Christopher Harding has a few labels to his name: entrepreneur, investor, pro-sports owner, hotelier, philanthropist and art collector, among others. In 2018 the Louisville native moved to Dorado Beach, Puerto Rico and realized he could bridge all of his passions – investing, art, and most importantly, fostering the unyielding desire to give back – all under sunny skies.
When Chis isn’t shuffling back and forth to Louisville, where he owns a controlling stake in Soccer Holdings, Inc., Racing Louisville Football Club, and Lynn Family Stadium, he’s helping homeless animals at his hotel, Hodges Bay Resort and Spa on 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 me how you ended up at Dorado Beach….
I really knew nothing about Puerto Rico, other than the fact that it was US territory, and I’d never been here. I’m not sure I ever would have because there’s just so many other places to visit in the world. But I came down here thinking, I’m going to do it. Even if I don’t like it, I’ll learn to love it!
Do you mean because of the benefits?
Initially, I said, OK, it’s for the tax incentives. That’s what drew me down initially. I came for the incentives, but I’m not staying because of that. I’m here because I’ve fallen in love with this island. The people are incredible. This place is amazing.
When I first came, I was single and thought, I’m going to buy in San Juan, but I’ll also join Dorado Beach, mainly for the tennis. There were so many young families, and I wasn’t sure I would fit in at that time in my life. 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 got lucky and found a very special property and have loved every moment of being here. I’ve met amazing, interesting people and feel very grateful I made the move. As you can see, it’s paradise.
What is it about Puerto Rico that makes it so special?
I don’t know if I can even pinpoint it, its more like a feeling inside. But it definitely starts with the people. There’s a passion, an energy that just cant be explained. Everywhere that I’ve been here, they are so warm and inviting. And maybe it’s because I’m from Kentucky, and there’s something about it that resonates with me, because that’s how people are there, too.
When I’m walking down the street, I’ll just waive and say, Hey, how are you doing? And everybody’s doing that. It’s almost like freshman year in college where nobody really knows anyone and we’re all just trying to fit in. So we’re all friendly and waving. It just makes for an amazing environment to live in, where you socialize much more than you would back in the states.
I’ve met so many people from different genres of business that I’ve never thought about, never contemplated. So I’m learning so much. I’m getting involved in new deals that I probably wouldn’t have, because of people that I’ve met down here. Puerto Rico has given me an unbelievable lifestyle that I really love, and I think it’s going to lead me down so many different avenues in business that I never would have known about.
Do you feel a responsibility to give back since the island has been so beneficial to you?
Absolutely. I think native Puerto Rican people are starting to see the good in what we are trying to contribute. It’s almost like, please just give us a chance to show you how much we appreciate it. And through outreach, through philanthropy, it’ll become very cohesive. Right now you read articles that can be contentious at times, and there’s a small faction of people that don’t want us here. I can totally see their point and their side, I truly can, but the vast majority of us are here to be good stewards.
What’s their side?
Why would we get tax incentives to be here when they can’t get the same? And I understand it. I really do. But we are also here to help make this island even greater 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 like maybe that’s something you feel?
I arrived with that mentality and have been trying to do my best to give back, long before I got here. Even though some people may initially be attracted for the incentives, as they fall in love with the island, it’s only natural for them to start thinking, what can I do to give back here? What else can I do to make this place even better, or sustain its greatness?
I think it’s both a natural progression and personal journey. If someone wants to contribute, would it matter if they lived in Puerto Rico, London or New York? It’s about the kind of person you are. I feel lucky to have connected with a great group of friends that share my passion for this special island, and I am confident that through commitment and longevity, any negative sentiments about how we got here will shift to new found trust over time.
Act 20/22, now Act 60, mandates a $10,000 donation, annually, to an official charity based in Puerto Rico. To me, that number is too low and should be raised. A lot of the charitable work we do goes unwritten, but I am a big believer that if you quietly go about your business and try to lead by example, it eventually moves people to do the same. And that movement can happen and will happen here. There’s no question about that.
What are some of the philanthropic opportunities you’re pursuing?
Personally, I’m an animal guy. I always have been. I definitely have such a soft spot for rescues. Soon after I arrived in Puerto Rico, I began 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 felt an immediate connection. I related to her traumatic loss of a pet and her desire to help as many pets as possible in her path.
Tell me about Flew the Coop….
It starts with a longtime friend of mine, Michael Capponi, founder of Global Empowerment Mission. Michael asked me to join the board, and when we were discussing how I could make an impact, one of my first questions was: What happens when a hurricane hits or an earthquake? Pets become displaced, 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 on their own, was unfathomable, and it did not take long before Flew The Coop was born.
Named after my own rescue, Cooper, our mission is simple: Support animal rescue and provide pets with emergency disaster relief. We are a small pet initiative with a huge heart, and it’s through the power of partnership that we have grown as quickly as we have.
Additionally, in Puerto Rico and Antigua, we try to get as many animals off the island as we can prior to hurricane season hitting. This summer and fall, Flew The Coop will help support SATO’s three upcoming Freedom Flights, which will transport and save 50 dogs. And, since launch, we have 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 foster socialization, have become a huge hit with all of our guests!