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Business Observer Friday, Oct. 29, 2021 3 weeks ago

'Anti-timeshare' developers build buzz for project

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Heritage Harbour Golf Resort and Lodge believe they have a 'better mousetrap' in the resort sector.
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

Almost two years after announcing a plan to build villas and a resort lodge at the Heritage Harbour Golf Club and Eatery in east Manatee County, club owners have identified ResClubs as a development partner in building the Heritage Harbour Golf Resort and Lodge.

Mark Bruce, the club's manager handling the development project, recently joined with ResClubs CEO Craig Williamson to host an open house to explain how people can own or rent time in furnished vacation villas and lodge suites on the property.

Bruce says building the 76 villas and a resort will allow Heritage Harbour to infuse much-needed funds into a course in need of upgrades. The partnership with ResClubs isn't much of a change to the initial plan, he says. 

"Originally, we were thinking there would be a certain number of villas, and we would sell them for people to occupy," Bruce says. "The hotel would be the hotel."

Jay Heater. ResClubs CEO Craig Williamson says Heritage Harbour Golf Resort and Lodge will be a flagship site for his company.

After Palm Beach Gardens-based ResClubs launched its format at Reunion Resort and Golf Club in Kissimmee in January 2020, Bruce saw the concept on a social media site and researched the platform. "We wanted to find a development partner who was aligned with our vision," said Bruce, who contacted Williamson. "They were open to the idea. They were relatively new and they wanted to grow their platform in Florida. This will become a Southeast flagship for them."

One aspect of the project Bruce stresses? This isn't a timeshare. 

"Timeshare is a form of fractional ownership," Bruce says. "It is predatory with a hard sales pitch. The ResClubs program is exactly the opposite with the villas being part of a stay-and-play resort. Members are investing dollars into a vacation home membership. From that point on, there are no additional fees or dues. They can pre-book their time, come and go, and the other weeks they don't use are creating income to offset their cost."

The Heritage Harbour golf course opened in 2001 as Stoneybrook and changed to its current name in 2018. Since its inception, it has been operated as a public course and a semi-private club.

"We are taking it into the resort/private world," Bruce says. "This will include opportunities for people who live in Stoneybrook and Heritage Harbour. The reason for doing the whole project is to put money back into the property."

Infrastructure construction is expected to begin next summer, at which time the golf course will be closed for a major renovation. Bruce expects the course to be closed for about five months and he says it will be the first of a three-tier renovation project. He says the plan is to upgrade "everything."

Construction is expected to go vertical in the fourth quarter of 2022 and the villas are expected to be ready beginning in the first or second quarter of 2023. The resort lodge, which will have between 76-90 suites (depending on entitlements), is expected to be finished about a year after the villas.

Courtesy. A rendering of the exterior of one of the resort villas planned for Heritage Harbour Golf Resort and Lodge.

The first and second holes on the course will be taken out and replaced by the villas and the lodge. Two holes will be added to the existing course, which will remain a par-72.

Williamson, involved in the timeshare and vacation club industry since 2003, wanted "to build a better mousetrap."

"We are the anti-timeshare," he adds. "That industry still is predatory. I spent a lot of sleepless nights because we were putting a lot of people in that industry and it was not good stewardship of their money.

"This is the evolution of it."

Williamson says participation in ResClubs also leads to a revenue stream. He says an explosion in the amount of vacation rental properties like VRBO and Airbnb made the market ripe for ResClubs. 

Another advantage: Heritage Harbour checked all the boxes  — features like growth, big box stores and being pinched on all sides by development —when Williamson sought a flagship property.

Besides the Heritage Harbour project, Williamson has other projects in Costa Rica and Mexico, along a similar project with townhomes in Las Vegas.

He says the fact Heritage Harbour Golf Resort and Lodge will be developed all in one phase is important. He says projects in multiple phases, which sometimes leave earlier phases obsolete, are "absolute catastrophes."

Bruce, meanwhile, says the resort's time has come — partially due to the pandemic.

"People want to be in their own little bubble," he says. "The landscape has changed and has been amplified by the pandemic. We saw this as a perfect fit for us. People will be bonded to the property, and will call it home."

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