Find your place in Paradise!

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Imagine living in an area where you have all the modern conveniences, but see Mother Nature's flora and fauna from your back door. Brightly-colored birds, racoons, rabbits, foxes, and even eagles and hawks are in your flowering trees, native to the area. The closest services are just blocks away, and you have a view of the ocean along with vistas of cascading waterfalls and a natural lagoon that meets the sea.

Is it even possible? Isn't it too much to ask to have all that, and at an affordable price, too? Not anymore, as Mexico's best kept secret, Manzanillo, opens its doors to Colima Development Corp., Minnesota developers who are planning a 530-acre, $400 million mixed-use resort, "Las Cascadas de Manzanillo."

Colima Development, chaired by Bob Koens, the self-described "founding father" of the sister-city relationship between Minneapolis/St. Paul and Manzanillo, closed in November on the purchase of the beachfront property. Koens and his partners are betting that the Pacific Coast community -- with beaches made famous by actress Bo Derek in the 1979 movie "10" -- is a perfect vacation and retirement destination.

"Right now, those snowbirds are going to Florida, they're going to Arizona, they're going to California," said Koens, whose extended family has owned property in Manzanillo, 165 miles south of Puerto Vallarta, for more than 30 years. "We're going to turn that flock toward Manzanillo." Though only a 4-hour drive from Vallarta, the price of raw land and/or developed land in Manzanillo is less than half of what it is in other resort towns, including Ixtapa, Mazatlan, Huatulco, Los Cabos, Cancun and others. Currently, a 1,200 sq. ft. condo in Manzanillo, for example, costs about $100,000 USD, while in Vallarta, its price can be as high as $300,000. That is equally true for the other Mexican cities mentioned.

Manzanillo has been judged as having one of the most favorable climates in all of Mexico. It is on the same latitude as Hawaii, formed in much the same way (by volcanoes) millions of years ago, yet compare prices between the Hawaiian Islands and Manzanillo. Same ocean, similar terrain (each even has an active volcano), but Manzanillo wins hands down as being more affordable!

When living in Mexico, safety is always brought up. Did you know that the state of Colima has been judged to be the safest place to live in all of Mexico? Crime is virtually non-existant. Unemployment is also extremely low at 1.1% in the state. Colima also has some of the best schools in the entire country, and the University of Colima is known worldwide as having excellent cultural and science departments. See statistics.

Plans for Colima Development's "Las Cascadas de Manzanillo," or "The Waterfalls of Manzanillo" development include one or two 18-hole golf courses, three to five hotels and hundreds of housing units, including condominiums and single-family houses. Some of the homes, hotels, restaurants and shops will circle a natural lagoon that will be opened up to the ocean. The property's rising elevations feature ocean views from virtually every vantage point, and manmade waterfalls will cascade to the Pacific.

Detractors of the development plan claim that the natural environment will be destroyed by all the building, when in fact, the opposite will be true. Currently the lagoon is used as a garbage dump, and the beach, which could be clean and pristine, is littered with debris left by careless beachgoers. The lagoon, which, luckily, still has an abundance of wildlife, is stagnant, and smells of rotting vegetation. 

By opening up the lagoon to the ocean as the developers plan, each day at high and low tides, the lagoon will be refreshed and replenished with fresh sea water. Instead of a murky pond filled with duckweed, it will be able to support fish, shrimp and other creatures that need an oxygenated water habitat to survive and propagate. This type of project has been completed in two other areas in Manzanillo, Tepalcates and Las Garzas, and has been extremely successful, particularly during the winter months when there is no rain to replenish the lagoons.

By creating manmade waterfalls and creeks running through the development, there will actually be more freshwater areas for animals, and the vegetation will stay greener, longer, with a constant water source. Endangered species, such as the black and green iguana, will have a natural refuge, with fresh water, trees, and homeowners who maintain the lush, tropical environment, cutting down on the poachers who catch the protected species for food or for showing off to tourists.

Something very special

"We want to create very much a village feel, which right now ... is missing," said Tim Oliver, one of Koens' partners. "Our goal is to create something very special here, both in terms of the physical layout and the architecture, along with the tremendous natural amenities that we have in elevation, lagoon and beach."

Colima Development will complete a master plan in three to four months, and the project could take seven to 10 years to complete, Oliver said. The firm plans to start marketing about 100 single-family lots in 30 to 60 days, pending completion of infrastructure improvements.

Colima Development, named for the state where Manzanillo is located, purchased the largely undeveloped, financially distressed property at auction for an undisclosed price. The Mexican government had ordered a bankrupt financial institution to liquidate the property and other assets. The developers raised the funds to buy the property last fall in a private placement, Koens said. About 20 investors, mainly family and friends of the developers, put up the needed money within 60 days.

The developers are negotiating with golf course and hotel developers. They also are working with financial institutions and government officials in both countries to create a home-mortgage market in Mexico. Mexicans typically buy homes with cash, and non-citizens may have to purchase homes through Mexican bank trusts, as opposed to obtaining a mortgage.

'Ambassador Bob'

Koens, a former assistant men's basketball coach at the University of Minnesota, is an unabashed Manzanillo promoter. He promised his late mother-in-law, Ardis Peterson, that he would do something special for Manzanillo, where she owned property. That's turning out to be much more than the Snoopy statue his family and others donated to Manzanillo in her memory. Present at the dedication of the sculpture, commissioned by the family of Charles Schultz, were the governor of the state of Colima, the mayors of Manzanillo and St. Paul, and various other local and foreign dignitaries. Snoopy is seen holding a Northern Pike in his right paw (a symbol of Minnesota) and a sailfish in his left (Manzanillo being the sailfish capital of the world). This is the only sculpture that permanently resides outside the U.S., and is a symbol of the cooperation and sisterhood between the cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul and Manzanillo.

Government officials in Manzanillo call Koens "Ambassador Bob" due to his efforts to promote the region. His initiatives include a pledge to donate 10 percent of the development's profits to Manzanillo schools. He also persuaded Minneapolis-based Hobbit Travel and Mendota Heights-based Sun Country Airlines to begin charter flights to the region from the Twin Cities last year. 

"This year, out of all the flights we're running down there, about 80 percent are sold out," Wozniak said. Hobbit has guaranteed nonstop flights on Sun Country between Minneapolis-St. Paul and Manzanillo every Tuesday for 12 weeks this season.

MAP of Manzanillo

Go to page 2 for more info and photos.

Information taken from the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, article by John Share, staff reporter: | (612) 288-2106

Aerial photos of project site by John Frost. Web page: 

Other photos by Susan Dearing, on project site February 15, 2004, and throughout the year in Manzanillo.

For more info on Manzanillo and the state of Colima, order Susan's guidebook.

Bo Derek's photos from her personal web site: