Envisioning a New Jacmel

By Bryan Schaaf on Sunday, May 29, 2011.

Trade is more important to Haiti’s future than aid.  This includes agricultural revitalization, industrial development, and perhaps growth in the tourism sector. Jacmel, Haiti’s city of art, has always been one of its most appealing cities.  While the city took serious damage during the earthquake, the Capponi Group and the Jacmel Advisory Council are collaborating in the development of Jacmel's downtown, including the construction of a hotel.  At the same time, Yele has committed to developing Jacmel’s first tourism training school.  Concept art and video can be found on the Capponi Group website.  Additional information follows.

 

Background:  Jacmel is one the many gems that Haiti has to offer. Once called the pearl of the Caribbean, this incredible and diversified historical treasure is now center stage for a major revitalization project currently under way.  This website has been created to showcase the real Haiti that most have never imagined. By tourists visiting Jacmel, all kinds of new industries will breed.  The governing thesis being advancement of the Haitian people through employment, healthcare, education and permanent housing.  It will re-establish the historical relevance of Jacmel as a commerce and tourist center, thus providing a sustainable socio-economic system for thousands of Haitians. This model will bring hope and a future to the people of Haiti. Jacmel founded in 1698 has a distinguished history of economic and cultural prosperity.  A prominent center for trade and commerce, Jacmel was once a significant port for the exportation of coffee and precious oils.  Today, Jacmel is considered by many to be the cultural capital of Haiti.  Known for its distinctive artistic traditions, Jacmel has produced some of Haiti's best-known painters, writers and poets.  With its rich cultural scene, Jacmel is one of the major production centers for indigenous arts and crafts.  Jacmel is a place apart from the rest of the country. Known for its French colonial architecture, the town has maintained a distinctive, Old World charm.  Beautiful beaches and unique hotels draw Haitians and foreigners alike to Jacmel for calm and relaxation.  In fact, Jacmel’s urban and architectural design is credited with having influenced New Orleans’ French Quarter which was modeled on the center of town of Jacmel.  Today Jacmel has been tentatively accepted as a UNESCO World Heritage site.  The quality of life, services and infrastructure in Jacmel maintain a climate of general peace and stability not easily found in other parts of the nation.  These factors make it the most dynamic and interesting place to begin to comprehend this often-misunderstood nation. Jacmel is host to the most academically progressive French Lycee in the nation and celebrates a popular carnival renowned for its artistic uniqueness each year.  Jacmel is Haiti's fifth largest city, with an estimated population of 60,000.

 

The Hotel: Le Village de Port- Jacmel will consist of a 45 room, 4 star Hotel and Boutique Resort that's affordable for everyone. The resort will have Retail Shops, Art Galleries, 3 Restaurants and 4 Bars, a one of a kind entertainment deck over looking beautiful historic Jacmel and the Jacmel Bay.  The property will include entertainment such as weddings, fashion shoots and all kinds of amazing amenities.  Other amenities include: Spa, Gym, Marina, Bakery and  Boulangerie, Tennis Court by Venus Williams and home of the Venus Williams Haitian After-School Academy.  Also home to Haiti Tours Inc. a full service concierge company providing door to door service to properly and safely experience all Haiti has to offer.  Haiti Tours offers specially trained guides, which have notably graduated from Yele's new Hospitality School.  These guides will escort you to Haiti's most remote and beautiful locations.  It's our passion and pleasure to introduce you to Haiti's Hidden Gem!  Le Village de Port-Jacmel founder Michael Capponi who is one of the pioneers that helped spawn the rejuvenation of South Beach in the early 90's, promises to have true first class events always happening in this resort.  Property developed by Capponi Khawly Vorbe Group.

 

Voluntertourism: Voluntourism is travel which includes volunteering for a charitable cause. In recent years, "bite-sized" volunteer vacations have grown in popularity.  The types of volunteer vacations are diverse, from low-skill work with children in humanitarian camps or providing high-skill medical aid in Haiti.  Volunteer vacations participants are diverse but typically share a desire to “do something good” while also experiencing new places and challenges in locales they might not otherwise visit." (Wikipedia) Join one of the first "socially responsible" trips to Haiti this May 2011 and contribute to the rebuilding and revitalization of this beautiful country.  Meet with organizations such as Fonkoze and Zafen focusing on micro-financing and women's empowerment, visit local Haitian artisans and purchase directly to create a market for their handcrafted goods, help reconstruct a sustainable rural community with an emphasis on providing education, employment, and health care to those in need, work with street kids on art therapy projects and creating murals around Jacmel, and support local Haitian filmmakers from the Cine Institute by screening films at their gorgeous waterfront academy.  The group will also be enjoying a fresh seafood lunch and relaxation time on the beach and at Bassin Bleu - one of the most amazing landscapes in Haiti boasting 3 deep blue pools linked by spectacular waterfalls. Through responsible tourism, Haiti has the potential to start over after the devastating earthquake and develop a thriving and sustainable economy.  Be one of the first responsible tourists to Haiti and do your part to make a positive impact on the rebuilding efforts of this much deserving country and its warm, welcoming people.  Plan your voluntourism trip to Haiti by contacting: kelly@haitivoluntourism.com

 

Jacmel’s Advisory Council:  The Jacmel Advisory Board is a group of dedicated people from all over the world that have united to help revitalize Jacmel while preserving it's arts, culture and traditions.  The board promotes best practices to provide a socio-economic system for thousands of Haitians.  Click here for a list of its members.

 

Tourism, whether targeted to the Diaspora or more broadly, could potentially contribute to the economies of cities such as Jacmel.  While Jacmel has both coastline and cultural resources, so do other Haitian cities.  What makes Jacmel unique is having a plan and public/private partnerships to implement it.  Updates will be posted in the comments section as they become available.

 

Bryan

 

 

Branding Haiti's Jacmel (10/15/2012 - Caribbean Journal)

In June, Haiti Tourism Minister Stephanie Villedrouin unveiled a new logo for Haiti, featuring a hibiscus, the country’s national flower, and a sun. That was the beginning of what Haiti hopes is a changing image of the country, particularly as a destination for travelers. At the heart of the country’s strategy is Jacmel on Haiti’s southern Caribbean coast, where a host of projects are currently underway to preserve and renew the historic seafront city. This week, Villedrouin met with 20 people involved in the Destination Jacmel initiative, which is part of the drive to turn the city into a tourism hub. The group discussed the feasibility and usefulness of projects aimed at completing the rehabilitation programme of Jacmel’s historic centre. They also held a series of focus groups on topics like art, food, culture, urbanization and hotels, along with proposing ideas like the construction of new vehicle parking infrastructure.
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Jacmel’s biggest current project is Le Village de Port-Jacmel, a mixed-use hotel and entertainment complex featuring a 45-room, four-star boutique hotel that is the work of Miami-based hotel magnate Michael Capponi and the Capponi Khawly Vorbe Group. That project, which is slated to open in the spring of 2013, will include art galleries, three restaurants and four bars, along with a spa, according to Capponi Group Haiti. But that’s just part of the development on the way. At the end of July, Haiti’s government officially launched a group of infrastructure projects aimed at rehabilitating the historic centre. Venezuela’s PetroCaribe fund is investing $40 million in similar infrastructure projects in Jacmel, including site remediation, the development of the airport and the construction of a convention centre. Jacmel’s Cap Lamandou Waterview Hotel recently received $2.59 million in new funding, including a $349,000 loan from the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund for physical renovations and upgrades. And the city was also home to a project by global hospitality consulting firm HVS earlier this year to train 120 Haitian students in hospitality and tourism.

Branding Jacmel (Carribean Journal - 10/15/2012)

In June, Haiti Tourism Minister Stephanie Villedrouin unveiled a new logo for Haiti, featuring a hibiscus, the country’s national flower, and a sun. That was the beginning of what Haiti hopes is a changing image of the country, particularly as a destination for travelers. At the heart of the country’s strategy is Jacmel on Haiti’s southern Caribbean coast, where a host of projects are currently underway to preserve and renew the historic seafront city. This week, Villedrouin met with 20 people involved in the Destination Jacmel initiative, which is part of the drive to turn the city into a tourism hub. The group discussed the feasibility and usefulness of projects aimed at completing the rehabilitation programme of Jacmel’s historic centre. They also held a series of focus groups on topics like art, food, culture, urbanization and hotels, along with proposing ideas like the construction of new vehicle parking infrastructure.
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Jacmel’s biggest current project is Le Village de Port-Jacmel, a mixed-use hotel and entertainment complex featuring a 45-room, four-star boutique hotel that is the work of Miami-based hotel magnate Michael Capponi and the Capponi Khawly Vorbe Group. That project, which is slated to open in the spring of 2013, will include art galleries, three restaurants and four bars, along with a spa, according to Capponi Group Haiti. But that’s just part of the development on the way. At the end of July, Haiti’s government officially launched a group of infrastructure projects aimed at rehabilitating the historic centre. Venezuela’s PetroCaribe fund is investing $40 million in similar infrastructure projects in Jacmel, including site remediation, the development of the airport and the construction of a convention centre. Jacmel’s Cap Lamandou Waterview Hotel recently received $2.59 million in new funding, including a $349,000 loan from the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund for physical renovations and upgrades. And the city was also home to a project by global hospitality consulting firm HVS earlier this year to train 120 Haitian students in hospitality and tourism.

Haiti Dream of Tourism Revival (w/ references to Jacmel)

1/23/2012
Washington Post
By William Booth
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JACMEL, HAITI — A couple of rumpled aid workers were sucking down Sunday morning beers at the Hotel Florita here when the minister of tourism rolled up to the curb, followed by the interior minister with body guards toting AR-15s and then the star of the show, New York fashion designer Donna Karan of DKNY. The notables were in Jacmel, the funky art and carnival capital of Haiti, to plot the transformation of the earthquake-rattled port from a faded flower of the Caribbean to a resort destination for jet-setters. “We’re trying to rebrand Haiti,” Tourism Minister Stephanie Balmir Villedrouin said in an interview, her toddler in her arms. “We’re trying to raise the bar a little bit, and so we’re bringing Donna here to help us with our vision.” Said Karan, as she swept through the abandoned Hotel Jacmelienne — its seaside swimming pool green with algae, its overgrown gardens littered with broken glass, coconut husks and discarded condoms — “Oh, we can definitely work with this!” As hard as it may be for young Haitians to believe, their country was once a tourist destination. Even during the bad old days of the Duvalier dictatorships and their creepy bogeymen, the Tontons Macoutes, the tourists came. Or at least a few: See Graham Greene’s 1966 novel “The Comedians,” set incidentally at a hotel and based on a real-life gingerbread mansion, the Hotel Oloffson in the capital; the hotel is still in operation but is now run by Richard Morse, front man for the voodoo rock band RAM and the new government’s special political envoy to the Americas. Today, nobody visits Haiti for fun, except Haitians returning from the diaspora. The arrivals lounge at the Port-au-Prince airport is filled with Baptist missionaries, U.N. bureaucrats and American nurses — not a bona fide tourist in sight.
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Yet across the Caribbean, revenue from tourism represents about 16 percent of gross domestic product, and many island nations, such as the Bahamas, Barbados and Antigua, generate at least a third of their GDP from visitors. For most of the Caribbean, tourists’ dollars, euros and pesos are the No. 1 source of foreign investment. Haiti let its tourism infrastructure degrade over three decades of political instability, violent coups, a U.S. invasion, hurricanes, earthquakes and cholera. But the poorest country in the Western hemisphere has a lot to offer the adventuresome visitor, according to international planners and Haitian officials. The Creole French cuisine here is some of the best in the Caribbean; its artisans are of world renown, its blend of African and Spanish music unique. All this, and voodoo, too. The still-evolving plans for Haiti 2.0 envision Jacmel as a stand-alone destination, meaning tourists would not land in the chaotic, intimidating, impoverished capital, Port-au-Prince, but arrive directly here via air or boat. With development aid from banks and donor nations, the government of former carnival singer and current president Michel Martelly is planning to extend the airport runway at Jacmel so it can accommodate small jets that would shuttle from Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Puerto Rico; and Guadaloupe.
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The forlorn port is also scheduled for restoration to allow big cruise ships to dock. In the late 1800s, Jacmel was an important Caribbean crossroads in Haiti — then called the “Pearl of the Antilles” — and its downtown still harbors the Creole architecture of wrought-iron balconies and shuttered warehouses for coffee, saffron and orange peel. The town reminds many visitors of the French Quarter in New Orleans, and it hosts one of the best carnivals in the Caribbean, as well as a music festival and a film festival, now struggling to gain traction again after the 2010 earthquake. Donna Karan knows Jacmel well; she shot her fall catalog at the Hotel Florita. The New Yorker gamely jumped into the bed of a pickup truck for a tour of town. It stopped at the Manoir Alexandre, once the most prominent building in the city and now a ruin that is slowly being restored by Leon Paul, a Haitian American orthopedic surgeon from New York. “We want to restore the manoir to its former glory, but as you can see, that is a big job,” Paul said as he walked Karan through the property, with its peeling wallpaper, holes in the roof, missing stairs and tilting balcony. He said Jacmel, his home town, will rise from the rubble, and he promised that someday soon, Haitians and visitors will be sitting in his restored mansion, listening to a band, drinking rum and celebrating. As Karan crawled through the ruins, she saw not despair, but hope: “Wow. Look at this. These are my colors. The rust, yellow and blue. Take a picture. This is perfect!”

UNESCO, Azerbaijan Agree to Assist Cultural Sector in Jacmel

Today Azerbaijan
10/28/2011
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Azerbaijan and UNESCO signed an agreement on financial assistance to help cultural sector of Haiti to recover in the wake of the devastating earthquake as part of the 36th session of the General Conference of the organization on 27 October. Under the Agreement on the initiative of the First Lady of Azerbaijan, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Mehriban Aliyeva, Azerbaijan will assign $50,000 to restore cultural facilities in historical part of Jacmel city of Haiti. The project is to start on December current year and last six months. The agreement was signed by UNESCO Assistant Director General for Strategic Planning Hans d'Orville and Azerbaijan`s permanent representative to UNESCO Eleonora Huseynova. The signing ceremony was attended by culture minister of Haiti, Azerbaijani MP B. Aliyev, secretary general of the national commission for UNESCO of Azerbaijan G. Afandiyeva, representatives from UNESCO sections and the permanent representations of Haiti and Azerbaijan and mass media.

Jacmel Shows Signs of Recovery (AP - 9/1/2011)

By TRENTON DANIEL
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JACMEL, Haiti — One of Haiti's few tourist destinations is showing signs of making a strong recovery from the damage it suffered in last year's earthquake. More than 1,400 Haitians holed up in muddy makeshift camps moved into new houses in the southeastern city of Jacmel on Tuesday as part of a ceremony organized by the International Organization for Migration, the United Nations, and other aid groups. "Jacmel in my view reflects the progress that has been made outside Port-au-Prince," Luca Dall'Oglio, head of the IOM, told The Associated Press as he walked among the rows of peach-colored homes. Dall'Oglio attributed the city's progress to the ability to secure land for housing and direct access to local officials. Jacmel, a seaside city of 40,000, was among the cities hardest hit by the Jan. 12 earthquake. Many of the buildings in its downtown historic district buckled and city officials estimated that 800 people died. A city celebrated for its carnival and French Quarter-style architecture, Jacmel has long drawn American and European tourists charmed by its artistic flair and black-sand beaches. It's also been viewed as one of the safest places in Haiti, a city that's largely eluded the political strife associated with Port-au-Prince. The rest of Haiti has largely stumbled along to recovery since the January 2010 earthquake. Port-au-Prince, heavily hit because so many concrete buildings were shoddily made, is still filled with flimsy settlements. The number of people nationwide in the encampments is almost 595,000, compared to a peak of 1.5 million after the quake, according to the IOM, an aid group that focuses on migration issues after disasters. In the countryside, the displaced population has dropped 90 percent, from 300,000 to 30,000 people, Dall'Oglio said. Part of that overall decline stems from evictions on public and private land.
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More than 67,000 people have been evicted since the quake and threats of eviction have increased by 400 percent, U.N. official Nigel Fisher, wrote in a letter Monday. Fisher was among the group of international aid workers and police officials who on Tuesday toured Camp Mayard, named for a street that runs adjacent to the 335-home settlement. Most of the residents came from Jacmel's biggest camp, Pinchinat, a soccer field turned muddy encampment. Frantz Jeannis was among those living in swampy Pinchinat, forced there after his home in downtown Jacmel toppled. "If you compare yourself to people in Port-au-Prince, it's better here," Jeannis, a 29-year-old artisan, said in his doorway as he rocked his two-year-old daughter in his arms. "It's not the same thing at all." Jeannis cited how the tents and tarp structures in Port-au-Prince often collapse in the stormy weather and flood in the rain. The houses in Camp Mayard are "semi-permanent," meaning they are meant to last 15 years and built with concrete foundation. Solar-powered lights illuminate the grounds, laid with gravel to curb flooding. Residents pay 25 cents every day or so for potable water. Central to Jacmel's burgeoning recovery has been a sense of pride long associated with the city. Jacmelians, as residents call themselves, view themselves independent of Haiti. And many took it upon themselves to clean up the rubble from the streets and their property, and not wait for foreign aid workers to do so. "Jacmelians, they put their heads together," said Archille Laguerre, the local leader of Camp Mayard. "Why? They have a spirit of collaboration, a spirit of teamwork and community."

The Pied Piper of Haiti

This blog is absolutely inspiring! I returned from a Missions trip to the Hands and Feet Children's Village in Jacmel, Haiti just 2 months ago, and my life has been forever changed. Haiti is hands down the most beautiful country with the most breath-takingly beautiful people I have ever had the honor of spending a week with. It was immediately evident that my call to Haiti is one of a long-term nature. I fell in love with the country, the culture, the people, and most of all the orphaned children including the many restaveks. Before my return to the states, I knew I would be back long-term. It was an absolute no brainer. As Capponi said above "how could you leave?"
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Once I made it home, I started looking into working as a full time missionary in Haiti. During my time of research, prayer, and thoughtful consideration toward many different hosting organizations, I decided I needed to do something else to help as well. So I started an effort titled "The Rhythm of Hope Project." I created a team, and we set out for donations of musical instruments for the children of Jacmel, Haiti. Musical talent was so naturally evident in the children I spent my week with, without having any of the tools to further express this artistic avenue. Within 2 weeks of it's birth, The Rhythm of Hope gathered all of the instruments orignally desired, and then some, and now 2 months later has accumulated a multitude of instruments and funding for an entire music program at the Hands and Feet Children's Village.
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My work is no where close to done. I am currently looking for an organization to join in Haiti as a full time Missionary. My educational and work experience lie in International Relations, Sociology, and Music. I am very, very impressed with what Capponi has begun in Jacmel, and am incredibly interested in ways that I may be involved in this effort. Please feel free to contact me with any information you may have on this. Thanks!!

The Pied Piper of Jacmel (Poder 360 - June 2011)

By David Adams
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Michael Capponi is bringing together some much needed starpower to rebrand Haiti. Could a hip new caribbean tourist destination be in the making? South Beach nightclub promoter and entrepreneur Michael Capponi is standing in the soon-to-be inaugurated lobby of his latest luxury development. Men are hammering away to restore an historic old building to its former glory. Capponi, 39, is holding forth about the amazing vibe the place has, comparing the semi-derelict building to Ernest Hemingway’s famous old Key West residence, which is a popular tourist museum. “Visitors will enter here,” he says, treading over rubble-strewn debris. “We’re keeping it very traditional-Caribbean style; brick built, open to the outside, no air-conditioning.” Capponi, who made his name in the early 90s on SoBe with a string of nightclubs, is in his element. Famous for promoting venues such as Warsaw, Amnesia, B.E.D. and LIV, he knows ‘the secret sauce,’ as he calls it – ambience, energy, big name people – required to create a new ‘in’ scene. Only this isn’t SoBe, and Capponi isn’t standing in any old derelict building. This is a derelict building in one of the most derelict countries in the world: Haiti. What was he thinking!
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That’s not all. This is no hedonistic SoBe project to create a club space for a few hundred people to drink and dance all night long. Capponi’s new mission involves fixing up a whole city – if not the entire country. This daunting undertaking might sound wildly ambitious, not to say foolhardy. But for this 39-year-old reformed heroin addict the humanitarian challenge is too compelling to ignore. “I think we can revitalize this country completely and make it a place people want to visit,” he says. “It’s doable.” Until last year Capponi had never set foot in Haiti. An avid surfer, he was more familiar with the popular resorts next door in the Dominican Republic, where he liked to go for the waves. But on Jan. 17, 2010, five days after a devastating earthquake hit southern Haiti, killing an estimated 250,000 people, he found himself on a private jet with a relief team he assembled of doctors and a dozen Miami Beach firemen. It wasn’t a new role for Capponi, who had long been involved in humanitarian causes.
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The experience marked him for life. Despite the shocking injuries and gaping, maggot-invested wounds he helped clean, he fell in love with Haiti, and its people. Capponi has been back 32 times since that visit. At first it was as just one of the many relief workers. But that soon evolved into a deeper commitment. He bought 700 tents and built a camp for 3,000 homeless earthquake victims in the capital Port-au-Prince, paid for by several fundraisers Capponi organized with the United Way of Miami-Dade, of which he is a board member. Now he has gone one step further. Frustrated by the slow pace of the international recovery effort and his desire to resettle the tent city dwellers, Capponi has launched a tourism redevelopment project in Jacmel, a quaint town on the south coast known for its local artists and papier-maché handicrafts. The idea was born last December when he was invited to visit Jacmel by actress Maria Bello, and her friend, venture capitalist Reza Bundy. Capponi was in a quandary. His support for the tent city was dragging on far longer than he had planned. But he couldn’t abandon the families who had come to depend on him so heavily. Single, with no children of his own, Capponi had grown attached to the camp kids who clung to him every time he visited shouting his name ‘Miko! Miko!’
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“I thought I was going to be out of there in six months and the international community would take over,” he says. “But how do you walk away?” Capponi had barely set foot in Jacmel before he realized what his next move would be. The town, with a population of about 60,000, has produced some of Haiti’s best-known painters, writers and poets. Its distinctive French colonial architecture and rich cultural scene give it an Old World charm that makes it stand out from the rest of the country. In fact, Jacmel’s urban and architectural design is credited with having influenced New Orleans’ French Quarter. He saw the potential right away, and immediately began creating a new vision for the historic downtown district. In no time at all he had teamed up with several local Haitian business leaders, eager to see the town reborn. Within weeks Capponi had architectural plans ready, as well as a rendering of how the new Jacmel might look. Next he began bringing families from his tent camp in Port-au-Prince to a new camp in Jacmel financed by the United Way and the Miami-Dade County League of Cities.
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Capponi’s project has since mushroomed into a plan to redevelop the city and the surrounding coastline, involving a group of American and Haitian activists and entrepreneurs, all united in the quest to rebrand the country as a hip tourist destination. “This is a dream come true. We want to be a Caribbean cultural destination,” says Yanick Martin, the director of the state’s regional tourism office, who owns an art gallery in downtown Jacmel. “Michael has developed this crush on Haiti,” says Danielle Saint-Lot, a former Tourism Minister who lives in Jacmel. “What’s interesting about Michael’s project is that it has a concrete business perspective. That’s what we needed, his business approach.” Some of the group have been involved in Jacmel for some time, including Bello and New York film director David Belle who runs a film school in Jacmel, the Ciné Institute. Others, such as legendary designer Donna Karan and tennis star Venus Williams, were introduced to Haiti after the earthquake, along with Capponi.
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Belle is a member of the group Artists for Peace and Justice, which has attracted major star power to Haiti, including recent visitors Penelope Cruz, Clint Eastwood, Demi Moore, Ben Stiller and Victoria’s Secret head photographer, Russell James. Film director Paul Haggis (Crash) recently gave a master class to students at the Ciné Institute. “There’s a great synergy behind what Michael is doing. I stand shoulder to shoulder with him,” says Belle, who hopes to attract the New York and Miami Beach fashion industry to Jacmel, providing work experience for students at the film school. “There’s such a wealth of talent here that needs to be nurtured.” It was Belle who persuaded Karan to visit. “There’s been a trend of Hollywood endorsing Haiti from the angle of corporate social responsibility. Donna is part of that, but she’s gone the extra step seeing where the talent lies,” he says. Bello fell in love with Jacmel three years ago, and now divides her time between Los Angeles and Haiti. She recently finished filming the pilot for a U.S. version of the hit British detective series Prime Suspect, due out on NBC in the fall, as well as a movie, Beautiful Boy, with Michael Sheen, to be released in June. “When you realize that Haiti is only one-and-a-half hours [by plane] off our shores, it makes you want to do something about it,” she says. A social activist, Bello created her own women’s health program, We Advance, in Port-au-Prince, where she also supports a pediatric hospital, St. Damian and a new school project for earthquake victims.
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After she discovered Jacmel she bought land with two Haitian partners and is building a beachfront eco-lodge on Cabique beach, a sandy, palm-lined half moon bay a few miles east of Jacmel. Bello, Belle and others credit Capponi for his vision and welcome his promotional zeal to transform Haiti’s image. “Michael lit the fire,” says one of Bello’s Haitian partners, restaurateur Lorraine Silvera, a paintbrush in one hand touching up her beachfront home at Cabique. “He’s a doer. He’s totally dedicated and he’s done so much in such a short time.” While his involvement in Haiti might seem a far cry from his fast life on SoBe, it does not surprise those who know him well. “Michael seems to have found his calling,” says Miami Beach commissioner and condo lawyer, Michael Gongora. “He’s been through a lot of adversity and he clearly wants to give back.”
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Capponi’s character was molded by the school of hard knocks. His parents moved to Miami from Belgium when he was small. His father was an endurance swimmer who twice broke the record for swimming the English Channel. A friend persuaded him to invest in Coconut Grove’s Mayfair development in the early 80s. The project failed and Capponi’s parents divorced. Capponi ran away. He later returned to live with his mother in Key Biscayne, but soon began to run wild with the local kids, the ‘Key Rats’. He recalls slipping out his bedroom window aged 13 to spend nights with his friends in Crandon Park taking LSD and listening to The Doors and Led Zeppelin. He began working for nightclubs at 15, organizing private parties, racing up and down Washington and Collins on his skateboard posting flyers. By his own estimate he was earning as much as $10,000 a month before he even graduated from high school. He left home his senior year and rented an apartment on South Beach. It wasn’t such a strange move. The club scene runs in his blood. Both his father and grandfather were famous nightclub owners in Europe.
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A 1993 Miami New Times article, Confessions of a Lounge Lizard, by Tom Austin, described Capponi as “a promoter with a higher calling.” Austin went on, “Like a rock star, Capponi has accomplished at a very young age the neat trick of having money, celebrity, and the attention of beautiful women without the sacrifice of abandoning his personal style or buying into a corporate structure.” But his drug habit spun out of control when he started using heroin. Before long he had an $800-a-day habit, and had lost his apartment in South Pointe Towers. By the winter of 1995 he wound up homeless on the streets of New York. After enduring a blizzard that brought with it four feet of snow, he accepted the offer of a plane ticket from his father to enter a methadone program in Belgium. But his treatment had barely begun before he collapsed in a coma and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The tumor was benign though removing it required major surgery and three months in the hospital. As if that wasn’t enough, while he was recovering his father had a stroke and died. That was when Capponi decided to turn his life around. After a detox period in Canada he found himself drawn back to Miami Beach. “I helped make Miami Beach part of what it is and I left in disgrace,” he says over a plate of conch at a Jacmel hotel overlooking the bay. “I had to come back and fix that.” He didn’t take long to reinvent himself, but second time around would be different. “I felt now my life had to have some meaningful purpose,” he says. In 2005, he started the Capponi Group, which includes construction, design and development components.

He als.o threw himself into community activity, especially with the homeless. “Michael is wonderful. He has a lot of compassion,” says Marilyn Brummitt of the Miami Rescue Mission which runs three centers for the homeless in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Capponi has helped organize hundreds of volunteers each year to feed the homeless at Thanksgiving, Christmas and on Good Friday. He also helped finance the refurbishing of the Rescue Mission’s medical clinic, for which he was given a community award in 2009 in a ceremony presided over by First Lady Michelle Obama. Combining his work with the homeless in Miami and Haiti makes perfect sense, he says. “Living in a material, lavish world you’re not always that comfortable with it, but then you go back to Haiti and you see how that is and you’re very appreciative of what you have....It puts a full perspective on everything.” Capponi moves fast. The motto of his construction company in Miami Beach is ‘Watch Our Speed.’ In Jacmel he has his hands full. “The first thing we are going to do is clean up the beach,” he says driving over the litter-strewn sand in a rented land cruiser, as, nearby, a number of goats and pigs nose through the trash.
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There’s a few ‘first things’ that need to be done, but Capponi is not daunted. “I see the road paved and a bar over there,” he says, pointing to some thatched huts under palms swaying in the salty breeze. The city’s only beach hotel, La Jacmelienne, sits empty. The last time it was full was in 1994, when President Bill Clinton sent in U.S. Special Forces to oust a military regime. “Right now there’s no tourists, but these tables could be full of people having tropical drinks,” Capponi adds. “I see a stage here, full moon beach parties with Haitian music....” Capponi and his partners have already begun work on restoring a 19th century former coffee sorting house on the Jacmel seafront and making it into a 44-room, boutique hotel. The project includes a spa, adjacent shops, including a French patisserie, and a tourism information center to promote local attractions including hiking tours to local waterfalls, horseback riding, boat trips to picnic on out-of-the-way beaches, scuba diving and water sports. A second floor infinity-edged pool, above the old coffee sorting pits will offer a spectacular view over the bay. The hotel will also feature a Venus Williams tennis academy with its use split between hotel guests and an after-school program for the local kids.
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The hotel is scheduled to open in November as the first phase of the project. “Donna [Karan] loves it. She was walking through here the other day saying ‘I’m picking the colors right now, and the furniture,’” Capponi adds. Karan is also working with local artisans to develop lines of handicrafts to sell to tourists, as well as exporting to her high end outlets in the U.S. Capponi persuaded Haitian hip hop artist Wyclef Jean to fund a hospitality school to train local Haitians for the coming tourism boom. Meanwhile, Belle plans to expand the Cine Institute into a full-fledged university for the arts. “This is where I see the fashion shoots happening,” says Capponi pointing to a secluded beach during a boat ride along the coast with his partner, Joel Khawly, a wealthy local businessman. “It’s raw Haiti, unspoiled and beautiful.” Another spot on the coast will host an international Wanderlust yoga festival in February.
.
Capponi believes the restoration of Jacmel could provide a new sustainable development model for Haiti, largely independent of the major international government-funded agencies, oft criticized for waste and inefficiency. Tourism still faces major hurdles in Haiti due to poor infrastructure such as electricity and roads, though the country does have nationwide cellphone coverage. Jacmel is blessed with a new airport building, though the runway is too short for large international passenger jets. Instead, visitors must either travel by small plane, or by road from Port-au-Prince, a 46-mile journey through teeming slums and over a mountain range, that can take almost three hours. Capponi’s friends are working on a plan to fly visitors in from the neighboring Dominican Republic which has better short distance airlines and regular flights to Haiti. His plans aren’t without critics. Some Haiti advocates look askance at money-making ventures in the aftermath of the earthquake. But Capponi believes a new approach to the country is needed. While he supports the multi-billion dollar efforts of foreign governments and aid agencies to reconstruct Haiti, “it became apparent to me that you can’t keep giving people stuff for free,” Capponi says. “We need to make a gradual shift from charity to empowerment. We need to empower the people of Haiti and encourage them to use their talents.” Capponi and his friends are also adamant that their plan for Haiti seeks not to exploit, but rather to offer a helping hand to a nation in need. “Haiti is very, very special. It’s not going to be the Cayman Islands or the Bahamas, with cruise ships and golf courses,” Capponi says. “That’s not what we are doing here. We are here to restore and preserve the local culture of Haiti and showcase it to the world.”
.
Instead, the idea behind the Jacmel redevelopment is more about encouraging social tourism, or ‘voluntourism,’ where investors seek to promote the local culture as well as the beaches. “We’re here to kind of help repaint the image of what Haiti has,” says Capponi. He recognizes that it may be an uphill battle. “If I wanted to start a business, open a hotel, this is not where I would start,” he says. “But in terms of life accomplishments, if we pull this off it will be worth it. I could die with a grin on my face and say ‘I had a hand in it.’”

The Pied Piper of Jacmel (Poder 360 - June 2011)

By David Adams
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Michael Capponi is bringing together some much needed starpower to rebrand Haiti. Could a hip new caribbean tourist destination be in the making? South Beach nightclub promoter and entrepreneur Michael Capponi is standing in the soon-to-be inaugurated lobby of his latest luxury development. Men are hammering away to restore an historic old building to its former glory. Capponi, 39, is holding forth about the amazing vibe the place has, comparing the semi-derelict building to Ernest Hemingway’s famous old Key West residence, which is a popular tourist museum. “Visitors will enter here,” he says, treading over rubble-strewn debris. “We’re keeping it very traditional-Caribbean style; brick built, open to the outside, no air-conditioning.” Capponi, who made his name in the early 90s on SoBe with a string of nightclubs, is in his element. Famous for promoting venues such as Warsaw, Amnesia, B.E.D. and LIV, he knows ‘the secret sauce,’ as he calls it – ambience, energy, big name people – required to create a new ‘in’ scene. Only this isn’t SoBe, and Capponi isn’t standing in any old derelict building. This is a derelict building in one of the most derelict countries in the world: Haiti. What was he thinking!
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That’s not all. This is no hedonistic SoBe project to create a club space for a few hundred people to drink and dance all night long. Capponi’s new mission involves fixing up a whole city – if not the entire country. This daunting undertaking might sound wildly ambitious, not to say foolhardy. But for this 39-year-old reformed heroin addict the humanitarian challenge is too compelling to ignore. “I think we can revitalize this country completely and make it a place people want to visit,” he says. “It’s doable.” Until last year Capponi had never set foot in Haiti. An avid surfer, he was more familiar with the popular resorts next door in the Dominican Republic, where he liked to go for the waves. But on Jan. 17, 2010, five days after a devastating earthquake hit southern Haiti, killing an estimated 250,000 people, he found himself on a private jet with a relief team he assembled of doctors and a dozen Miami Beach firemen. It wasn’t a new role for Capponi, who had long been involved in humanitarian causes.
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The experience marked him for life. Despite the shocking injuries and gaping, maggot-invested wounds he helped clean, he fell in love with Haiti, and its people. Capponi has been back 32 times since that visit. At first it was as just one of the many relief workers. But that soon evolved into a deeper commitment. He bought 700 tents and built a camp for 3,000 homeless earthquake victims in the capital Port-au-Prince, paid for by several fundraisers Capponi organized with the United Way of Miami-Dade, of which he is a board member. Now he has gone one step further. Frustrated by the slow pace of the international recovery effort and his desire to resettle the tent city dwellers, Capponi has launched a tourism redevelopment project in Jacmel, a quaint town on the south coast known for its local artists and papier-maché handicrafts. The idea was born last December when he was invited to visit Jacmel by actress Maria Bello, and her friend, venture capitalist Reza Bundy. Capponi was in a quandary. His support for the tent city was dragging on far longer than he had planned. But he couldn’t abandon the families who had come to depend on him so heavily. Single, with no children of his own, Capponi had grown attached to the camp kids who clung to him every time he visited shouting his name ‘Miko! Miko!’
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“I thought I was going to be out of there in six months and the international community would take over,” he says. “But how do you walk away?” Capponi had barely set foot in Jacmel before he realized what his next move would be. The town, with a population of about 60,000, has produced some of Haiti’s best-known painters, writers and poets. Its distinctive French colonial architecture and rich cultural scene give it an Old World charm that makes it stand out from the rest of the country. In fact, Jacmel’s urban and architectural design is credited with having influenced New Orleans’ French Quarter. He saw the potential right away, and immediately began creating a new vision for the historic downtown district. In no time at all he had teamed up with several local Haitian business leaders, eager to see the town reborn. Within weeks Capponi had architectural plans ready, as well as a rendering of how the new Jacmel might look. Next he began bringing families from his tent camp in Port-au-Prince to a new camp in Jacmel financed by the United Way and the Miami-Dade County League of Cities.
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Capponi’s project has since mushroomed into a plan to redevelop the city and the surrounding coastline, involving a group of American and Haitian activists and entrepreneurs, all united in the quest to rebrand the country as a hip tourist destination. “This is a dream come true. We want to be a Caribbean cultural destination,” says Yanick Martin, the director of the state’s regional tourism office, who owns an art gallery in downtown Jacmel. “Michael has developed this crush on Haiti,” says Danielle Saint-Lot, a former Tourism Minister who lives in Jacmel. “What’s interesting about Michael’s project is that it has a concrete business perspective. That’s what we needed, his business approach.” Some of the group have been involved in Jacmel for some time, including Bello and New York film director David Belle who runs a film school in Jacmel, the Ciné Institute. Others, such as legendary designer Donna Karan and tennis star Venus Williams, were introduced to Haiti after the earthquake, along with Capponi.
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Belle is a member of the group Artists for Peace and Justice, which has attracted major star power to Haiti, including recent visitors Penelope Cruz, Clint Eastwood, Demi Moore, Ben Stiller and Victoria’s Secret head photographer, Russell James. Film director Paul Haggis (Crash) recently gave a master class to students at the Ciné Institute. “There’s a great synergy behind what Michael is doing. I stand shoulder to shoulder with him,” says Belle, who hopes to attract the New York and Miami Beach fashion industry to Jacmel, providing work experience for students at the film school. “There’s such a wealth of talent here that needs to be nurtured.” It was Belle who persuaded Karan to visit. “There’s been a trend of Hollywood endorsing Haiti from the angle of corporate social responsibility. Donna is part of that, but she’s gone the extra step seeing where the talent lies,” he says. Bello fell in love with Jacmel three years ago, and now divides her time between Los Angeles and Haiti. She recently finished filming the pilot for a U.S. version of the hit British detective series Prime Suspect, due out on NBC in the fall, as well as a movie, Beautiful Boy, with Michael Sheen, to be released in June. “When you realize that Haiti is only one-and-a-half hours [by plane] off our shores, it makes you want to do something about it,” she says. A social activist, Bello created her own women’s health program, We Advance, in Port-au-Prince, where she also supports a pediatric hospital, St. Damian and a new school project for earthquake victims.
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After she discovered Jacmel she bought land with two Haitian partners and is building a beachfront eco-lodge on Cabique beach, a sandy, palm-lined half moon bay a few miles east of Jacmel. Bello, Belle and others credit Capponi for his vision and welcome his promotional zeal to transform Haiti’s image. “Michael lit the fire,” says one of Bello’s Haitian partners, restaurateur Lorraine Silvera, a paintbrush in one hand touching up her beachfront home at Cabique. “He’s a doer. He’s totally dedicated and he’s done so much in such a short time.” While his involvement in Haiti might seem a far cry from his fast life on SoBe, it does not surprise those who know him well. “Michael seems to have found his calling,” says Miami Beach commissioner and condo lawyer, Michael Gongora. “He’s been through a lot of adversity and he clearly wants to give back.”
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Capponi’s character was molded by the school of hard knocks. His parents moved to Miami from Belgium when he was small. His father was an endurance swimmer who twice broke the record for swimming the English Channel. A friend persuaded him to invest in Coconut Grove’s Mayfair development in the early 80s. The project failed and Capponi’s parents divorced. Capponi ran away. He later returned to live with his mother in Key Biscayne, but soon began to run wild with the local kids, the ‘Key Rats’. He recalls slipping out his bedroom window aged 13 to spend nights with his friends in Crandon Park taking LSD and listening to The Doors and Led Zeppelin. He began working for nightclubs at 15, organizing private parties, racing up and down Washington and Collins on his skateboard posting flyers. By his own estimate he was earning as much as $10,000 a month before he even graduated from high school. He left home his senior year and rented an apartment on South Beach. It wasn’t such a strange move. The club scene runs in his blood. Both his father and grandfather were famous nightclub owners in Europe.
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A 1993 Miami New Times article, Confessions of a Lounge Lizard, by Tom Austin, described Capponi as “a promoter with a higher calling.” Austin went on, “Like a rock star, Capponi has accomplished at a very young age the neat trick of having money, celebrity, and the attention of beautiful women without the sacrifice of abandoning his personal style or buying into a corporate structure.” But his drug habit spun out of control when he started using heroin. Before long he had an $800-a-day habit, and had lost his apartment in South Pointe Towers. By the winter of 1995 he wound up homeless on the streets of New York. After enduring a blizzard that brought with it four feet of snow, he accepted the offer of a plane ticket from his father to enter a methadone program in Belgium. But his treatment had barely begun before he collapsed in a coma and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The tumor was benign though removing it required major surgery and three months in the hospital. As if that wasn’t enough, while he was recovering his father had a stroke and died. That was when Capponi decided to turn his life around. After a detox period in Canada he found himself drawn back to Miami Beach. “I helped make Miami Beach part of what it is and I left in disgrace,” he says over a plate of conch at a Jacmel hotel overlooking the bay. “I had to come back and fix that.” He didn’t take long to reinvent himself, but second time around would be different. “I felt now my life had to have some meaningful purpose,” he says. In 2005, he started the Capponi Group, which includes construction, design and development components.

He als.o threw himself into community activity, especially with the homeless. “Michael is wonderful. He has a lot of compassion,” says Marilyn Brummitt of the Miami Rescue Mission which runs three centers for the homeless in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Capponi has helped organize hundreds of volunteers each year to feed the homeless at Thanksgiving, Christmas and on Good Friday. He also helped finance the refurbishing of the Rescue Mission’s medical clinic, for which he was given a community award in 2009 in a ceremony presided over by First Lady Michelle Obama. Combining his work with the homeless in Miami and Haiti makes perfect sense, he says. “Living in a material, lavish world you’re not always that comfortable with it, but then you go back to Haiti and you see how that is and you’re very appreciative of what you have....It puts a full perspective on everything.” Capponi moves fast. The motto of his construction company in Miami Beach is ‘Watch Our Speed.’ In Jacmel he has his hands full. “The first thing we are going to do is clean up the beach,” he says driving over the litter-strewn sand in a rented land cruiser, as, nearby, a number of goats and pigs nose through the trash.
.
There’s a few ‘first things’ that need to be done, but Capponi is not daunted. “I see the road paved and a bar over there,” he says, pointing to some thatched huts under palms swaying in the salty breeze. The city’s only beach hotel, La Jacmelienne, sits empty. The last time it was full was in 1994, when President Bill Clinton sent in U.S. Special Forces to oust a military regime. “Right now there’s no tourists, but these tables could be full of people having tropical drinks,” Capponi adds. “I see a stage here, full moon beach parties with Haitian music....” Capponi and his partners have already begun work on restoring a 19th century former coffee sorting house on the Jacmel seafront and making it into a 44-room, boutique hotel. The project includes a spa, adjacent shops, including a French patisserie, and a tourism information center to promote local attractions including hiking tours to local waterfalls, horseback riding, boat trips to picnic on out-of-the-way beaches, scuba diving and water sports. A second floor infinity-edged pool, above the old coffee sorting pits will offer a spectacular view over the bay. The hotel will also feature a Venus Williams tennis academy with its use split between hotel guests and an after-school program for the local kids.
.
The hotel is scheduled to open in November as the first phase of the project. “Donna [Karan] loves it. She was walking through here the other day saying ‘I’m picking the colors right now, and the furniture,’” Capponi adds. Karan is also working with local artisans to develop lines of handicrafts to sell to tourists, as well as exporting to her high end outlets in the U.S. Capponi persuaded Haitian hip hop artist Wyclef Jean to fund a hospitality school to train local Haitians for the coming tourism boom. Meanwhile, Belle plans to expand the Cine Institute into a full-fledged university for the arts. “This is where I see the fashion shoots happening,” says Capponi pointing to a secluded beach during a boat ride along the coast with his partner, Joel Khawly, a wealthy local businessman. “It’s raw Haiti, unspoiled and beautiful.” Another spot on the coast will host an international Wanderlust yoga festival in February.
.
Capponi believes the restoration of Jacmel could provide a new sustainable development model for Haiti, largely independent of the major international government-funded agencies, oft criticized for waste and inefficiency. Tourism still faces major hurdles in Haiti due to poor infrastructure such as electricity and roads, though the country does have nationwide cellphone coverage. Jacmel is blessed with a new airport building, though the runway is too short for large international passenger jets. Instead, visitors must either travel by small plane, or by road from Port-au-Prince, a 46-mile journey through teeming slums and over a mountain range, that can take almost three hours. Capponi’s friends are working on a plan to fly visitors in from the neighboring Dominican Republic which has better short distance airlines and regular flights to Haiti. His plans aren’t without critics. Some Haiti advocates look askance at money-making ventures in the aftermath of the earthquake. But Capponi believes a new approach to the country is needed. While he supports the multi-billion dollar efforts of foreign governments and aid agencies to reconstruct Haiti, “it became apparent to me that you can’t keep giving people stuff for free,” Capponi says. “We need to make a gradual shift from charity to empowerment. We need to empower the people of Haiti and encourage them to use their talents.” Capponi and his friends are also adamant that their plan for Haiti seeks not to exploit, but rather to offer a helping hand to a nation in need. “Haiti is very, very special. It’s not going to be the Cayman Islands or the Bahamas, with cruise ships and golf courses,” Capponi says. “That’s not what we are doing here. We are here to restore and preserve the local culture of Haiti and showcase it to the world.”
.
Instead, the idea behind the Jacmel redevelopment is more about encouraging social tourism, or ‘voluntourism,’ where investors seek to promote the local culture as well as the beaches. “We’re here to kind of help repaint the image of what Haiti has,” says Capponi. He recognizes that it may be an uphill battle. “If I wanted to start a business, open a hotel, this is not where I would start,” he says. “But in terms of life accomplishments, if we pull this off it will be worth it. I could die with a grin on my face and say ‘I had a hand in it.’”

Haitian President Huddles with Miami Developers (6/27/2011)

Miami Today
By Zachary Fagenson
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Miami sees plenty of business missions from around the globe jet into town for a few days to look for opportunities. Few, however, are anything like Haitian President Joseph Michel Martelly coming in for face-to-face meetings with developers with money and plans to develop tourism attractions on the island. In his first official visit to the US since taking office May 14, he held court at a private fundraiser at Miami Beach's Soho House on Saturday with an enthusiastic crowd of more than 100. After brief comments and a welcome from Miami Beach Commissioner Jerry Libbin and Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness, Mr. Martelly laughed his way through a flurry of handshakes and well-wishers to get down to business. He said he was in town to tell potential investors that Haiti is open for business, particularly investment, and is in the process of doing everything it can to get the ball rolling. "We need to create jobs, and in order to create jobs we need to create security," Mr. Martelly said. "We need to let [investors] know we're going to change our laws, our investment laws, and let them know we will secure their investments."
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A devastating earthquake in January 2010 leveled much of Haiti's capital city Port-Au-Prince. Though thousands still live in tent cities around the nation, Mr. Martelly's administration is emphasizing foreign direct investment, particularly tourism, to leverage its location in the Caribbean. The country currently offers incentives to investors through the Centre de Facilitation des Investissements, called the CFI, which among other things offers investors and hotel developers tax exemptions for 15 years. "The old mentality was you need to know somebody, but we have framework for investment. The framework is the law," said presidential adviser Patrick Rouzier. Very often, he added, there are land disputes when an investor comes into the country looking to develop a piece of property. The new administration, Mr. Martelly said, will come and declare the land state domain, send the two parties to court and back whoever prevails. Small groups with armed with blueprints and laptops declined to discuss their projects but were shuttled in and out of meetings with the president and his team throughout the evening. The goal seemed to be to get projects similar to the one Miami-based Capponi Group and the Haiti Invest Team are developing in Jacmel on Haiti's Southern coast. The project has served as a beacon for possible redevelopment of Haiti and drawn international attention, most recently from designer Donna Karan.
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At the same time, Mr. Rouzier said the country has several proposals for infrastructure projects, such as an international airport, but he warned investors not to "wait for everything to be perfect. "It will never be perfect," he added. Beyond brick-and-mortar infrastructure, Haiti needs to continue developing intangibles that the new government has put in place. "Before any investor comes in, it needs a prime minister and it needs to facilitate investments so that foreigners know how to invest," said Reza Bundy, CEO of Mota, which helps facilitate used car sales and is a founder of the Haiti Investment Team. The Haitian parliament recently rejected Mr. Martelly's choice for prime minister, Daniel-Gerard Rouzier. Haiti "needs to create an investment facilitation committee focused on foreign investments and basically make sure that the opportunities in the country are recognized in a way that gives companies looking to make investment a real structure looking-glass into the opportunity," Mr. Bundy added. "The government needs to create a matrix of who those people are for the foreign investors coming in." Once a prime minister is in place, he said, that process can move forward. For hard infrastructure, the real opportunity is in power."Sixty percent of their [gross domestic product] is spent buying oil for power generators," Mr. Bundy said. "Energy expenditure in Haiti is what keeps Haiti poor. [When] you have an electrical grid system, then you have the ability to fundamentally change infrastructure."

Capponi Has a Plan for Haiti (Miami Herald - 6/13/2011)

By David Adams
Special from Poder Magazine
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JACMEL, Haiti -- South Beach nightclub promoter and entrepreneur Michael Capponi is standing in the soon-to-be inaugurated lobby of his latest luxury development. Men are hammering away to restore an historic old building to its former glory. Capponi is holding forth about the amazing vibe the place has, comparing the semi-derelict building to Ernest Hemingway’s famous old Key West residence, which is a popular tourist museum. “Visitors will enter here,” he says, treading over rubble-strewn debris. “We’re keeping it very traditional-Caribbean style; brick built, open to the outside, no air-conditioning.” The 39-year-old Capponi, who made his name in the early ’90s on SoBe with a string of nightclubs, is in his element. Famous for promoting venues like Warsaw, Amnesia, B.E.D. and LIV, he knows “the secret sauce,” as he calls it – ambience, energy, big-name people – required to create a new in scene. Only this isn’t SoBe, and Capponi isn’t standing in any old derelict building. This is a derelict building in one of the most derelict countries in the world: Haiti. And that’s not all. Capponi’s new mission involves fixing up a whole city – if not the entire country. “I think we can revitalize this country completely and make it a place people want to visit,” he says. “It’s doable.”
.
Until last year Capponi had never set foot in Haiti. But on Jan. 17, 2010, five days after a devastating earthquake hit southern Haiti, killing an estimated 250,000 people, he found himself on a private jet with a relief team he assembled of doctors and a dozen Miami Beach firefighters. It wasn’t a new role for Capponi, who had long been involved in humanitarian causes. The experience marked him for life. Capponi has been back 32 times. At first it was as just one of the many relief workers. But that soon evolved into a deeper commitment. He bought 700 tents and built a camp for 3,000 homeless earthquake victims in the capital Port-au-Prince, paid for by several fundraisers Capponi organized with the United Way of Miami-Dade, of which he is a board member. Now he has gone one step further. Frustrated by the slow pace of the international recovery effort and his desire to resettle the tent city dwellers, Capponi has launched a tourism redevelopment project in Jacmel, a quaint town on the south coast known for its local artists and papier-maché handicrafts.
.
The idea was born last December when he was invited to visit Jacmel by actress Maria Bello and her friend, venture capitalist Reza Bundy. He saw the potential right away, and immediately began creating a new vision for the historic downtown district. In no time he had teamed up with Haitian business leaders eager to see the town reborn. Within weeks Capponi had architectural plans ready, as well as a rendering of how the new Jacmel might look. Next he began bringing families from his tent camp in Port-au-Prince to a new camp in Jacmel financed by the United Way and the Miami-Dade County League of Cities. Capponi’s project has since mushroomed into a plan to redevelop the city and the surrounding coastline, involving a group of American and Haitian activists and entrepreneurs, all united in the quest to rebrand the country as a hip tourist destination. “This is a dream come true. We want to be a Caribbean cultural destination,” says Yanick Martin, the director of the state’s regional tourism office, who owns an art gallery in Jacmel. Michael has developed this crush on Haiti,” says Danielle Saint-Lot, a former tourism minister who lives in Jacmel. “What’s interesting about Michael’s project is that it has a concrete business perspective. That’s what we needed, his business approach.” Some of the group have been involved in Jacmel for some time, including Bello and New York film director David Belle who runs a film school in Jacmel, the Ciné Institute. Others, such as legendary designer Donna Karan and tennis star Venus Williams, were intro.duced to Haiti after the earthquake, along with Capponi.
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“Michael seems to have found his calling,” says Miami Beach commissioner and condo lawyer Michael Gongora. “He’s been through a lot of adversity and he clearly wants to give back.” Capponi’s character was molded by the school of hard knocks. He began working for nightclubs at 15, organizing private parties, racing up and down Washington and Collins on his skateboard posting fliers. By his own estimate he was earning as much as $10,000 a month before he even graduated from high school. But his drug habit spun out of control and by the winter of 1995 he wound up homeless on the streets of New York, before he accepted the offer of a plane ticket from his father to enter a methadone program in Belgium. His treatment had barely begun before he collapsed in a coma and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The tumor was benign, though removing it required major surgery and three months in the hospital. As if that wasn’t enough, while he was recovering his father had a stroke and died. That was when Capponi decided to turn his life around. After a detox period in Canada he found himself drawn back to Miami Beach. “I helped make Miami Beach part of what it is and I left in disgrace,” he says over a plate of conch at a Jacmel hotel overlooking the bay. “I had to come back and fix that.”
.
In 2005, he started the Capponi Group, which includes construction, design and development components. He also threw himself into community activity, especially with the homeless. “Michael is wonderful. He has a lot of compassion,” says Marilyn Brummitt of the Miami Rescue Mission, which runs three centers for the homeless in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Combining his work with the homeless in Miami and Haiti makes perfect sense, he says. “Living in a material, lavish world you’re not always that comfortable with it, but then you go back to Haiti and you see how that is and you’re very appreciative of what you have.... It puts a full perspective on everything.” In Jacmel, he has his hands full. “The first thing we are going to do is clean up the beach,” he says driving over the litter-strewn sand in a rented land cruiser, as, nearby, a number of goats and pigs nose through the trash. “I see the road paved and a bar over there,” he says, pointing to some thatched huts under palms swaying in the salty breeze. The city’s only beach hotel, La Jacmelienne, sits empty. Capponi and his partners have already begun work on restoring a 19th century former coffee sorting house on the Jacmel seafront and making it into a 44-room, boutique hotel. The project includes a spa, adjacent shops, including a French patisserie, and a tourism information center to promote local attractions including hiking tours to local waterfalls, horseback riding, boat trips to picnic on out-of-the-way beaches, scuba diving and water sports. A second-floor infinity-edged pool, above the old coffee sorting pits, will offer a spectacular view over the bay. The hotel will also feature a Venus Williams tennis academy with its use split between hotel guests and an after-school program for the local kids.
.
The hotel is scheduled to open in November as the first phase of the project. “Donna [Karan] loves it. She was walking through here the other day saying, ‘I’m picking the colors right now, and the furniture,’ ” Capponi says. Karan is also working with local artisans to develop lines of handicrafts to sell to tourists, as well as exporting to her high-end outlets in the U.S. Capponi persuaded Haitian hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean to fund a hospitality school to train local Haitians for the coming tourism boom. Meanwhile, Belle plans to expand the Cine Institute into a full-fledged university for the arts. The restoration of Jacmel could provide a new sustainable development model for Haiti, Capponi believes. While he supports the multi-billion dollar efforts of foreign governments and aid agencies to reconstruct Haiti, “it became apparent to me that you can’t keep giving people stuff for free,” Capponi says. “We need to make a gradual shift from charity to empowerment. We need to empower the people of Haiti.”

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