Business Monday

Company profile: Biochemist/entrepreneur brings blue lagoons, beachfront landscapes to region

Biochemist and CEO of Crystal Lagoons, Fernando Fischmann, inside his Miami office at 777 Brickell Ave.
Biochemist and CEO of Crystal Lagoons, Fernando Fischmann, inside his Miami office at 777 Brickell Ave. THE MIAMI HERALD

Fernando Fischmann, a Chilean biochemist-turned-real estate developer, was inspired by the crystal clear turquoise waters he saw in natural lagoons while visiting Mexico and the Caribbean many years ago.

“How can I bring this concept to Chile,” asked Fischmann, who was developing a resort on Chile’s rocky Pacific shore west of Santiago, the capital, and was planning to build an enormous lagoon at the site for swimming, boating and watersports.

Today, after years of research and trials to develop a new, patented technology for designing and maintaining the world’s largest artificial lagoons, Fischmann’s company, Chile-based Crystal Lagoons, is involved in more than 300 tourism and residential projects in 60 countries.

Crystal Lagoons are sustainable, artificial bodies of turquoise water that can be built to any size at inland locations or near the ocean. They have white-sand beaches and docking areas for small boats and can be filled with saltwater or fresh water. Using patented technology that requires fewer chemicals and less energy than conventional systems to clean and circulate the water, these artificial lagoons can be built to any depth determined by developers, but typically average 8 to 12 feet. The company says their lagoons are not swimming pools because they are designed differently and do not follow the same state regulations on swimming pools in the U.S.

“Crystal lagoons are the amenity of the future for all types of projects,” said Fischmann at his company’s U.S. headquarters on Brickell Avenue.

“Our concept gives developers a tool to change that old real estate saying — ‘location, location, location’ — since they can create projects with water and beachfront landscapes in places previously unimaginable, like in the middle of cities and in deserts.”

His company, Crystal Lagoons, set up its United States headquarters in Miami two years ago and is working on more than a score of resort and residential projects across the country costing more than $20 billion, including six lagoons in Florida.

In North Miami, the company is designing two lagoons as part of the $4 billion SoLe Mia development project in North Miami, a joint venture between Turnberry Associates and LeFrak, one of the world’s largest property firms.

In the Tampa area, the Metro Development Group is investing about $320 million in four master-planned communities that will each have a Crystal Lagoon and beach.

“Forty Crystal Lagoons projects were carried out in 2014 and we are projecting 80 projects for 2015, meaning lagoons have doubled in just one year, a trend we have seen repeated during the past several years,” said Uri Man, CEO of Crystal Lagoons U.S. Corp. “Boston Consulting Group valued our company at $1.8 billion just two years after it was founded. Now, it is more than two times that amount.

“The demand for the technology has grown tremendously worldwide, and especially in the United States where we have more forthcoming announcements planned for Florida, Texas, Arizona, California, Hawaii and Nevada,” Man said.

Testing the water

Starting in 1997, Fischmann began building the San Alfonso del Mar resort, in Algarrobo, Chile, which now has 1,400 apartments overlooking the Pacific. He built his first artificial lagoon there, covering nearly 20 acres. The beach at San Alfonso was rocky and dangerous due to the rough seas, he said, so a big artificial lagoon would be the best option for swimming, sailing small boats and other water sports.

But he found that the seawater supplying the man-made lake eventually turned green and smelled bad, despite using existing technology to clean the water. He hired consultants in Chile, and visited water experts overseas. “They told me I was crazy, that it wouldn’t work,” said Fischmann, whose first lagoon was beyond the scale of any other man-made lakes at the time.

“So I went back to being a scientist again. I did my own research and worked for years in a cold lab located in a parking garage.”

Born in Santiago, Chile, Fischmann received a degree in biochemistry from the Universidad de Chile, but later started a successful real estate development company in 1987. “I decided to go into real estate since science didn’t pay,” Fischmann said.

By 2006, he had worked out a new system for cleaning and maintaining turquoise water at the giant San Alfonso del Mar lagoon.

Guinness World Records found out about San Alfonso del Mar, and declared that Fischmann’s clear blue lagoon was “the largest swimming pool in the world,” measuring more than 1,000 yards long and using 66 million gallons of sea water.

The heated lagoon is stunning — a long, undulating, body of turquoise water wedged between the wild Chilean Pacific and the residential towers of the San Alfonso del Mar complex.

“I didn’t pay much attention to the Guinness news,” Fischmann said. “But three days after the Guinness award was announced, I was getting emails from all over the world.”

Guinness referred to the San Alfonso lagoon as a swimming pool because it did not have a category for artificial lagoons, the company said.

Lagoon technology

The patented technology developed by Fischmann revolved around his desire to create an eco-friendly and sustainable treatment system that would keep water crystal-clear and control bacteria and algae while using fewer chemicals and less energy to filter the large volumes of water. The first 20-acre lagoon built in Chile, for example, is larger than approximately 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

First, Fischmann’s team installs a network of electronic sensors and injectors around the lagoon. The sensors determine levels of bacteria and algae, and micro injectors release chemicals at different points as needed. Shallow bathing areas attracting crowds, for example, have more sensors and injectors than deeper areas, where people sail. Lagoon depths vary from shorelines (with sand) to eight feet or more. When bacteria and algae levels get too high, the computer-controlled system automatically injects small amounts of chemicals like chlorine.

Because the chemicals are applied more efficiently, Fischmann said, “our lagoons need 100 times less chemicals than what is normally used.”

To clean up algae and other solids, the lagoons use an ultrasonic system that causes material in the water to clump together. This material then can be removed by skimming. The pumps and filters do not have to work as hard recirculating and processing water laden with algae and other foreign objects, so electricity costs are reduced.

Fischmann also researched different materials used as liners, which can deteriorate from exposure to ultraviolet rays. After trying different chemical combinations, he found one that provides maximum strength and resilience to UV light, and set up a joint manufacturing venture with a company in Texas. The composition of liners varies from project to project. Liners can last up to 20 years and are supplied in different white tones, or other colors.

The lagoons can use fresh water, sea water or brackish water from underground deposits.

Crystal Lagoons has completed man-made lakes in Panama, Egypt and additional locations in Chile, and is currently working on a massive, 90-acre lagoon in the Dubai desert that will be fed by brackish underground water.

Basking in the fame of his Guinness award, Fischmann set up his company, Crystal Lagoons Corp., in Chile in 2007 and began negotiating with developers of resorts, hotels and residential communities all over the world. The company offers the technology for designing and maintaining these artificial lagoons, whose scale had never been seen up to that time. Fischmann is the company’s founder, chairman and owner.

Crystal Lagoons has experienced spectacular growth. Moving from the first lagoon project it completed in Chile nine years ago to about 300 projects today in Latin America, the Middle East, the U.S. and other part of the world.

In Egypt, Crystal Lagoons worked with a developer to build a lagoon in the middle of a desert, using saltwater from underground wells and creating an oasis on what had previously been unusable land. In Panama, the company helped a developer place a lagoon in an unused patch of jungle behind an existing resort, bringing beach life to a jungle located far from the sea.

Crystal Lagoons has about 100 employees worldwide, including sales staff, and a variety of professionals such as civil and hydraulic engineers, water specialists and R&D personnel. Man, CEO of Crystal Lagoons U.S. Corp., previously held executive positions with the Gables Residential, The Related Group and the Florida Panthers.

Aside from its corporate headquarters in Santiago and the Miami office, Crystal Lagoons has an IT and research center in Amsterdam and offices in Sao Paulo, Mexico City and Dubai.

Crystal Lagoons works alongside developers and contractors on resort and residential projects. “We don’t build the lagoons. We supply the technology, the basic engineering for each lagoon and ongoing maintenance,” Fischmann said. The privately held company, which does not release its revenues, earns fees from each project, a small percentage related to sales of condos, etc., plus maintenance contracts.

Crystal Lagoons cost about $100,000 to $200,000 per acre to build, depending on the size, design and complexity, the company said. These figures exclude excavation costs and any docks or structures built around the lagoons. The average project for Crystal Lagoons is about $500 million, but the company is involved in many resort developments costing several billion dollars.

While there are many companies that build large swimming pools as well as decorative ponds, fountains and the like, no one has yet developed a similar technology or has built crystal-clear artificial ponds anywhere near the size of Crystal Lagoons. “There is the risk of getting a copycat, but so far, we don’t have any competitors,” Fischmann said.

Crystal Lagoons U.S. Corp., the Miami-based unit of the Chilean parent company, won the Greater Miami Chamber’s 2015 International Business Leadership award for Best New Business, and Fischmann is regularly invited to speak about his technology in international forums. Fischmann and his company have won other local awards from the Beacon Council and the state.

Two companies developing large projects in Florida and Mexico say that Crystal Lagoons provides a new dimension to their developments.

Tampa-based Metro Development Group is building four master-planned communities that will offer residents Crystal Lagoons in each community. “We are developing two communities in Pasco County, one in southern Hillsborough and one in Lee County,” said Greg Singleton, president of Metro Development Group.

MDG is investing an estimated $80 million in each community, and all the homes, in addition to access to a Crystal Lagoon, will be “smart homes” equipped with ULTRAFi, very fast community-wide Wi-Fi service that offers Internet speeds up to 100 times faster than average broadband speeds, the company said.

“We wanted to provide an incredible amenity that offered something for everybody in the family, from beach cabanas for adults to water sports for teens and zero-entry [beach-like entry] for kids to walk right into the water,” Singleton said. “Crystal Lagoons offer a beach experience that’s convenient — right in the residents’ backyards. The lagoons are so large that residents can kayak, paddleboard and even use a small sailboat.”

Kenneth Jowdy, CEO of Legacy Properties LLC, has a 10-acre Crystal Lagoon at the luxury Diamante Cabo San Lucas resort his company is developing in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, on the Pacific Ocean.

Diamante has a saltwater Crystal Lagoon in the middle of the 1,500-acre master planned resort that includes more than 1,000 residences, three hotels, three golf courses, a sports complex, fitness center and a range of other facilities.

“We knew we needed a big water feature at the resort, since the rough Pacific waters make it inadvisable to swim on our 1.5 miles of beachfront,” Jowdy said. “We needed to make our own beach for families to enjoy, a large water feature to allow family-friendly water activities. But traditional pools didn’t provide enough of an awe factor,” said the company’s CEO, who found out about Crystal Lagoons when he picked up a brochure on a coffee table.

The custom-designed lagoon opened up a new demographic for the resort, which now appeals not only to golfers, but also to a broader range of families and many other clients in the luxury category.

“Crystal Lagoons was perfect for what were trying to do,” Jowdy said. “I still have that original brochure.”

“We can change the lives of people,” Fischmann said. “We can give them a little piece of paradise.”

The writer can be reached at josephmannjr@gmail.com.

Crystal Lagoons Corp.

Business: Crystal Lagoons is an international technology company that uses a patented system to design and maintain artificial bodies of crystal-clear water for recreational use in seaside and inland resorts, as well as for residential communities. Since its founding in 2007, the company has participated in, or is currently working on, about 300 projects in 60 countries. It is working on six projects in Florida and is helping to build the world’s largest artificial lagoon in Dubai. So far the company has completed 60 projects in countries including Brazil, Egypt, Thailand, Mexico and Chile. Crystal Lagoons is working to extend its innovative technology to commercial and industrial projects that include sustainable cooling systems for plants, water pre-treatment for desalination, seawater purification for mining projects, heating, ventilation and air conditioning for buildings in urban areas, as well as other applications. The company runs it business in the U.S. from Miami.

Corporate headquarters: Santiago, Chile.

U.S. headquarters: 777 Brickell Ave., Miami, since 2013.

Regional offices: Brazil, Mexico, Thailand, the Netherlands (IT, R&D) and the United Arab Emirates.

Founded: 2007 in Santiago.

Founder: Fernando Fischmann, a biochemist, real estate developer and entrepreneur.

Management: Fischmann, founder and chairman of the parent company; Uri Man, CEO of Crystal Lagoons U.S. Corp.

Employees: More than 100 internationally.

Revenues: The company is privately owned and does not disclose its financials. The company earns revenue by charging a fee for supplying its technology to a developer, and receives a percentage related to sales of units at each project.

Clients: Developers of resorts as well as inland and coastal tourist sites in several countries have already built large, sustainable lagoons using the company’s technology. This technology is also being expanded to build lagoons for residential communities and to install cooling systems, water treatment processes and other applications for commercial and industrial operations.

Ownership: Privately owned by the founder.

Website: www.crystal-lagoons.com.

Source: Crystal Lagoons

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