British businessman Keith St. Clair remains unfazed about his Puerto Rico investments after some former officials in the Ricardo Rosselló administration were arrested and indicted on federal corruption charges.
For all intents and purposes, it is “business as usual” for him. “We will be partners with Puerto Rico all the way. I am committed,” he said, emphasizing that Puerto Rico is his home and that he is a “boricua” at heart.
St. Clair is the investor and brainchild behind the $70 million Puerto Rico Film District, which should be inaugurated by the summer of 2021. Once completed, the 580,000 square-foot facility, which will include five studios along with production and editing facilities, will be the largest film studio in the Caribbean and is expected to create some 2,000 jobs.
“We are totally committed to Puerto Rico. We came here with a vision and the Convention District is an important part of that. This could be a game changer for Puerto Rico. It could be like downtown LA,” he said.
“We are building the first movie studio south of Atlanta with access to North America, South America and the Caribbean. Mel Gibson is here filming. Everyone in the film business comes here. Puerto Rico is a 100 x 35 film set with mountains, beaches, rainforests…Old San Juan. We are building a one-stop shop in the movie business,” he added.
St. Clair spoke to reporters after Omar Marrero, the executive director of the Convention Center District Authority, announced the ongoing plans for the area. To date, some $122 million in new projects will be invested in the Convention district, which does not include $156 million already earmarked for the mega performance and entertainment venue District Live! that also includes a 175-room hotel. District Live! is expected to be inaugurated next year.
Marrero said all the investment is from the private sector, as the bankrupt Puerto Rico government lacks access to the capital markets to issue bonds. However, federal funds are available for mitigation works through FEMA and Community Development Block Grants, and developers are working with the government to prepare grant proposals for these funds.
He also explained that Puerto Rico, like other states affected by hurricanes and other natural disasters, is waiting for Housing Secretary Ben Carson to release about $8.3 billion in federal mitigation funds for the island, while California, Florida and Texas are waiting for their own funds.
Among the new projects cited by Marrero are the $50 million EcoExploratorio, a museum, aquarium, butterfly garden and educational area focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). Developers have signed a $60,000 a year lease agreement for the 58,000 square-foot complex, which will now allow them to seek capital and apply for the necessary grants, said meteorologist Ada Monzón, who is heading the initiative. The project is clearly in the initial stages, as she said construction won’t begin for at least another two years, depending on how much funding is obtained.
Smaller projects in the area include “Patio,” a Latin cuisine restaurant that was opened last year with an investment of $350,000. Located next to the so-called salty bay, the open-air venue has created 10 new jobs.
A District Container Park is also in the works, featuring shipping containers for sports, gastronomy and other commercial offerings. With an investment of $500,000, the facility should be open later this year. The project hopes to create 100 jobs.
Meanwhile, plans are underway to reopen the former site of Ficus restaurant, right in front of the Convention Center, as another food venue. Marrero said the new eatery should reopen at around the same time as District Live! is inaugurated.