called sabaneros, whose legacy lingers at local rodeos.


In Costa Rica (which means "rich coast") all beaches are public. The local municipality owns coastal land 200 meters (656 feet) inland from the average high tide, often referred to as the maritime zone. The 50 meters (164 feet) closest to the ocean are reserved for public use while the next 150 meters (492 feet) called the “concessionable” area, may be leased to private parties. Maritime zone concession agreements are used by municipalities throughout the country to promote tourism development. Between 1991 and 1999, 23 concessions were granted.


Costa Rica’s Pacific coast tourism has promoted different models of tourism -- beach, golf, tennis resorts, all-inclusive resorts, residential vacation home rentals, cruise tourism, and camping (ecotourism/sustainable tourism). And in the case of Papagayo Peninsula - Costa Rica desired to turn it into a showcase for environmental and social best practices. The government concessioned 2,075 acres from the Polo Turistico Golfo de Papagayo to the Papagayo Peninsula Development (Ecodevelopment Papagayo S.A.). Peninsula Papagayo’s concession expires in approximately 75 years, on January 15, 2091.


* * Papagayo Peninsula development (Ecodevelopment Papagayo S.A.).


Wayne Bishop, co-founder of Minneapolis architecture firm Walsh Bishop Inc., visited Costa Rica in 1994, he was wowed by the country's natural beauty. So Bishop spent the next several years looking for land on which he could build a Western-style resort. Bishop identified and successfully pursued Peninsula Papagayo, a 2,000+ acre world class property located in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica. He was the original founder/developer of the Peninsula Papagayo resort area. Grupo Situr was the parent company of Ecodesarrollo Papagayo but was bought out by the Florida Ice and Farm.


Today, Ecodesarrollo (Eco-development) Payagayo S.A., has the Costa Rican government's mandate to further develop Peninsula Papagayo. Peninsula Papagayo is currently owned 30% by Florida Ice and Farm, a public Costa Rican company that produces and distributes beverages and foods throughouth Central American and 70% by Marvin Schwan Charitable Foundation, an evangeloco Lutheran foundation based in St. Louis, MO. The Marvin M. Schwan Charitable Foundation's endowment comes from the fortune made by its namesake in the frozen ice cream and pizza business located in Marshall, Minnesota. Wayne Bishop sold his interest to the Schwan Foundation.


Ecodesarrollo Payagayo's CEO is Alan Kelso, who has extensive real estate development experience in Costa Rica dating from 1995. Jim Preskitt is the SVP of Ecodesarrollo Peninsula Papagayo.


* * The Four seasons Resort and Golf Club


In the last few years, Guanacaste has been transformed by a collection of hotels and real estate developments aimed at America and European affluent baby boomers.


The Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo opened in January 2004. The resort was built on the Pacific coast of Guanacaste province in northwest Costa Rica, in the least populated, sunniest and driest part of the country. It is a 40-minute drive from the nearest airport in Liberia, where Delta, Continental and American Airlines have added nonstop service from several cities in the United States. Most of the hotel's 153 rooms are in three four-story buildings, with views of either the Virador Bay to the north or the Blanca Bay to the south.


Designed by the Costa Rican architect Ronald Zürcher, the resort's earth-toned stucco buildings seem to grow out of a hillside that slopes down to an isthmus, surrounded by tropical dry forest and sandy beaches on both sides. In an Architectureal Digest interview Ronald Zurcher says that his challenge was to build something respectful. "I didn't want to compete with nature," he explains, pointing to some white constructions several miles away, on the other side of the Golfo de Papagayo, that do just that. "See how those buildings stand out? But if you're over there, looking this way, you don't see our hotel at all—it's camouflaged." He send Papagayo dirt to a paint laboratory so that his buildings would blend in with the ground on which they sit. Zurcher took characteristics from two of Costa Rica's common creatures - the turtle and the armadillo - to the resorts design. Zrcher gave several of the resort's low-lying buildings the round shape of a turtle's shell and mimicked the armadillo's arched, humped back for the roofs of many of the buildings on higher ground. "I noticed that armadillos walk in families, one after the other," he says. "So instead of having large, single roofs, I've done the roofs in pieces, each one in the shape of an armadillo. From a distance the buildings look like families of armadillos."


Some advice also came from Isadore Sharp, the chairman of the Four Seasons chain. Originally, Zurcher wanted a waterfall to connect one swimming pool to its lower neighbor. Sharp vetoed the idea, saying that the sound of the waterfall would drown out the sound of the waves and when people come to an ocean resort, they want to hear the sound of the waves. "He was right, of course," says Zurcher.


Atop one of Peninsula Papagayo’s highest plateaus, overlooking the waters of Bahía de Culebra sits Four Seasons Golf Club Costa Rica, designed by Arnold Palmer. Sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean are on 14 of the 18 holes. The signature hole, the par 4 number 6, El Bajo, features a dramatic 200 foot downhill tee shot to a green perched out on a cliff with the ocean behind it. Indigenous monkeys (the howler monkey and the squirrel monkey) will monitor the golfers playing Arnold Palmer's Signature 18-hole, Par-72 championship course. Serving the golf course is the 28,000 square-foot Robert Zurcher designed clubhouse. Zurcher found inspiration for the building from a conch shell. Some say the result is likened to the Sydney Opera House.


** Key players involved with the Four Seasons Resort


*Charles M. Schwan Charitable Foundation


Marvin Maynard Schwan (1929 -1993), was the founder and first president of Marshall, Minnesota based Schwan’s Sales Enterprises, Inc., one America’s largest privately held companies and one of the biggest producers and distributors of frozen and prepared food. At the time of his death at age 63, Schwan’s personal worth was $1.3 billion and the company controlled a quarter of the frozen pizza business (Tony’s Pizza and Red Baron) in the U.S. During his lifetime, Schwan created the Marvin M. Schwan Foundation, which is a major supporter of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.. Two thirds of Marvin Schwan's estate was left to the Marvin M. Schwan Foundation under the trusteeship of his brother Alfred Schwan and life-long friend Larry Burgdorf.


The mission of the Charles M Schwan Charitable Foundation is: "To provide financial support to specific religious organizations as specified by the foundations governing documents." However, the principal amount of tne trust can provide for corpus investments in real estate. In round numbers the charitable foundation invested $140 million in the Costa Rica Four Seasons Hotel and $280 million in the Grand Cayman Island's Ritz Carlton.


The 2010 IRS form 990 for the Marvin M Schwan Charitable Foundation list the following:

The Kings Foundation Investment Papagayo LLC - $12.2 million and Investment Wings of Papagayo LLC - $124.7 million for a total investment value of $136.9 million in the Four Seasons Hotel Costa Rica

The Kings Foundation Investment Cayman LTD - $276.9 million total investment value in The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, a luxury resort in the Cayman Islands


In the fiscal year ending 2012 The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman and its developer Michael Ryan, in whom the Charlest M Schwan Charitable Foundation invested, defaulted on a series of loans and the resort was auctioned off by creditors. During the course of these events, the Marvin M. Schwan Charitable Foundation realized a loss of over $249 million on the investment it held in The Ritz Carlton Grand Cayman. However, to ensure the investment was not totally lost the foundation purchased $13.8 million of outstanding notes belonging to the developer Michael Ryan for an 11% ownership stake in the refinanced resort. The total assets of the foundation dropped from about $750 million to $500 million following the Ritz Carlton Grand Caymen debacle.


* Alan Kelso - Ecodesarrollo Payagayo CEO

The developer of Peninsula Papagayo is Ecodesarrollo Papagayo, S.A. – a Costa Rica company controlled by The Charles M. Schwan Charitable Foundation. The CEO, Alan Kelso, has extensive real estate development experience in Costa Rica dating from 1995. Unlike most developers in Costa Rica, he is a native. Kelso grew up in San Jose, Costa Rica and would waterski on the Peninsula Papagayo's calm bays as a kid. Kelso claims it is the most beautiful piece of land he's ever seen. Kelso had made his name putting together the Los Suenos Marriott Ocean & Golf Resort 140 miles south of Peninsula Papagayo. Kelso was brought in to the Peninsula Papagayo project by the minority partner, Florida Ice and Farm, the Costa Rican beer company, in 1991. Kelso brought in the Costa Rican architect Ronald Zürcher who had designed the Los Suenos Marriott.


* Ronald Zürcher, Architect


Ronald Zürcher graduated from the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City,and began his independent architectural practice in Costa Rica in 1978. Over the years, his practice has grown to include major hospitality design projects. Recent projects include Andaz Peninsula Papagayo - the 153 resort is on Culebra Bay and the JW Marriott Guanacaste Resort & Spa at Hacienda Pinilla, Costa Rica.


Jim Preskitt - Ecodesarrollo Payagayo SVP


Preskitt's professional life included marketing positions at the Hawaii's Big Island resorts of Mauna Kea and Four Seasons. He formerly was vice president of marketing for Hualalai Development Co., developer or the 700-acre residential-resort-golf community property on the coast just north of the Keahole Airport. Also, Preskitt, was in charge of marketing homes and lots for the Kaunaoa Development at Mauna Kea Resort. Preskitt's reputation in Hawaii was marketing to the “decamillionaire” (those with a net worth of $10 million or more).


Luis Argote, Four Season's Hotel Opening General Manager.


Luis received his Bachelor’s degree from the National Education Cooperation Institute (INCE) of Hotel and Restaurant Management, Caracas, Venezuela. A native of Venezuela, Argote is fluent in Spanish, French and English. He came from the Four Seasons Mexico City to the Four Seasons Costa Rica. He served as GM from 2004 to 2011. He currently serves as General Manager at the Four Seasons Hotel Casa Medina Bogota.


Pascal Forotti, Four Seasons Costa Rica General Manager


Pascal was appointed General Manager in 2011. He was the second in command at the Ty Warner owned Four Seasons New York for 3 years prior to moving to Costa Rica. He enjoys hearing the waves crash everyday - so different from the fire trucks and taxi cabs of NYC. Pascal's hometown is Esch, Luxembourg. His Hotel Management degree is from Lycee Technique Hotelier Alexis Heck. The hotel school is named after Alexis Heck (1830-1908), hotel owner in Diekirch and a pioneer of tourism in Luxembourg.


Compiled by Dick Johnson

October 2015.

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Taken on October 27, 2015