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

Christopher Harding has several labels to his credit: entrepreneur, investor, pro-sports owner, hotelier, philanthropist and art collector, among others. In 2018, the Louisville native moved to Dorado Beach, Puerto Rico, and found he could fulfill all of his passions – investing, art, and most importantly, fostering the unwavering desire to give back – all under sunny skies.

When Chris isn’t coming and going in Louisville, where he owns a controlling interest 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 me how you ended up in Dorado Beach…

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

Do you mean because of the benefits?

Initially, I said, OK, that’s for the tax incentives. That’s what initially attracted me. I came for the bounties, but I’m not staying because of it. I am here because I fell in love with this island. People are amazing. This place is amazing.

When I arrived I was single and thought, I’m going to buy in San Juan, but I’m also going to Dorado Beach, mainly for tennis. There were so many young families, and I wasn’t sure I would fit in at that point in my life. As soon as I arrived, I found myself going there three times a week. I kept saying that I needed to spend more time at Dorado Beach. I was lucky and found a very special property and loved every moment of it. I met amazing and interesting people and I’m very grateful to have made the trip. As you can see, this is paradise.

What is it about Puerto Rico that makes it so special?

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

When I’m walking down the street, I’ll just give up and say, Hey, how are you? And everyone does that. It’s almost like a freshman year in college where no one really knows anyone and we’re all trying to fit in. So we’re all friendly and we say hello. It just creates an amazing environment to live in, where you socialize a lot more than you would in the United States.

I met so many people from different business genres that I had never thought of, never considered. So I’m learning so much. I get involved in new business that I probably wouldn’t have, because of the people I met here. Puerto Rico has given me an amazing lifestyle that I really love, and I think it’s going to take me down so many different paths in business that I never would have known.

Do you feel responsible for giving back since the island has been so good to you?

Absolutely. I think the natives of Puerto Rico are starting to see the good in what we’re trying to deliver. It’s almost like please just give us a chance to show you how much we appreciate it. And through outreach, through philanthropy, it will become very consistent. Right now you’re reading articles that can sometimes be controversial, and there’s a small faction of people who don’t want us here. I can totally see their perspective and their side, really, but the vast majority of us are here to be good stewards.

What is their side?

Why would we have tax incentives for being here when they can’t get the same thing? And I understand it. I really do. But we’re also here to help make this island even bigger than it was when we arrived here. And it was already great!

Do you think that’s a consistent sensibility that people share here? Or do you think maybe it’s something you feel?

I came in with that mentality and tried to do my best to give back, long before I got here. Even though some people may first be 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 back here? What else can I do to make this place even better or to maintain its greatness?

I think it’s both a natural progression and a personal journey. If someone wants to contribute, would it matter if they live in Puerto Rico, London or New York? It’s about the kind of person you are. I feel lucky to have been in contact with a large group of friends who share my passion for this special island, and I believe that through commitment and longevity, any negative feelings about how we are arrived here will turn into a new found confidence over time.

Law 20/22, now Law 60, mandates an annual donation of $10,000 to an official charity based in Puerto Rico. For me, this number is too low and should be increased. Much of the charity work we do is unwritten, but I firmly believe that if you quietly mind your own business and try to lead by example, it will ultimately inspire people to do the same. And that movement can and will happen here. there is no doubt.

What are some of the philanthropic opportunities you pursue?

Personally, I’m an animal guy. I always was. I definitely have a thing for rescues. 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 the founder, Chrissy Beckles and on our first pandemic zoom, we felt an immediate connection. I recounted her traumatic loss of a pet and her desire to help as many animals as possible along her path.

Talk to me about Stole 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 discussed how I could make an impact, one of my first questions was, what happens when a hurricane or an earthquake hits? Pets are out of place and owners cannot find them. Michael explained that a cohesive pet rescue program has yet to be developed. The thought of lost animals, 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 rescue and provide pets with emergency disaster relief. We’re a small pet initiative with a huge heart, and it’s through the power of partnership that we’ve grown as quickly as we have.

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

We are also engaged in 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!