Steve Case's Eco-Getaway

Now the former AOL entrepreneur and Time Warner chairman is targeting the high-end ecotourism crowd.
Now the former AOL entrepreneur and Time Warner chairman is targeting the high-end ecotourism crowd. (By Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)
By Kendra Marr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 3, 2007

Growing up in Hawaii, AOL co-founder Steve Case cringed as manicured cookie-cutter hotels took over the islands, wiping out precious natural spaces and crowding out local culture.

Now Case is proposing his own development in paradise: an $800 million, 650-acre luxury resort in Costa Rica. But he says he is aiming to avoid what developers have done to Waikiki, pledging to make the new resort -- which will be called Cacique -- an environmentally friendly and culturally sensitive destination.

"This is like being able to press rewind and start fresh," said Case, who is scheduled to announce the venture today at a news conference with Costa Rican President Oscar Arias.

The announcement also marks the launch of Revolution Places, the new destination resort unit of Revolution, a District holding-and-operating company founded by Case in 2005 with $500 million of his own money after leaving AOL. Other Revolution subsidiaries include Revolution Health, a consumer-oriented health-care company, and Revolution Living, a lifestyle business whose holdings include the Flexcar car-sharing service.

Case says Revolution Places will seek to redefine the luxury resort category by making environmental preservation and cultural authenticity priorities at every property it develops. Cacique, scheduled to open in 2010, is the firm's first resort under that model.

Revolution Places says it plans to integrate the Cacique project with the terrain of the peninsula where it will be built. The resort's 270 guest rooms and 300 private homes will be set among existing rain forest and wildlife. Rock walls will become walls of homes and the shade of the vegetation will replace man-made awnings.

"We want to keep the vegetation as natural as it's always been there," said Philippe Bourguignon, vice chairman of Revolution Places.

In addition to environmentally friendly architecture, the resort will buy power generated by renewable resources. There are also plans for recycling and solid-waste management programs, as well as on-site waste water treatment facilities. The company is in talks with conservation groups and plans to invest in several local initiatives.

However, any development within a complex ecosystem like a rain forest will always make a significant impact, said Daniel Williams, former co-chairman of the American Institute of Architects' Committee on the Environment and author of "Sustainable Design: Ecology, Architecture and Planning."

"If you're going to tear something down and change the ecological value of it, you have to replace an equal amount of rain forest, which is virtually impossible," he said. "The rain forest is a very sophisticated, long-lived system."

Once a remote destination favored by backpackers and surfers, the northwest Pacific corner of Costa Rica has experienced a recent surge of development as the region has caught the interest of well-heeled U.S. consumers. Several luxury hotel and condominium projects -- including one operated by Four Seasons -- have been built in recent years, and more are being planned.

Ecotourism continues to gain popularity as consumers become more sensitive to the environmental impact of their spending decisions, said James Angel, associate professor of finance at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University.

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