Sunday, July 26, 2009

Nautical Ladder Dead in the Water


According to news reports in a number of Mexican publications, FONATUR (Federal Tourism Promotion Fund) has announced that the much ballyhooed Nautical Ladder's final form has been canceled and the assets of the 10 projects that have either been completed or partially completed will be sold. FONATUR, which over the past six years received more than $1500 million pesos of investment for the project from the federal government, made clear that they no longer have a budget for further investment in it.

Juan Manuel Galarza Tohen, Director General of FONATUR port operations, is cited as saying Merrill Lynch will be the financial agent for the divestiture process. The completed marinas include those in Mazatlan, Sinaloa; Puerto Escondido, La Paz and Santa Rosalia in Baja California Sur; San Felipe in Baja California (Norte); San Blas, Nayarit; Puerto Peñasco and San Carlos, Sonora. In an unfinished state are marinas in Topolobampo, Sinaloa and Santa Rosalillita, BCN.

Galarza Tohen claimed success for the eight operating marinas and scales, saying it has triggered regional development in each case, which was the goal. He added, "The next step is what we will do within the proposed divestiture. The original project is canceled. We stay with 10 marinas."

The ill-conceived project, brought forward by former President Vicente Fox in 2001, was a $2 billion initiative which involved building a “ladder” or nautical route of marinas and tourist sites along the east coast of the Sea of Cortez and the Baja peninsula so that boaters would never have to travel more than 120 nautical miles to the next stop (one day’s travel by boat) - thus, a "nautical stairway." The idea to promote nautical tourism to Baja's 2,000 miles of coastline, as well as another 1,000 miles of coastline on Mexico's northwest mainland coast.

The plan called for 22 full-service marinas: 5 of those already existed, 7 existed but needed to be rebuilt, 10 would be new. It also called for construction of a 70-mile land bridge (or dry canal, a superhighway for cars and trains) across the middle of the Baja peninsula, from Santa Rosalia (on the Pacific side) to Bahia de los Angeles (on the Sea of Cortez side). This land bridge was to facilitate the transportation and delivery of yachts up to 55 feet in length into the calm waters of the Sea of Cortez.

FONATUR anticipated that 52,000 American boat owners would sail to these destinations and a good number would permanently move there. Fonatur estimated that 76,400 boats would be cruising the Baja coastlines by 2010 and that there would be 5.4 million nautical tourists by 2014. Some estimates state that FONATUR over-anticipated the number of yachts by as much as 600%.

The plan has sparked vigorous debate from many levels about its economic and ecological viability, with the disastrous marina at Santa Rosalillita used as the poster child for both promoters and detractors. For more about that, and the failure of the plan in general, see What's Become of the Nautical Ladder at ESPN.

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