Vacation condo growth spurts

Was it all that long ago when a respectable vacation getaway meant a modest lake cottage – heat and indoor plumbing optional? Or a patch of land big enough to put up a tent, or park a trailer, so you could watch the stars and tend a campfire?

Times indeed are changing, not just in Wisconsin but nationwide. We want more pampering and less work. We don’t want to mow a lawn or paint windowsills during a weekend away. Central air and diversions may matter as much as peace and quiet.

We are seeking a place not just next to a lake, but a waterpark, a golf course, a spa and/or a good restaurant with shopping nearby.

Some of us own vacation property; others own a share of time away from home.

“There is no doubt the timeshare industry is one of the bright spots in the struggling hospitality sector, with 10 consecutive years of double-digit growth, not to mention sales volume reaching $8.6 billion worldwide in 2001,” wrote Hotel Business magazine in May 2003. “And, the sector is still in its infancy.”

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism incidents, travelers have demonstrated a bigger interest in spending time with family and friends. One report, called the 2003 National Leisure Travel Monitor, contends:

* About 15 percent of leisure travelers are interested in buying some form of timeshare vacation in the next two years.

* About 59 percent are interested in staying at a condominium resort in the next two years.

The condominium resort is one example of a way to have a home away from home, and more than a room with a view. Here are four examples of how that industry is expanding in Wisconsin.

First, let’s acknowledge my vested interest in The Osthoff Resort, a 174-unit and AAA four-diamond condo resort that dominates the landscape in tiny Elkhart Lake. I’ve owned a unit since 2000, and one year ago I was elected to the condo association’s board of directors.

Elkhart is where I gleefully slaved as a waitress during summers – a mere one meal off per week – to pay my way through college. Family connections keep bringing me back, and proceeds from the sale of family farmland allow me to own property here.

Come May of 2005, if all goes as planned, The Osthoff will have 48 more suites, 7,500 square feet of new meeting space, a spa of at least 16,000 square feet and a new restaurant that will seat 75-100 people.

It is a multimillion dollar project, and the new suites will be for sale, which is one way to help foot the bill for an expansion. The growth and financing technique certainly are not unusual for Wisconsin – or for Sheboygan County. Particularly now.

About one-half hour east, the $54 million Blue Harbor Resort and Conference Center will dramatically change and enhance the Lake Michigan shoreline of Sheboygan. The goal is to open early this summer, in time for the PGA Championship that will be held at nearby Whistling Straits golf course.

This is another exercise in bigger and better. Blue Harbor’s 40,000-square-foot indoor waterpark is being described as one of the biggest in North America, with seven waterslides and a $1 million “interactive Lighthouse Waterfort.”

At four stories and 300,000 square feet, there will be 183 suites, a 24,000-square-foot convention center and assorted amenities, including three restaurants and a 5,000-square-foot arcade. A separate project is a 64-unit resort condo complex; there are two- and four-bedroom choices, each with a covered porch or outdoor deck.

The developer is The Great Lakes Companies Inc., Madison, which also has orchestrated construction of the well-received Great Wolf Lodge waterpark resorts in several cities, including Wisconsin Dells.

One of the most recent coups was the hiring away of Josef Haas, general manager at the Kalahari Waterpark Resort, a kingpin in the Dells. Haas has become Blue Harbor’s general manager, evidence that the developer is serious about competing for a lion’s share of the vacation market in Wisconsin.

The Kalahari, though, remains poised to continue its dominance in state tourism. By May or June, the resort will have doubled the size of its convention center, to 125,000 square feet, making it the largest that is independently owned in Wisconsin.

The spa area is expanding, too, and a new ride is being added to the indoor waterpark this winter. What else? There are 120 new resort condo units, each three bedrooms and all of which have been sold. The project is being described as “the only condos in the nation attached to a convention center.”

Now Phase II – which is 30-50 more units, each four or five bedrooms -is being contemplated by owner Todd Nelson.

Competing with that project is Wilderness on the Lake, a $37 million condo resort that overlooks Lake Delton in the Dells and opened in July 2003. There are 108 two- and three-bedroom units, each with a lake view.

Amenities include indoor/outdoor waterpark access, a sand beach with lake access, boat pier access and an affiliation with Wilderness Hotel and Golf Resort, which was built in 1995.

The condo project is in addition to $27 million in other recent expansions, which include the new Italian restaurant Sarento’s, 162 more guest rooms and a 30,000-square-foot dry foam indoor play park for children.

How much can you expect to pay for one of these new units? It will depend upon location, unit size, type of furnishings and view. Expect an investment of around $200,000, on the low end, to $500,000 or more.

How much does it cost to rent one of these units? The lodging game has dozens of rates that depend upon time of year, day of week, size of unit, type of view. Use an Internet search device such as Expedia or Travelocity to narrow it down.

For more about these four endeavors, go to:

* or (800) 876-3399.
* or (866) 701-2583.
* or (877) 253-5466, ext. 2133.
* or (866) 363-5253.