by Michael J. Shapiro | April 27, 2016

The Mexican government and Portuguese construction company Mota-Engil detailed their plans Tuesday for a massive joint-venture development in Riviera Nayarit, on Mexico's Pacific coast. The US$1.8 billion project, now called Costa Canuva, will eventually consist of five luxury hotels and more than 2,500 residential units, increasing the region's total room count by 35 to 45 percent. The first phase, debuting in late 2018, will include a 250-room Fairmont hotel and an 18-hole golf course designed by Greg Norman and Lorena Ochoa.

Plans for the site were revealed at the 41st annual Tianguis Turístico, Mexico's largest tourism-industry trade show, taking place April 25-28 this year in Guadalajara. All major stakeholders were represented at a press conference, among them Rafael Lang, CEO of Mota-Engil Tourism; Nayarit Gov. Roberto Sandoval Castaneda; Enrique de la Madrid Cordero, Mexico's secretary of tourism; Kevin Frid, president of the Americas for Fairmont Groups; and former pro golfers and current golf-course designers Greg Norman and Lorena Ochoa. The Costa Canuva development is about 40 miles north of Puerto Vallarta International Airport, and a few hours by car from Guadalajara. A new highway, when complete, should reduce the driving time.

The Fairmont Costa Canuva will offer about a half-dozen villas and a number of residences, in addition to the 250 guest rooms, a spa and about 20,000 square feet of meeting space. Like all of the stakeholders present, Fairmont's Frid focused more on the spectacular natural surroundings of the location than the specifics of construction.

"We can actually build a great hotel anywhere," he said, "but we can't build a great location... This is a beautiful, beautiful spot."

A decade ago, the area was a pristine, somewhat difficult-to-access beach known as Boca de Naranjo, populated with local vendors and an open secret among tourists to nearby beach towns. Several ecosystems are present in the area, including the beach, mangroves and tropical jungle.

"We have to be careful about moving earth around," noted Frid. "But sustainability is a part of our culture at Fairmont, and we have experience in carefully opening properties in a number of spectacular natural locations." Fairmont also has a hotel in the Mayakoba community on Mexico's Caribbean coast, in Riviera Maya, which was similarly developed to be a secluded luxury resort amid pristine natural surroundings. Developers of the new project tout its ecologically conscious bent, social programs and positive effects on the community. The first phase of the project will employ 2,000 people and, when complete, will have 6,000 employees.

The Greg Norman/Lorena Ochoa-designed golf course will be the first collaboration between the two golf stars to debut. The pair first worked together to design a course for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and were named among the top five finalists, but ultimately their design wasn't selected. Their new PGA course at Costa Canuva will cover more than 175 acres and will feature two holes on the beach and two with spectacular panoramic views of the ocean. It will be the first course to bear Guadalajara native Lorena Ochoa's name.