DOING BUSINESS IN SANTO DOMINGO RABBIT INTERNATIONAL team assist you
by Mark Chesnut
I’m standing next to a rooftop pool, gazing down at the wide avenue called Abraham Lincoln. Upscale restaurants, global advertising agencies, and high-rise condos and office towers line the street. This may not be how most people picture the Caribbean, but for business travelers in Santo Domingo, it’s not unusual at all.
The oldest European-founded city in the Americas, Santo Domingo is the capital of the Dominican Republic, and an economic hub for the nation and the region. While the city’s beautifully restored historic center may date back to 1492, this metropolis of more than two million is clearly focused on the future. Since the turn of this century, Santo Domingo’s infrastructure has undergone major improvements, including a brand-new Metro rail system (one line opened in early 2009, and another is under construction), an updated airport terminal, a new convention center, and new hotels. Add to this an ambitious plan to develop the port into a major, high-end cruise, retail, real estate, and tourism destination. While the fact that Ikea is opening here may not impress most globetrotters, the idea that it’s the very first Ikea anywhere in Latin America certainly says something about this growing city.
I’ve been to Santo Domingo multiple times over the years, and I’ve come again now to learn more about the latest developments. If all goes as planned, Santo Domingo will soon cease to be an afterthought to vacationers heading to the Dominican Republic’s beach resorts, and more of a must-see destination for sophisticated entertainment, shopping, and living.
A flurry of construction along the prized waterfront Malecón is bringing a variety of sleek, high-rise, residential and retail towers to the water’s edge. This includes the Malecón Center, Torre Ibiza and Veiramar. Malecon Center which is home to the Hilton Santo Domingo, and just down the street from the recently renovated InterContinental V Centenario. Right next to the InterContinental is Veiramar III, a 28-story tower on the waterfront Malecón; other new luxury condo developments include MarAzul, which features three soaring residential towers along a quiet park, and Ocean Tower, on the upscale Anacaona Avenue.
Sure, the Holiday Inn where you may have stayed with your family all those years ago probably wasn’t very exciting, but InterContinental Hotels Group, the chain’s owner, has revamped the brand and Santo Domingo is home to one of the newest: the Holiday Inn Santo Domingo, which debuted in 2009 with crisp, contemporary lines and décor. It sits squarely in the center of Abraham Lincoln, one of the main arteries for business, commerce, and luxury living. The hotel’s grand opening, which I attended, was like a Hollywood premiere, complete with searchlights, red carpet, and live entertainers. Even today, after the crowds have gone, the view from the rooftop pool is perhaps the best in the neighborhood.
This district, sometimes called the Polígano Central, is a shining example of what planners hope will be Santo Domingo’s future, right down to the international, name-brand fashion and local designers. Dominican design, after all, is already well established (just ask Oscar de la Renta, a Santo Domingo native). Rising names include Magaly Tiburcio, Jenny Polanco, and Sully Bonnelly, who began his career studying architecture and launched his own clothing collection in 1998. Bonnelly was elected a member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 2000
Style-conscious shoppers head to places like the refurbished Acropolis Center, one of the city’s largest and most upscale shopping malls with more than 100 stores and restaurants.
Meanwhile, Plaza Andalucia is a smaller mall, not far away, that also caters to upscale shoppers and features the work of international and local designers and artists. just opened Blue Mall, AGORA MALL, SAMBIL MALL, GALERIA 360, SILVER CENTER MALL, NOVOCENTRO. each will have more than 226,000 square feet of retail space and 123,000 square feet of office space when it opens in late 2010; the developer, FVI, is building a similar complex in St. Maarten.
The neighborhood is also good for dining options. Santo Domingo’s dining scene is becoming ever more sophisticated, with fusion cuisine blending Dominican elements (like plantains or tasty sancocho, a stew that is the national dish) with interesting flavors from around the world. Current hotspots include Mitre Restaurant & Wine Bar (a creation of the owners of long-standing Vesuvio, which is often called the best Italian restaurant in the Dominican Republic), and Praia which makes headlines for its “Miami Beach-chic” lounge style, but it’s also a fun place to enjoy fusion cuisine.
It’s Saturday night, and we’re greeted by a member of the Spanish court as we enter the Alcázar de Colón, a royal home built in 1510 for the newly appointed governor of the West Indies, Diego Columbus (who just happened to be the son of Christopher). The finely garbed regent bows deeply before leading us upstairs to “meet” the Columbus family themselves. This half-hour tour is part of Noches Vivas del Alcázar (Living Nights of Alcázar), a new program with live, costumed interpretive performers offered Saturday nights until midnight at the historic site. The guided, costumed tour may be loose on content and detail, but it has attendees smiling and children staring wide-eyed at the heavily dressed hosts.
There’s no denying the allure of Santo Domingo’s history. The Polígano Central may be “square one” for many business travelers and shopaholics, but visitors are well advised to explore other areas too, most notably the Zona Colonial, the historic city center that was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1991. This beautiful, 16-square-block neighborhood was the first European urban settlement in the Americas and is home to the hemisphere’s first cathedral, hospital, palace, paved street, and university.
The Zona Colonial offers an interesting array of accommodations as well, from the Miami Beach-style Hodelpa Caribe Colonial Hotel to the historic landmark buildings of the Hotel Frances Santo Domingo and Hostal Nicolas de Ovando Santo Domingo, both of which belong to French hotelier Accor’s M Gallery brand.
Also visually inspiring is the Malecón, a waterfront boulevard lined with sidewalks and benches. Large-scale international hotel brands are the norm along this prestigious address, where leading properties include the recently renovated InterContinental V Centenario, the Renaissance Jaragua, and the Hilton Santo Domingo.