This is the second of five posts about the benefits and challenges of building a baseball academy in Nicaragua. While it focuses on a specific project, the series also will provide insight for Americans looking to pursue sports ventures in Latin America.
This was the overwhelming reaction of friends, family and business associates when they were advised of our plans to build a baseball academy in that country. It was usually followed by one or more of the following:
“It’s politically unstable.”
“You will get kidnapped or killed.”
“Are they still having a revolution?”
Facts are, Nicaragua is the safest country in Central America, the government is elected democratically and, despite the rhetoric of the Ortega regime, there is an overwhelming positive opinion of the U.S. American visitors are warmly welcomed.
The International Baseball Assn. (IBA) academy plans include two full fields, one half-field, pitchers’ mounds, batting cages, dormitory, cafeteria, classrooms, weight room, locker room, trainer’s area and a small, lighted stadium for tournaments.
Given this master plan, there were many advantages to building the facility in Nicaragua:
The price of land is far less than in the U.S. and lower than other countries in the region that have more developed economies and tourism facilities, such as Costa Rica and Panama. The academy plans required about 25 acres, or roughly 15 manzanas (a manzana is a unit of measurement in Nicaragua equaling 1.7 acres). Depending on the location, one manzana would range from $2,000-$10,000.
The cost of construction ranges from $60-85 per square foot.
Labor is abundant and cheap. The total cost to build the facility projected to be a fraction of a similar project in the U.S.
Baseball-tourism is an important component to the project. Nicaragua has emerged as a low-cost alternative to Costa Rica, with many similar natural attractions. The number of tourists has increased every year for the past decade and a growing number of Americans and Canadians are looking at Nicaragua as a retirement location.
There is virtually no competition, in terms of other baseball academies or training programs.
Baseball is the national sport and a unifying element in a country that has pronounced economic, social and political divisions. I sat in meetings attended by conservative and leftist Sandinista officials, strange bedfellows, indeed.
As an aside: A guiding principle during our trips to Nicaragua has been to abstain from political discussions. We continue to carefully adhere to this policy.
The Nicaraguan government recognizes tourist revenue as an important component in reducing poverty and enacted Law 306 to provide tax benefits to foreign companies investing in Nicaragua. IBA would qualify for a 10-year period of tax-exemption and, further, would not be subject to fees for materials imported during that time.
One of the major potential concerns was addressed during a subsequent trip. We felt that it was imperative that IBA have a representative in the country because there is a price structure for Nicas and a much higher one for gringos. We needed a local person to negotiate business deals and supervise construction.
Through the U.S. Embassy, we were introduced to Roger Keeling, an American who had moved to Nicaragua with his family. He had seen a photo in La Prensa (the major daily newspaper in Managua) about our academy plans.
Keeling is a real estate developer and former college baseball player. He became involved in the Gran Pacifica project, the largest private residential development in Nicaragua. Gran Pacifica is a 2,500-acre project on the Pacific coast, an hour from Managua. It provided us an ideal location to combine baseball games and a beach vacation.
We agreed to work together and he added a critical component to the IBA team, providing a presence in Nicaragua, along with knowledge of local business practices and construction expertise.
It was October, 2010, we were on a roll. . . .
Part Two: Plans for ambitious baseball academy in Nicaragua tied to real estate development
Part Three: Doing business in Nicaragua? Think like a Nica
Bob Oettinger has worked in the area of corporate and non-profit management, fund raising, planning, public relations and promotions for more than 25 years. He has served as public relations director for the American Diabetes Association, Southern California Affialite and co-director of Motion Picture and Television Fund’s $50 million capital campaign, before founding Celebrity Outreach in 1989. Bio