Sunday, March 02, 2008

When I Grow Up...

For years, I've wondered what I will do when I grow up. This week I think I found the answer. But more of that anon.
For the last month or so, we have been flitting around Florida and, along the way, have visited
various campgrounds to study the reported "explosion" of the condominium resorts. First, we noticed how many plain old campgrounds have recently upgraded to "Resort" status simply by putting up a new sign. Cute move. As for the vaunted lot ownership explosion, in Florida at least, it appears to focus around the sale of tired old campgrounds to eager investment groups, who generally have a game plan along the following lines. 1- Update the amenities; 2 - Advertise individual lots for sale; 3 - Sell 80 or 90 percent of the lots and hand over the operation to the owner community; 4 - Live extravagantly ever after.
In reality,
many of these operations seem not to be going to plan and, one way or another, slow sales appear to be at the root of the problem. Whether a company made most of its investment up front, or relied on reinvestment of revenues to build out as sales progressed, at each location that we stayed at there were signs of distress.
Up front investors appear trapped in a sales cycles so slow - as many as seven years in one case - that investment carrying costs have slowly pushed the price of an 80' x 100' lot as high as an astounding $250,000 - pretty salty, especially after pad costs are added and maintenance is figured in. Add a little real estate and pretty soon the cost soars to $400,000 to $700,000.
pay-as-you-go school have fared no better. Operational costs quickly gobble up the infrequent sales dollars leaving little money for reinvestment, again with the inevitable result of forcing lot prices up. Meanwhile, addition after addition of traditional houses, in similar price ranges and locations, continue to sell, suggesting that the central value proposition of RV lot ownership in Florida may not be what it's crackered up to be.
What a pleasant surprise then, when Marian found Williston Crossings on the Internet and booked us in for a while. Here is a brand new, start from scratch Class A and large fifth wheel only campground, in which the sites are for rent only - no sales! The project is the pride and joy of Bill Martin, a local contractor who majored in banks, burger buildings and similar edifices in the surrounding area. Bill is in his mid sixties and, three years ago, bought 160 acres of wooded land that includes an exhausted limestone quarry. Three years later, the enterprise is about one third complete - 115 sites out an eventual 330 with 50 more slated for this year - and is pretty much booked up to a year ahead. The project is being built from the rear exit forward and construction is managed via the eventual front entrance leaving campers undisturbed. Thus far, the campground has a park like feeling with large, level, screened sites and a quiet, comfortable atmosphere. Present amenities include paved roads, upscale club house, laundry facilities, camp fire, fishing, trolley cars to ferry folk to events and excellent security. Currently under construction is a grist mill, a waterfall with fish lagoon and preparatory work for two swimming pools to be built this summer. While we were there, a 60' x 80' lumber pavilion was erected for outdoor events. Planned for the future is an entire mini-village with a railway station with train, shops, ice cream parlor, a fire station and a church. The quarry is being remodeled into a fishing and boating area with rumors of a nine hole golf course to follow.But, for me, the best part of this park is that something is always going on. One or more of a powerful stable of yellow Tonka toy machines can usually be found trenching, excavating, dredging, bulldozing, pulverizing, compacting, building, tree felling, ditching or grading somewhere on the property. And, from the number of other head shaking wastrel spectators like me that turn up for these events, the fantasy of a playground such as this is probably not mine alone. Maybe, I could even consider some sharing of the toys if this was really what I could do when I grow up.
See Nerd's Nirvana Slideshow

In the meantime, whenever we are traveling through northern Florida on US 19, US 27, US 41 or I-75, we will be stopping by Williston Crossings for a few days, just to make sure they are doing things properly.

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