News for the Hospitality Executive
|By Jack Snyder, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Nov. 5, 2003 - When they're finished about seven years from now, the two multibillion-dollar resorts going up a few miles southwest of Walt Disney World will have a lot in common -- specifically, multiple golf courses surrounded by hotels, homes, vacation villas, shops and restaurants.
By then, 25,000 to 30,000 visitors, residents and workers will be in Reunion Resort & Club of Orlando and its next-door neighbor, ChampionsGate, on any given day, doing many of the same things.
But at the moment, the giant resorts have separate complexions, having gone about the job of developing themselves in different ways.
Each has spent about $200 million so far developing its site. Each anticipates completing its construction plan by 2010. But the larger Reunion Resort estimates it has already sold about $100 million worth of land and homes since late 2001, while ChampionsGate won't launch its first big thrust in residential development until early next year.
ChampionsGate, which plans to have nearly 3,000 hotel rooms, is already at work on a 730-room luxury hotel that will open next fall, while Reunion Resort is still pondering the size of its hotel component. And ChampionsGate has recorded about $40 million in commerical-property sales, while Reunion Resort has sold only residential land.
The two resorts, which total about 4,000 acres, straddle Interstate 4 in northwest Osceola County. The developers say they are delighted by the side-by-side arrangement, which they say has allowed them to feed off each other.
But the real key to their success is their proximity to Disney World, said Abe Pizam, dean of the University of Central Florida's Rosen School of Hospitality Management.
"This whole region owes its existence as a tourist destination to Disney," Pizam said. With Disney's theme parks serving as a powerful magnet, Reunion Resort and ChampionsGate can use golf and other amenities to capture vacation-home sales, other guests and business meetings, he noted. Golf is a major component of both resorts.
Reunion Resort has two 18-hole golf courses, one designed by Arnold Palmer and the other by Tom Watson under construction. They'll be finished early next year. A third course, designed by another golfing great, Jack Nicklaus, is to be built next year.
ChampionsGate has a 36-hole complex open. Those courses were designed by PGA great Greg Norman. The course is also home to the David Leadbetter Golf Academy. Leadbetter, regarded as one of the top golf teachers in the world, is an adviser to many professionals.
ChampionsGate, which is being developed by a partnership of Apollo Real Estate Advisors of New York and RIDA Development Corp. of Houston, also has signed a five-year contract to host the annual Office Depot Father/Son Challenge, which will feature many of professional golf's most famous players.
The televised event, to be held in early December, will give ChampionsGate "tremendous national exposure," said Marc S. Reicher, the resort's vice president of operations. Combined, the two resorts intend to build more than 10,000 residential units, ranging from golf villas and condominiums to single-family homes.
Both plan to operate rental pools for those who buy their townhomes, condominiums and villas, on the assumption that many buyers will be purchasing units both as long-term investments and as vacation homes.
ChampionsGate, for instance, plans to develop 558 high-end condominiums early next year that buyers can place in a rental pool to be operated by the Orlando Omni Resort At ChampionsGate, the hotel now under construction. The Ginn Co., developer of Reunion Resort, expects that at least one-third of its property owners will participate in its rental pool.
Both projects will have extensive "village centers" featuring restaurants and shops and office space. Reunion Resort has not started any shops or restaurants while ChampionsGate has a small shopping center open. And both expect U.S. buyers to dominate their residential sales -- as much as 75 percent of the total.
Reunion Resort buyers have come from as far away as Ireland, Hungary and South America, but Florida is still the No. 1 source of customers so far, a spokesman said, followed by England and, tied for third, the Northeastern and Midwestern United States. Bobby Ginn, president of the Ginn Co., based in nearby Celebration, thinks that many of the project's customers over time will be second-, third-, even fourth-home buyers.
"A lot of the people we've seen are affluent," Ginn said.
The developer also anticipates a sizable number of permanent, year-round residents -- maybe 20 percent of the resort's total.
"That happened at Hilton Head," the South Carolina development where Ginn worked for many years. "People come for vacations, then to stay," he said. "Resorts are wonderful places to live."
While the two resorts are already altering the landscape on Disney's southwest flank, Ginn expects the entire I-4 corridor between Disney and U.S. Highway 27 in Polk County to change dramatically as the Western Beltway pushes south from the Ocoee-Winter Garden area and links up with the interstate in the next few years.
"The whole corridor is going to see rapid development," he said.
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