Hotelier and entrepreneur, Chris Harding finds his home on Dorado Beach

Hotelier and entrepreneur, Chris Harding finds his home on Dorado Beach

Hotelier and entrepreneur, Chris Harding finds his home on Dorado Beach

Christopher Harding has a number of labels to his name, including entrepreneur, investor, pro-sports owner, hotelier, philanthropist, and art collector. In 2018, the Louisville native moved to Dorado Beach, Puerto Rico and realized he could bridge all of his passions — investing, the arts, and most importantly, nurturing the unyielding desire to give back — all under a sunny sky.

When Chis isn’t shuffling back and forth to Louisville, where he owns a majority stake in Soccer Holdings, Inc., Racing Louisville Football Club, and Lynn Family Stadium, he helps homeless animals at his hotel, Hodges Bay Resort and Spa in Antigua. He recently founded Flew The Coop, an animal rescue initiative in partnership with Global Empowerment Mission.

I sat down with Chris at his home in Dorado Beach to discuss his love affair with Puerto Rico and how he plans to give back to the community that welcomed him.

Tell us how you ended up on Dorado Beach….

I really didn’t know anything about Puerto Rico, other than that it was US territory, and I’d never been here. Not sure if I ever would as there are so many other places in the world to visit. But I came here and thought: I’m going to do it. Even if I don’t like it, I will learn to love it!

You mean because of the benefits?

At first I said, okay, it’s for the tax breaks. That drew me down at first. I came for the incentives, but that’s not why I’m staying. I’m here because I fell in love with this island. The people are incredible. This place is great.

When I first came, I was single and I thought, I’m going to buy something in San Juan, but I also go to Dorado Beach, mainly to play tennis. There were so many young families and I wasn’t sure if I would fit into my life at that time. As soon as I joined I found myself going there three times a week. I kept saying, I need to spend more time in Dorado Beach. I was lucky and found a very special property and loved every moment I was here. I have met great, interesting people and am very grateful that I took the step. As you can see it is a paradise.

What makes Puerto Rico so special?

I don’t know if I can even locate it, it’s more of a feeling inside. But it certainly starts with the people. There is a passion, an energy that simply cannot be explained. Everywhere I’ve been here they’ve been so warm and inviting. And maybe it’s because I’m from Kentucky, and there’s something that appeals to me, because that’s how people are there too.

When I’m walking down the street, I just cancel and say, Hey, how are you? And everyone does. It’s almost like a freshman year in college where nobody really knows anyone and we’re all just trying to fit in. So we’re all friendly and wave. It just makes for a great environment to live in, where you socialize a lot more than in the United States.

I’ve met so many people from different business genres that I’ve never thought about, never thought about. So I learn so much. I get involved in new deals that I probably wouldn’t have, because of the people I met here. Puerto Rico has given me an incredible lifestyle that I really love, and I think it will take me so many different avenues in business that I never knew about.

Do you feel a responsibility to give back because the island has been so good to you?

Absolute. I think indigenous Puerto Rican people are starting to see the good in what we’re trying to contribute. It’s almost like, please give us a chance to show you how much we appreciate it. And through outreach, through philanthropy, it will become very cohesive. Right now you’re reading articles that can be controversial at times, and there’s a small group of people who don’t want us here. I can totally see their point and their side, really, but the vast majority of us are here to be good stewards.

What’s their side?

Why should we get tax incentives to be here if they can’t get the same? And I understand. I really. But we are also here to make this island even bigger than it was when we got here. And it was already great!

Do you feel like that’s a cohesive sensibility that people share here? Or do you feel that you might feel that too?

I came with that mindset and tried my best to give back long before I got here. While some people may be initially drawn to the incentives, as they fall in love with the island, it’s only natural that they start thinking: what can I do to give something back here? What else can I do to make this place even better, or keep its grandeur?

I think it is both a natural development and a personal journey. If someone wants to contribute, does it matter if they live in Puerto Rico, London or New York? It’s about the kind of person you are. I feel fortunate to have connected with an amazing group of friends who share my passion for this special island, and I am convinced that through dedication and longevity, any negative feelings about how we got here will fade over time. turn into new-found confidence.

Act 20/22, now Act 60, mandates a $10,000 annual donation to an official Puerto Rico charity. That number is too low for me and should be increased. Much of the charitable work we do goes unwritten, but I’m a big believer that if you go ahead and try to lead by example, it will eventually get people to do the same. And that movement can and will take place here. There is no doubt about that.

What are some of the philanthropic opportunities you are pursuing?

Personally, I am an animal lover. I always have been. I definitely have such a soft spot for saves. Shortly after arriving in Puerto Rico, I started donating to the SATO project known for its animal rescue programs. I wanted to do more than write a check, so I reached out to founder Chrissy Beckles and during our first pandemic Zoom, we immediately felt a connection. I talked about her traumatic loss of a pet and her desire to help as many pets as possible.

tell me about flew the loft

It starts with an old friend of mine, Michael Capponi, founder of Global Empowerment Mission. Michael asked me to join the board, and when we discussed how I could make an impact, one of my first questions was, what happens when a hurricane hit or an earthquake hits? Pets get evicted and the owners can’t find them. Michael explained that a cohesive pet rescue program had yet to be developed. The thought of lost pets, now alone, was unfathomable and it wasn’t long before Flew The Coop was born.

Named after my own rescue, Cooper, our mission is simple: support animal rescues and provide emergency pet care during disasters. We’re a small pet initiative with a big heart, and the power of partnership has allowed us to grow as fast as we are.

Plus, in Puerto Rico and Antigua, we’re trying to get as many animals off the island as possible before hurricane season hits. This summer and fall, Flew The Coop will help support SATO’s three upcoming Freedom Flights, which will transport and rescue 50 dogs. And since launch, we’ve rescued 40 dogs from the Caribbean with our partners Dogs & Cats of Antigua and Animal Haven.

We are also committed to local fundraising and programming in Antigua through our partnership with Hodges Bay Resort and Spa. In addition to our Roundup Giveback program at checkout, our puppy play dates on the beach, created to promote socialization, have become a huge hit with all of our guests!