Loreto Construction to Begin

Project designed to convert the area into a major tourist destination

By: Lisa Jennings

Construction is expected to begin next month on a project that aims to convert the region just north of Loreto on the Baja California Sur into a major tourist destination over the next 15 years.

To be named the Villages at Loreto Bay, the $2 billion development will include 5,000 residences organized in a series of pedestrian-friendly, planned villages. The creation of a town center is also planned, as well as adding more hotels, a beach club, spas, golf courses, a marina, cultural and recreational facilities, a nature preserve and a solar farm.

The project is a partnership between Mexico’s National Trust for Tourism Development (Fonatur) and a Canadian non-profit organization called The Trust for Sustainable Development.

In the 1970s, Fonatur selected five locations for development as tourist destinations, including Cancun, Los Cabos, Ixtapa and Huatulco. Loreto Bay, which is on the Sea of Cortez about 700 miles south of San Diego, is the last of the five, and the closest to the United States and Canada.

Two hotels built by Fonatur, the Camino Real and the Whales Inn, currently exist on the property, and there is a tennis center and golf course. Roads, sewer service and electricity are also in place for construction of the homes.

One goal of the project is to draw Mexicans, Americans and Canadians looking for an affordable coastal vacation home. Prices for homes at Loreto Bay range from under $200,000 to $2 million. When the project began in January, officials were already reporting an estimated $30 million in sales. And recent changes in Mexican real estate law are expected to make it easier for foreigners to own property there.

Home sales have “gone way beyond our wildest expectations,” said James Grogan, president and chief executive officer of the Loreto Bay Co. developing the site and former chair of the Arizona Tourism and Sports Authority.

The goal is not to create a “walled, wealthy gringo compound” with “high-rises choking off the beach,” said Grogan. The courtyard-style single-family homes will be designed for indoor/outdoor living, and all will be within walking distance of stores, restaurants and nightlife.

There will be no timeshare, said Grogan. But homeowners will have the option of putting their homes into a rental program.

Emphasizing the protection of the region’s environment, the Loreto Bay project is planned as a “sustainable community,” meaning it will create more water and energy than the community consumes using solar and wind power. About 5,000 of the project’s 8,000 acres will be maintained as a nature preserve. And Grogan said conservation groups have asked the development group to rebuild the natural estuaries that have been damaged by the Baja highway that runs through the area.

“We will create more habitat than we found when we arrived,” said Grogan. Loreto Bay is a federally protected marine park and commercial fishing is outlawed, but sport-fishing is allowed.

“It’s a wonderful area for enthusiasts who want to enjoy the water,” said Grogan.

One percent of all revenues from the project will go to a foundation that will assist villagers with job training, housing and business development, added Grogan.

Loreto, the 300-year-old village nearby, has a population of about 12,000, and it is home to the first Jesuit mission in the Americas.

The region is served by an international airport, which may be developed further to bring in more international carriers as the destination grows in popularity.

The Loreto Bay Co. is planning fam trips for travel agents and other promotions.