|By Adolfo Pesquera, San Antonio Express-News
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Nov. 4, 2005 - Time-share companies and developers are suddenly sold on San Antonio.
A half-dozen projects are under way and San Antonio's tourism industry is seeing a new market arise.
Hyatt Vacation Club, a subsidiary of Hyatt Corp., was the first to roll the dice when it chose San Antonio as the location for its first Texas project. The midsummer 2004 unveiling of its 39-acre resort -- the Wild Oak Ranch adjacent to the Hyatt Hill Country Resort Hotel -- started with two buildings and 48 units.
This year was its first full summer of operations and the 48 completed units were packed, said sales director Stacy O'Keefe.
"We have over 1,500 owners already," O'Keefe said.
Sales are strong enough, O'Keefe said, that construction is starting on a third 24-unit building this month. At completion, Wild Oak Ranch will have 288 units.
Four other companies have five projects moving forward. These include three towers coming to the River Walk by the firms Fairfield Resorts Inc., RTK Development Group and HollyHills Development. HollyHills is also doing a Hill Country resort in west Bexar County. And Shell Vacation Systems is converting a hotel near the airport, Hill Country Inn & Suites, into a 190-room time-share resort called Salado Creek Villas.
"It's monkey see, monkey do," said Mitch Meyer, developer of the La Cascada luxury condominium tower on the River Walk. "Once someone does it, it makes it easier for the others to enter the marketplace."
Meyer did his part to get the trend going by selling the downtown lot next to his condo tower to Fairfield Resorts, a Cendant subsidiary and the largest time-share company in the world, with more than 500,000 owners.
Fairfield put its toe in the San Antonio River in the summer of 2004 when it took ownership of the 92-unit Riverside Suites. Fairfield broke ground next to La Cascada two weeks ago and plans to finish the 10-story, 100-unit tower by mid-2007, said Rob Landry, senior planning director.
The uninformed may think of time shares as two-week commitments to one specific place -- inflexible and impractical. In their infancy that's what they were, but the concept today is much more marketable.
For one thing, they aren't just out of-the-way recreational spots such as lake cabins, beach bungalows or ski lodges.
"We've seen a lot of growth in urban markets," said Jim Cohn, a Fairfield spokesman. "Seattle, Atlantic City -- those are popular. San Antonio is one of those up-and-comers. It's centrally located for a lot of our owners."
Owners of one property have access to many properties in many places because time shares usually work with exchange networks that give them rights to book throughout the system. Fairfield has 73 properties in the United States and locations in the Caribbean.
Hyatt Vacation Club is an affiliate of Interval International Inc., a network that includes properties in the time-share divisions of hospitality chains such as Marriott, Four Seasons, Westin, Disney and many others, O'Keefe said.
At Hyatt Vacation Club, guests tend to spend most of their week on-site, O'Keefe said. The resort boasts a large water park with all the frills, including indoor and outdoor slides, pools and a man-made, 800-foot lazy river. There's also a nine-hole golf course that's the back third of a 27-hole course that starts at the resort hotel.
Sea World of Texas is practically around the corner, and guests enjoy a dinner downtown now and then, O'Keefe added.
Hyatt's sales success at Wild Oak Ranch has been on the strength of its relations with existing owners who were interested in having a Texas property. Virtually all sales have been to Texans who had out-of-state ownerships, O'Keefe said.
Two-bedroom units are the most popular, but one- and three-bedroom units are available, and the larger units are divisible.
"We've had owners that will buy a two-bedroom so that they can pass on a bedroom to each of their children," O'Keefe said. Prices at Wild Oak Ranch range from $5,800 to $38,900, she said.
A $17,000 plan at Fairfield is good for a two-bedroom for a week in prime season, Cohn said.
"That is a one-time fee," he said. "You get those points for the rest of your life. You can take your deed and pass it on. You'll be paying for vacations 20 years from now at 2005 prices."
HollyHills is mimicking both the Hyatt resort and the Fairfield tower. Its Briggs Ranch at U.S. 90 West and Texas 211 will feature a 58-acre, 1,000-unit resort with a two-acre water park, said Marlene Bailey, co-owner of the project.
Owners will also be able to access 10 stories of a 16-story mixed-use tower on the River Walk that HollyHills hopes to complete in 2007. Bailey said the company is also working out an affiliation with Interval International to offer clients access to properties in its network.
RTK Development Group is the third company entering the downtown market, but developer Larry Raba said the product is different from the traditional time share.
Piazza San Lorenzo, a mixed-use, Italian-style urban center, will have River Walk cafes, street-level boutiques and towers that will be a mix of 25 full-ownership condominiums and 50 fractionals called the Private Residence Club.
"Here, you're buying a piece of real estate where the smallest ownership is one-tenth," Raba said.
The minimum ownership is four fixed weeks and one floating week, but Raba says the setup is flexible enough that owners could stay in the tower almost year-round if they're willing to move from condo to condo.
Construction on Piazza San Lorenzo is expected to begin in mid-January, he said.
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