3 min read

From Devastation to Resort Destination

Land Form Design Group (4)©One&Only Palmilla

Two Days of the Most Powerful Hurricane Turned
into Eight Months of Full-Speed Restoration

When Landscape Architect Malcolm Miller, president of Land Form Design Group Inc, set foot on the One&Only Palmilla resort in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, he was shocked. After assessing many hurricane-hit resorts in Florida, the Bahamas and Mexico for landscape insurance claims, he thought that this one would be similar. It was worse than he had ever experienced before.  

Land Form Design Group (9)  Land Form Design Group (1)

Damage to the Resort after Hurricane Odile in 2014

Hurricane Odile made landfall in Baja, California, Sept. 14-15, 2014, and was named the most powerful storm to hit the region—with an estimated damage of $1 billion. Malcolm was called by colleagues Sean Simm and John Galloway to come and lead the landscape restoration work, but the local airport had been hit hard by the hurricane also, so he had to fly into La Paz 150 miles away.  

Land Form Design Group (10)Renovation after the Hurricane
©One&Only Palmilla

This boutique hotel is small—110-keys—but large on service, with over 1,000 staff members. The hotel depended on the team to get the repair work done as quickly as possible—with a goal of eight months to welcome guests again—to, again, be an amazing experience overlooking the Sea of Cortez.

Screenshot 2023-06-07 at 10.20.06 AM©One&Only Palmilla

The silver lining is that the hurricane damage and subsequent shutdown did give an opportunity for upgrades and restoration to the interior and exterior of the resort. They welcome many repeat customers throughout the year and heavy renovations are critical in this competitive market. Resorts of this caliber require capital improvements every three to five years. 

Land Form Design Group (5)

Land Form Design Group (8)On day one, Malcolm determined that he could save many of the palms—over 1,200 coconut palms at 30-40-feet-high—on the resort through dedicated maintenance, thus saving a total of $3 million in tree replacement costs. Not only was this a cost savings, but it would also be critical to recreating the welcoming and established atmosphere of the resort in the short eight-month turnaround time. The coconut palms (Cocos nucifera) were trimmed and sprayed with fungicide. With regular monitoring and fertilizing, new growth appeared six to eight months after the hurricane. The understory planting had to be completely redesigned and thousands of new plants installed throughout the grounds.

Land Form Design Group (7)  Land Form Design Group (6)  Screenshot 2023-06-07 at 10.15.56 AM

“It was a huge commitment to do this job, as I live in Florida and traveling way over on the west coast of Mexico takes a whole day,” says Malcolm. “It's pretty much a 12-hour trip door-to-door. I would go there for a week to 10 days at a time and come home for a week. So. it seemed like every time I came home, I was turning back around and heading back out there. I am very proud of what the team accomplished. it was worth it!”

The hotel staff had the option to stay home and earn partial pay or come to learn and help with restoration works. Many jumped right in to help, becoming a key workforce involved in the tidying up of the grounds and hotel premises. “The staff from Palmilla were so hardworking and efficient,” Malcolm says. “I was ultimately amazed at the craftsmanship that they put into their work.”

One of the major hardscape improvements was a conversion of a kid’s day camp area into a new space called Villa Christina. The scope included a newly built infinity edge pool with a surprising feature of a clear wall at the end of the pool to allow a glimpse the Sea of Cortez when swimming underwater. This area also includes a hanging bed under a Palapa thatched pergola. The patio area utilized local Mexican stone for the pool deck, which is the same as the rest of the resort.

Screenshot 2023-06-07 at 10.20.41 AM  Land Form Design Group (13)

The large infinity pool, Aberca Aqua, in the main resort area was resurfaced with new tile and new decor and furniture supplied by Anderson/Miller Ltd. Some of the furniture destroyed during the storm was handmade in Bali. To get more of the same furniture to match and to meet the deadline, the hotel had to figure out how to speed up the process. The solution turned out to be in the shipping. They used 747 planes to fly the furniture over. 

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Malcolm was invited to attend the grand opening for the hotel. “The general manager was so pleased with the gardens that we created that he asked us to continue visiting quarterly to walk the property and spend time with the maintenance and operations teams to ensure the overall vision comes to fruition,” Malcolm says. “I’m very passionate about the post-construction and post-installation followup. The landscape is a living thing and when you're done installing, it doesn't mean it's done. So, I take a lot of pride in planning what it will look like in two years, five years, 10 years. Those projects where I do get invited back to the properties, I keep those close to my heart.” 

Even better, Malcolm and his team did meet the target for the hotel’s grand opening.

Screenshot 2023-06-07 at 10.17.07 AM

Land Form Design Group (12)  Land Form Design Group (11)

Get In Touch With...

Malcolm Miller, ASLA
President, Land Form Design Group Inc
Email: malcolm@landform-design.com

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