(CNN)In the 1990s, life in Beigou Village was difficult. There was no running water or infrastructure, and very limited job opportunities.
But over the past 20 years, the small village has seen a dramatic evolution.
The key to its success has been its location: Beigou lies in the shadow of The Great Wall of China — one of the world’s most-visited tourist destinations, drawing more than 24 million visitors in 2009, according to a report by the Global Heritage Fund
Self-taught architectural designer Jim Spear and his wife Tang Liang, after visiting on vacation, saw what the Beigou villagers didn’t: the value of their prime real estate.
With help from the local government, the duo set out to increase tourism and strengthen the local economy with a series of architectural projects.
This year, Spear has scaled uphis services with his biggest project yet: The Dashiyao Inn. The project’s first of five phases will open in spring 2017.
It is a collective investment by Jingxibei Real Estate Development Company andformer residents of six abandoned mountain villages, who will all own shares in the 23-room, two-villa hotel.
“The residents feel a sense of ownership of their original homes, which is on communal land that’s owned by the village,” says Spear.
“If the resort makes money, they make money. They also benefit from reliable incomes and new jobs. There’s training for hospitality, housekeeping, guards, landscaping, servers, and cooks, managers — alternatives to agriculture and government work.”