“There’s a lot of promise [in the Domincan Republic],” says Louis Arriola, who was photographed April 29 in Los Angeles.
9:45 PM PDT 5/18/2019 by Shannon Bowen
Louis Arriola made his fortune in the telecom industry. Now he has an ambitious play to transform the island nation with a state-of-the-art shooting facility, a 5G network and skilled labor — and he’s co-financing the next ‘Rambo’ movie.
For Louis Arriola, there is no such thing as “can’t be done.” The Brooklyn-born entrepreneur had already made a name for himself in telecommunications, with VoIP provider LDI Networks (the company has a valuation of roughly $500 million). In 2015 he branched out into entertainment, financing and producing with Will to Love, directed by Chris Stokes. NYLA Media Group made another recent splash, announcing that it will co-finance Millennium Films’ Rambo V: Last Blood.
But Arriola’s latest target is farther afield: the Dominican Republic, where NYLA is establishing a $100 million, state-of-the-art film studio and a 5G network in Punta Cana, along with housing and training for entertainment tradespeople. Vertical integration is the name of the game for the company, which is designing its IP to exist across multiple platforms, from games to movies and series, and to stream at least in part through Arriola’s telecom venture and in-the-works 5G network.
The first two of such projects are beginning life as games, with plans to become films: Flagrant Foul, a basketball-themed property, and Kicksville, a star-crossed- lovers tale in which a sneaker and a ballet slipper fall in love despite their families’ objections.
Arriola, 56, recently spoke to THR about his grand plans for the lush island nation, which he intends to turn into a production, gaming and data hub for the Caribbean and all of Latin America.
Your immediate plans are for the Dominican Republic but with an eye toward the entire Latin American market. What appeals to you about that territory as a whole?
For me, it’s my telecom business. I’ve been doing a lot of business in Latin America. Actually, I have contracts in eight Latin American countries, the Dominican Republic being one of the largest for me. I’m familiar with the different government regimes and what we need to do to make sure that we can create change over there. If we can bring what we have in the United States to those countries, I believe it can be a hub to benefit the region.
Why did you choose DR as the home base for your operations?
There’s a lot of promise. You know how Costa Rica is trying to grow the production [sector]? Well, DR likewise. The DR is actually bringing and attracting a lot of people to come there, not only because of tax incentives that are making it more friendly to be able to shoot there. And the talent — which is what I’m really concerned about, is to grow that talent from within the island — because I don’t want to bring people from outside the island. It defeats the purpose, because when they come to the island, then they have to leave. I want to have homegrown talent and keep them there and give them jobs so that when I do bring projects, I have my team and a team that knows how to work with [for example] athletes, Paramount, and so forth. We want to bring and grow and teach, for them to stay and live in the DR.
You mentioned tax incentives. The Dominican Republic offers a transferable tax credit of 25 percent on qualifying productions and recently decreased its withholding tax from 27 percent to 1.5 percent. How are you seeing these incentives affect production there?
The 1.5 percent is not guaranteed, and it is project by project, but we have a very good system in place. We pretty much feel when we take on a project and the project [is approved], we make sure that we get the 1.5 percent incentive for it to bring in the talent. Outside talent — well, the endpoint for that is that when we do bring in these outside talents, whether it’s keys for different aspects of production, whether it’s production designers or ADs, we want them to teach because that’s the only way we’re going to grow.
Where are you in the process of building the NYLA film studio in Punta Cana?
Right now we actually bought the land. So we bought the 80 acres, and we already broke ground. Of this 80 acres, I’m taking 26 acres to build this film studio. I’m going to build a shortcut to [the adjacent city of] Veron, because right now to get any supplies to that city, it’s a 50-minute drive past my land. So I’m building a two-lane highway across my land to be able to have trucks go up and down the highway so I can get supplies to Veron.
On top of that, I’m going to build out 2,100 homes in that part of the 54 acres that’s left to be able to sell to the workers of Veron at low cost. Part of that sale is going to help me develop my film studio. We’ve already started the highway; we got the permit to build the highway from the main highway to the city of Veron, and that’s under construction. And then we are clearing the land for this film studio and we’re hoping to have the first [soundstage] up and running in the first quarter of next year.
What about your slate of films? I understand you’re planning two types of projects: lower-budget, local-language films for the Latin American market and higher-budget features for the international market.
We’ve seen a shift in Spanish TV, moving from the telenovelas into [a different type of] storytelling. … So what we’re planning to do is bring a strategic model, making these movies, like [for example] Lifetime Channel[-type] movies [with human interest themes], creating them in Spanish and bringing them to the market — creating them in the DR but bringing them to Telemundo and all those places because we believe there’s a market. It’s a niche. Most of them are going to be [made for] television.
What kinds of budgets do you anticipate for those projects?
$1 million, $1.5 million, something like that.
And the higher-budget features?
Then the other side of it is to be able to bring in the major production, the $10 million to $15 million to $20 million productions and at least try to do three or four of those a year. They’re going to be U.S. projects that we’re going to film in the DR and release theatrically in the U.S. and internationally.
Pinewood Studios has international name recognition and has already established itself in the DR. How do you plan to compete with them?
I’m not competing; I’m just adding to them. The more that Pinewood does and the more that we do, we bring attention [from] around the world. Pinewood has done a good job so far. I plan on making a bigger splash to bring attention to the DR. I’m not trying to create competition. I’m just trying to add to the attention that the country deserves.
They are the vestiges of a sad period in Caribbean history. Elegant Spanish-style buildings, with stately concrete columns and arches, which served as sugar mills where hundreds of African slaves toiled to harvest “white gold,” or sugar.
The Dominican Republic has many such abandoned mills, near small towns and rivers. In mid-February, 16 University of Miami School of Architecture students and professors joined a group of students from the Universidad Nacional Pedro Henriquez Ureña (UNPHU) to tour four of these mills, to begin a project to refurbish these structures and open them for new public use.
The idea for the project stemmed from previous work done in the island by associate professor of practice Carmen Guerrero, who led the Upper Level Studio trip along with Jaime Correa, also an associate professor of practice at School of Architecture. The trip was sponsored by the Canin Award, an annual gift from Myrna and Brian Canin, founders of Canin Associates in Orlando. They have been sponsors for the past 15 years.
“As the child of Dominican parents who spent summers and holidays there, I had no idea that we had these historic sugar mills,” said Guerrero. “Now the government wants to refurbish them so that they can become usable for tourism and other uses.”
Many other countries in the Caribbean have rebuilt their sugar mills into luxurious hotels or cultural centers, which attract the public and generate revenue. Santo Domingo, the first founded city in the New World and a stronghold for the Spanish Conquistadores’ prodigious sugar industry, has yet to refurbish these mills. The four visited by the architecture students during the three-day trip were Boca de Nigua, Palave, Diego Caballero and Engombe.
“This project and trip exposed the students to the culture of the island as well as the socio-political history of the Dominican Republic and how that has translated into its rural and urban areas,” said Correa.
Indeed, the UM students joined by their cohorts from the island as well as a historian and archeologist, toured the ruins and watched how the area residents interacted with the structures. The Dominican students are also working on design projects for the mills.
“It was a beautiful dynamic to watch as the students worked together,” said Jose Constanza, UNPHU dean of student welfare and professor of architecture, whose students are also developing projects to renovate the mills. “There was very little language barrier because they used the universal language of drawing to communicate.”
Constanza added that having UM students working on this project added a “global perspective” that could be beneficial. “People from other places can have a different way of thinking and can even be risqué in their approach,” he said.
At the Engombe site, one of the largest in the country which still houses a two-story mansion, a chapel, a warehouse structure and a mill used to extract juice from the sugar cane called a trapiche, locals use the grounds for picnics, as a playground, and even as a backdrop for wedding pictures.
For UM architecture students Emily Suarez and Andrea Hernandez, the only way to portray the history of Engombe in their design was to be true to its roots.
“We did not want to intervene with the structures’ integrity,” said Suarez, a fifth-year architecture student. “So instead we decided to envelop the structure with black material but leave the ruins as they are.”
The black material symbolizes the sad history of slavery, which was such an integral part of sugar plantation lives, said Suarez. “We have to acknowledge the sad part of the story.”
In their design, Suarez and Hernandez also added a white tower with 16 telescopes. The telescopes would provide an overlook for visitors who come to admire the surrounding countryside, but it would also hark back to the 16th century practice by plantation overseers of watching over the slaves as they carried on their backbreaking work of cutting and harvesting sugar cane.
For Max Erickson and Olivia Kramer, fifth-year architecture students who did not speak Spanish, the language barrier did not detain them from absorbing the history and culture of the Dominican countryside. Dominican students helped them out by translating lessons on the history of the island and the Colonial Period.
“I was so impressed by the topography of the place and how green it was,” said Erickson. “As we learned about the ruins we realized that we needed to address the needs of the people who live near there.”
In their designs of Engombe, Erickson and Kramer featured several elements that would provide teaching moments for visitors. One of them was adding an elevated walkway that would link all the structures and would feature plaques describing various segments of the sugar production industry at the time.
Their design also showed the abandoned warehouse as a completely remodeled space to be used for parties, family reunions or community gatherings. Parts of the large space could also work as a library and café, they said.
On Monday, April 29, a delegation of faculty from Santo Domingo’s UNPHU will visit UM’s School of Architecture to review all the proposed projects the students have worked on.
4 days ago
By the Caribbean Journal staff
American Airlines is ramping up its flight service to the Caribbean’s most popular destination.
The carrier will soon be launching a pair of new nonstop routes to the Dominican Republic, with service from both Charlotte and Dallas-Fort Worth to Santo Domingo.
The new routes will both begin operating on June 8, with service running every week on Saturdays.
Santo Domingo is seeing a significant jump in airlift.
It’s no coincidence that American is the latest carrier to expand its service to the Dominican Republic’s capital, which the country’s officials are heavily promoting as its next big tourism pole.
Indeed, in the last year, a slew of carriers have launched new routes to Santo Domingo, including JetBlue, which now operates daily flights from Newark; and rapidly expanding low-cost carrier Spirit, which now runs flights from Orlando to the capital.
The planned launch comes as American Airlines also expanded its service from Miami to Santo Domingo at the end of last year.
Inside a room at the Billini hotel.
So what makes Santo Domingo a hot destination right now?
It’s a bustling, energetic capital, with perhaps the most beautiful historic quarter on the region, the Colonial Zone, along with large portfolio of hotels, an impressive cultural and arts offering and a deepening shopping scene to boot.
The Colonial Zone of Santo Domingo.
It’s even home to the first-ever cable car system in the Caribbean.
WHERE TO STAY
While its flagship hotel is almost certainly the spectacular JW Marriott, if you’re looking for a culture-filled weekend getaway, you can’t go wrong in one of the charming boutique hotels in the Colonial Zone, led by the Casas del XVI and the Billini.
For a more traditional, but equally historic experience, try the Hodelpa Nicolas de Ovando, set on the Caribbean’s oldest street.
Listing of the Day
Location: La Romana, Dominican Republic
Price: US$13 million
This 15,424-square-foot oceanfront villa is in the 7,000-acre, self-contained Casa De Campo resort on the southeast coast of the Dominican Republic.
The home, known as Costa Mar 10, overlooks the Caribbean Sea and the renowned Teeth of the Dog golf course, which has been “No. 1 in the Caribbean since the turn of the century,” said Sergio Llach, president and CEO of Dominican Republic Sotheby’s International Realty.
“The most unique feature is that the architect, Venezuelan Francisco Feaugas, gave excellent ocean views to every bedroom and social room in the house,” he said.
The villa is quite private, yet “right in the middle of it all,” he said. “Nothing is more than a 10-minute drive.”
More: Where Are the Lowest Taxes in the Caribbean?
The property is fully turnkey with all of the furnishings included in the price. The home’s staff includes a chef, butler, waiter, two housekeepers and two gardeners, Mr. Llach said.
When not in use by the owner, the villa can go into the resort’s rental program, he said. The fixed price is US$5,500 per night, with Christmas/New Year’s at US$8,000 per night.
The house, which was built in 2014, includes a rooftop deck with a plunge pool and bar.
“It is something totally unexpected—there is simply so much peace up there,” Mr. Llach said. “Whether you take the elevator up or use the double-width staircase, from the moment you step onto the deck you see the ocean, mature tree-tops and vegetation all around.”
Other design details include a grand foyer and dining room, vaulted artisanal ceilings, covered and uncovered outdoor dining areas, large and modern bathrooms, an indoor water feature, outdoor showers and interior wood finishes.
More: Choosing the Right Second-Home Market to Invest In
Most exterior finishes are done in natural stone or aluminum, “for easy maintenance and hassle-free upkeep,” Mr. Llach said.
The Italian-style kitchen features stainless-steel appliances and granite countertops. There is also a secondary staff kitchen.
“In the Dominican Republic, the kitchen ranks fifth on the list of importance, unlike in the U.S.,” Mr. Llach said. “Here, in this kitchen, the staff and chef take care of everything, which is why it is the only major room without an ocean view.”
The 15,424-square-foot house has six bedrooms, six full bathrooms and one partial bathroom. It sits on a 1.19-acre lot.
The house has an elevator and two pools: an infinity pool with a Jacuzzi overlooking the ocean and a plunge pool on the rooftop deck. The property has lush tropical landscaping with palm trees as well as many areas with flat lawns.
From Penta: Self-Sustainable, Floating Cities Proposed in Response to Rising Sea Levels
Casa de Campo is a gated, self-sustained resort developed in 1975 by Gulf+Western.
It has “plenty of high-end retail shopping, marinas, 20-plus restaurants, and 2,000 luxury vacation homes all around,” Mr. Llach said.
Golf is the main attraction, he said, with multiple Pete Dye-designed golf courses.
“I would say that Casa de Campo is the Hamptons of the Caribbean,” Mr. Llach said. “The world’s most prominent families weekend and vacation here.”
There are also two beaches, a 500-slip marina, amphitheater for concerts, polo and equestrian facilities and “tons of social activities,” he said.
Agent: Sergio Llach, president and CEO, Dominican Republic Sotheby’s International Realty
Photo credit: Dominican Republic Sotheby’s International Realty