Lemire is known to most long-time residents of the Quepos-Manuel Antonio area, whether Quepeño or extranjero, as a businessman, community advocate, and local personality. His project, Manuel Antonio Estates, which he manages himself, is a gated community with luxury villas, homes and condominiums for sale or rent, located between Quepos and Manuel Antonio. Its Rainforest Spa , overlooking a tropical garden and bamboo forest, and managed by Richard’s partner, Martha Chinchilla, offers a tropical treat to residents of the Estates and the public as well.
Lemire grew up in Quebec. He says that his father passed away when he was ten years old, and that he helped his family by doing odd jobs – washing dishes in restaurants, shovelling snow, delivering newspapers. He played hockey and, with the money he earned, was able to buy his own equipment. “I liked to be self-sufficient,” he adds “and it made me a little business oriented”.
Lemire worked in Vancouver for ten years in construction. That is where he got his start in the building trade, where he learned new skills and became aware of “new horizons”. “I eventually got tired of long, grey winters lasting weeks and months at a time,” he says. He began to look for somewhere warm, and that is how he ended up in Costa Rica.
Richard says he had always been fascinated by Asia, where he had travelled extensively – to India, Thailand, China and Indonesia. His Asian inspiration is obvious from the gracious design of his office, its carved woodwork, sitting Buddha and Balinese painting of Manuel Antonio Estates.
Lemire says he seriously considered moving to Asia, but he was concerned that making a living there would be challenging. “Asia is beautiful,” he smiles, “but it is difficult to make a living there. Things are cheap, so it’s a great place to spend money.” But for the same reason, he says, it is not a good place to make money.
Richard had visited Costa Rica on vacation and liked it “because of its natural beauty, small population and environmental orientation. “I also liked its peaceful environment and that it had no army,” he adds. Moreover, he saw opportunities for putting his construction experience to use. In 1991 he moved to Quepos to start a new life.
In Quepos Lemire went into partnership with two other Canadians to develop the Manuel Antonio Estates residential community. “Things did not work out so well,” he says. He decided to leave the project alone for awhile and began to construct the Hotel California.
Richard had planned to build the hotel and sell it immediately, but it took him nine years to find a buyer. He didn’t mind, though, because he remembers these years as among the best in his life. He enjoyed decorating the new hotel rooms, each of which had a different mural of the parks of Costa Rica on its walls. But more than this, he liked meeting the guests and helping them get the most out of their stay.
“I guess I was happy meeting all these people from around the world,” he says. “For some – take the businessmen, for example – it was the only time they really got to spend with their wives. Sometimes they hardly knew each other anymore.”
He tells me that the name, Hotel California, came to him as an inspiration one day early in the morning. “It was one of the few great ideas I ever got from watching the sunrise,” he grins. “After long talks and many drinks, I came up with that name.” And it served him well, because nine years after he built it, he sold the hotel to its present owner, Roberta Felix, a Californian.
After selling the hotel in 2000, Lemire says he was again free to travel, and once again, assessed his personal goals. “I analyzed my situation, and recommitted to Quepos,” he says. “I feel comfortable here and like what I do. You can do a lot to make a difference in this community. In a lot of places that’s hard to do.”
Lemire bought out his partners and began to build Manuel Antonio Estates, luxury homes and apartments, as well as Raindrop Spa, all, he says with an Asian ambience. “When we bought it in 1991,” he recalls, “this place was cow pasture. Now the forest has been restored and I have made trails through the property.”
Richard also has another residential development project in Palma Pacifica across from Laila Casino, not far from the Quepos airport. He says that one of the reasons he bought the property is because it’s the only remaining piece of primary rainforest in Quepos. And he wants to keep it that way.
Lemire is an active proponent of environmental preservation. Improving Manuel Antonio National Park has been his focus because, he argues, it is Costa Rica’s most popular park and it should be a “five star facility”.
Lemire has worked closely with the Quepos community to come up with a plan for the Park and arguments to secure more funding for its expansion, infrastructure and services. The group recently prepared a plan to develop the infrastructure for Playa Rey with a second entrance to the Park, thus easing somewhat the pressure on the existing Manuel Antonio facilities and giving visitors a second entrance and different part of the Park to enjoy.
The park currently encompasses close to 2000 hectares, Lemire points out. “With the new highway tourists could easily spend one day in each location. Even with the economic crisis, Manuel Antonio has still had the same number of visitors this year as last. This indicates that it is one of the best, cheapest options for tourists. Manuel Antonio is the most visited park in Costa Rica and receives the most revenue.”
Another part of the Manuel Antonio project focuses on ecological development – to connect the existing Park, as well as Rios Naranjo, Sevegre and Portalon, to the Central Corridor, thus expanding the territory for Titi monkeys and other wildlife.
But it’s not only about the park, Richard argues. The park is also a landmark of the Quepos community and as such, Quepos should benefit more from the park’s income. “It is clear in my mind,” he says, “that what happens in the park is a reflection of the town of Quepos. Obviously, we have to work on improving both. An important part of sustainable development is to ensure that part of the revenues of the park are reinvested in the community – in making Quepos greener and more environmentally sound.”
Lemire feels that prospects for the area are positive overall. The new marina, for example, will create employment and promote opportunities for training of the local people and attract new businesses and skills to the area. One of the biggest challenges, he says, is proper local government planning, especially given the amount of foreign immigration to the area. He mentions the problems of lack of zoning, grey water disposal and contamination of many of the creeks in the area.
Still, he feels that the impact of foreigners has been good for Quepos and Manuel Antonio. He reminds me that they spearheaded reforestation, making Manuel Antonio the lush forested place it is today. They have also brought fresh ideas and a stimulating atmosphere. “In a little town like this,” he says, “you need the energy and intellectual flow that outsiders bring. Without this contact with foreigners here I am not sure that I could live here indefinitely.”
Richard finds other sources of stimulation from morning hikes in the hills around the area and a weekly golf game at Los Suenos. For all these reasons he is content with his decision to make his life here in Costa Rica. “I am always happy to be stuck in this beautiful town of Quepos,” he says. It looks like he plans to be stuck here for quite awhile.