High risk (or insanity) lurking in Orlando's luxury and stratospheric housing markets?
Wake up and good morning. We've already seen a flurry of signs that while the recession lingers, pieces of the luxury market are rebounding. Here's the latest: Walt Disney Co. this morning officially unveils its plans to begin building luxury vacation homes on its land near its Orlando theme parks.
Wait. Isn't the Florida housing market still a disaster? Disney's apparently not worried because folks buying these homes, which start at $1.5 million and go up to $8 million, are least affected by the economic downturn. According to this Wall Street Journal story, the proposed 980-acre Golden Oak development, most recently two golf courses within the 40 square miles of Disney's Orlando theme parks, is expected to eventually encompass 450 homes and a 445-room Four Seasons hotel. Plans also call for a clubhouse, parks and pedestrian walkways, with wetlands and other conservation area comprising about half the project's acreage.
The Journal story notes Golden Oak will test whether Walt Disney World is "compelling enough for the well-heeled" to buy a home there instead of in other family-friendly resort towns. Fewer than 30 lots will be available for sale this year, with the first homes expected to be finished in 2011. The timing and scale of a second phase that may offer fully-built homes remains undecided, the story says. Disney says this is not another Celebration, the nearby Florida town the company built, but a vacation housing project.
Why would Disney, riding high on strong profits and the new, boffo release of its Toy Story 3 movie, jump into a risky housing venture? It's certainly trying to leverage its entertainment status by luring upscale buyers to be so close to its complex.
Of course, there's the luxury housing market in Orlando, and then there's the "are you kidding?" housing market in Orlando. Another story from Orlando is the out-of-control house known as "Versailles" of David Siegel, CEO of the Orlando-based timeshare giant Westgate Resorts. The unfinished 90,000-square-foot home (photo left, AP) comes with 13 bedrooms, 23 full bathrooms, a 6,000-square-foot master suite (with plans in place for a bed on a rotating platform), a banquet kitchen plus 10 satellite kitchens, a 20-car garage, three pools, a two-story wine cellar and a grand hall with a 30-foot stained glass dome. And a 20-car garage. Here's a complete story from the Wall Street Journal.
Plans to complete the house (rendering of finished home, right, from Westgate Resorts) are on hold. Is it a coincidence Westgate Resorts has let go 12,000 employees? What has been built is for sale for $75 million, with another $25 million probably required to finish it.
I did not even get to the second chapter of planned amenities, ranging from a boat house, formal gardens, a baseball field, two tennis courts and a rock grotto with a waterfall, a fitness center, a two-lane bowling alley, a roller rink, a video arcade and a theater. Check out the Fox TV video tour here.
Hmm... Disney better watch out. Siegel (left) may have been planning his own theme park, not a home.
-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist