|By Julie Dunn, The Denver Post
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Apr. 20, 2006 - Forget heading for the hills. Centennial developer Barry Freedman is hoping some Colorado buyers of second homes would prefer lakefront living -- in New Mexico.
Freedman is developing Ute Lake Ranch, a high-end resort community about 400 miles southeast of Denver, outside Logan, N.M.
The 25,000 acres are around part of 13-mile-long Ute Lake. Plans call for a gated community with at least 12,000 single-family homes, a Jack Nicklaus Design golf course, a marina, an equestrian center and up to five hotels, eventually.
Last week, Freedman broke ground on Ma'Laga Village, 773 single-family homes on Ute Lake Ranch's first golf course. Home prices range from $379,000 to $469,000. Prices for waterfront lots started at $100,000 and topped out at $1 million, said Freedman.
Second-home sales are booming across the country. About 3.34 million sold in 2005, up 16 percent from 2004, according to a recent National Association of Realtors survey.
In Eagle County -- home to Vail and Beaver Creek -- there was a record $2.8 billion worth of home sales last year, partly driven by second-home buyers.
"My thing is trying to find areas that will be in demand a few years from now," said Freedman, a former investment banker whose past projects include the first casino in Cripple Creek and a residential development in Cape Coral, Fla. "I'm a small player. That's why I try to find undiscovered areas." Freedman said he's financing the project privately but declined to disclose the amount.
"The water is a huge draw," said Paul Talbot of Golden, who said he has reserved two properties at Ute Lake Ranch.
Freedman said metro Denver baby boomers who crave water activities such as boating and jet-skiing have been the most interested in the project.
"Denver people have been ingrained to think mountains, mountains, mountains. We're an alternative," said Freedman, 54. "Especially for people in my age demographic, we tend to want warmer. I'm not really skiing anymore. I'd rather be out on the boat every night." To promote the project, Freedman has partnered with local real-estate broker Peter Workman to woo potential buyers at a private reception tonight in downtown Denver.
Roughly 32 percent of Americans plan to take a water vacation this year, compared with 5 percent who said they plan to take a ski vacation, according to tourism expert Peter Yesawich, based in Orlando, Fla.
Water has "a broader appeal to family travelers," he said.
Ute Lake was formed in 1963 for recreation and domestic water use by damming the Canadian River. A state park there drew almost 300,000 people last year, making it the third- most visited of New Mexico's 34 parks.
"Ute Lake is much more stable than other lakes because it is not used for agricultural irrigation," said Dave Simon, state park director for New Mexico.
"It'll be a shame if it is completely ringed by houses a decade or two from now. But development can also be very useful in that it spawns additional economic activity in the area."
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