Meet the ‘Man’ behind Houston’s crystal lagoon scene

by Emily Marek

First-generation immigrant Uri Man grew up going to the beach on family vacations — so when he got the opportunity to bring crystal-clear lagoons to Houston, he jumped at the chance to give Houstonites a taste of paradise.

Originally from Israel, Man says he’s defined by the fact that he’s the first generation in his family to grow up in the United States.

“My father was a prisoner of war. My grandparents were in concentration camps during the Holocaust,” Man said. “I’m really the first generation in my family that gets the opportunity to live in the United States and benefit from the great country we have.”

Man attended the University of Michigan and then lived in London and New York as an investment banker before moving into real estate. “I always had this idea I would be in business,” he said. “I used my MBA to get into real estate development from 2002 to 2015, building master-planned communities, rental apartments and mixed-use projects.”

Man says he learned one of the most vital keys to his career while working for Jorge Pérez of The Related Group, one of the most well-known developers in Florida. Pérez taught Man that there’s two types of real estate development: Waterfront and not waterfront. “And you wanna be in waterfront,” he said.

After serving as the head of development for Gables Residential Florida, Man met Fernando Fischmann of The Crystal Lagoon Corporation. He flew to Santiago to visit several crystal lagoons that were already built there.

The crystal lagoons are, in the simplest terms, giant swimming pools the size of a lake. However, when Man visited that first lagoon in Santiago, he saw how special this amenity could be in areas without beachfront access.

“I took a boat from one side to the other of San Alfonso Del Mar Lagoon — it was incredible,” Man said. “I Imagined parents sitting on lounge chairs while children built sandcastles in front of them. We love building communities that help people get to know each other.”

At that time, there were no regulatory approvals for swimming in crystal lagoons in the U.S. So Fischmann made Man an offer he couldn’t refuse: join as CEO for 10% of the company and bring crystal lagoons to the United States.

After joining The Crystal Lagoon Corporation, Man’s job was to travel around the country, meet people, and convince them that for their next large-scale project, they should consider adding one of these lagoons.

“When you add a crystal lagoon, suddenly you have waterfront properties,” Man explained. “Now you can attract developers to come in and build hotels, restaurants, et cetera.”

“It became very evident to me that the best markets for these lagoons would be Texas and Florida. Texas by far is the biggest and best state for master planned community development, and Houston is the best city in the world for MPC development,” Man said. “The affordability of the housing is there, there’s great infrastructure, and one of the best medical centers in the U.S. Houston sells more new homes than the entire state of California in a year. And that is a testament to these successful master-planned communities.”

Man met with numerous developers in the Houston area, including Howard Hughes, Caldwell and Skymark — but Al Brende of Land Tejas was the developer most drawn to the lagoons. 

“He is very focused on being first to market with new innovative concepts,” Man said. “When he saw the lagoon concept, he said he grew up going to see crystal clear water, and he had a gut feeling the lagoons would have a positive impact on these projects.”

Man and Brende worked together on the first U.S. lagoon project — Balmoral — a 2-acre crystal lagoon built as a beta test. The community broke all records and became the No. 1 master-planned community in Houston, outselling even Bridgeland. They then started working on Lago Mar, which included a much larger lagoon and also subsequently won best master-planned community in Houston.

“The lagoons have had a huge positive impact on home sales,” Man said. “Projects with lagoons get 10 times more visitors than those without. And during the construction of a lagoon, there are many milestones. Each is a great opportunity for events where we invite the general public.

“Once the lagoon is open, we’re creating great experiences for our guests,” Man continued. “Many of these families don’t have the money to hop on a plane and go to the Bahamas to see crystal clear water. We’re creating that opportunity for them.”

As CEO of Crystal Lagoons, Man had an easy time showing developers how the lagoons could generate more sales. However, most had some concerns about the cost of maintaining the lagoons.

“When I left Crystal Lagoons, I partnered with Greg Singleton to form The Lagoon Development Company,” Man said. Focused on offsetting maintenance costs, they began to open lagoons at 30% capacity during Covid. “Since then, we’ve been growing the number of people coming to the lagoons.”

The Lagoon Development Company started an event called Lagoonfest Texas, a family-friendly festival with food, music and activities. They also added the Blue Lagoon Bar and Grille to Balmoral and have begun hosting events such as triathlons and concerts. Eight concerts are scheduled to appear on the lagoon’s floating stage this summer.

In addition to social events, LDC also partners with local charities and groups that make use of the lagoons, including Galveston Food Bank, Houston Pets Alive, Houston Theater, the U.S. Coast Guard, Dickinson ISD, Texas City ISD and Special Olympics.

The Lagoon Development Company’s Houston outreach only continues to grow. There are three crystal lagoons already planned in the area: Sunterra Lagoon, which will open in 2025; Sierra Vista, a four-acre lagoon that will likely break ground in 2024 and open in 2025; and an additional four-acre lagoon in Dayton that is already under construction and set to open to the public in the summer of 2024.

“I’ve had my fingers in the development of every crystal lagoon in Houston,” Man said. “We have basically transformed Houston into a beach community. Soon you’ll be just a short drive from a public beach from just about anywhere in Houston.”

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  • J. Smith says:

    I bought my home because of the lagoon and so far the home price is up over 20%. Never knew this story. Thanks

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