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Lake Osprey Resort Offers Picturesque Vistas

Screen Shot 2016-06-16 at 4.48.04 PMTwo years ago Scott Roberts knew little of the Alabama Gulf Coast when a banking partner asked for his opinion of Lake Osprey RV Resort in Elberta, Ala. Roberts, CEO of Roberts Resorts, flew in with his sister Nicole and was impressed enough to buy it.

Lake Osprey RV Resort sits about 20 miles from the Gulf of Mexico and the wide-open beaches of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Ala. It is a very competitive market with more than 20 privately owned campgrounds and the huge Gulf State Park with nearly 500 campground spots.

“We fell in love with Lake Osprey. A business partner who also owns a bank had lent the second owner on this project some money and said, ‘There’s a guy who’s starting to have a little bit of difficulties, can you go take a look at it and give me your own opinion on the project?’ My sister and I were already at a conference in, of all places, Tunica, Miss. and I fly a small, private plane — I’m always looking for excuses of going on the next adventure — so we decided we could go down to Gulf Shores, Ala.,” Roberts said.

Screen Shot 2016-06-16 at 4.48.39 PM“We thought, ‘Wow, Alabama is surprisingly nice, this isn’t what we anticipated at all,’” he continued. “We were just blown away at the beauty of the property, the area and the people, and so when we met with the owner the second day he said, ‘Well I’m probably going to have to sell the property.’ So we ended up striking an agreement and buying it from him.”

Roberts his sister Nicole and their brother Niels are second-generation owners of Robert Resorts, which also owns four RV Resorts in Arizona and one the company recently added in Texas. The Roberts family also owns seven park model RV and manufactured housing communities in Texas and one in Colorado.

Lake Osprey is 72-acre facility with a 12-acre lake. It had only 25 lots completed when the Roberts family purchased it in 2014, and now it has 98 lots finished which all have the space to build Coach Homes. Each lot has a 16-foot-by-75-foot concrete pad with Wi-Fi and cable TV connection. The resort is open to Class A, C and fifth-wheel units. Lot prices begin at $66,000.

The resort has a large clubhouse, Tiki Bar, laundry, full workout facilities, a large heated pool, hot tub, putting green, crafts room and a number of pickleball courts where area championships are played. An 18-hole golf course is next to the resort.

Ron Daniels, the resort’s general manager and reciprocal broker, said a Port-Home area was just zone approved that will feature 1,300- to 1,600-square-foot single-family homes, with two bedrooms, two baths, and a covered port for a motorhome or fifth-wheel. “A regular stick-built single-family home and the way we build them here is, of course, wood frame. We build them to hurricane standard so they’re real heavy duty. We’ve got the impact glass, the heavy-duty doors, bolted down metal roofs, Hardie Board exterior, and it is really solid, it is really anchored down.” Daniels along with his wife Debbie, who is the resort’s operations manager and lifestyle consultant, run the day-to-day operation.

According to Roberts, “Lake Osprey doesn’t really try to be what the other area properties are, and I think that’s what makes it unique. If you want to be on the beach every single day and you want to smell that ocean air, that’s not us — but you’re going to be dealing with traffic, you’re going to be dealing with a lot of people and you’re going to be probably dealing with some background noise. At night or in the morning when you walk around our property, you’re hearing tons of birds because we’re backed up to a sanctuary, and you feel like you’re camping, even though it’s a resort setting.

Screen Shot 2016-06-16 at 4.49.44 PM“Our lake is lined with a border of concrete edging along the whole edge of the lake,” Roberts continued. “I couldn’t believe how much rain we get here. There was a time that when we got 22 inches in 24 hours and this property, thanks to the original engineers, just did an amazing job with everything draining to that lake. And then our lake has a spillway, and that spillway goes into a preserve and then into a tributary that goes into the Gulf. So we drained really well and at that time other properties in the RV business actually had a lot of flooding. It speaks to the kind of the quality and the construction of this project because it’s a new project and it was just well designed, well thought-out.” And while they’re in hurricane country, the park is fortunate being inland, he said. “We’re not right on the coast so if we were to get a hurricane we’re not going to get a storm surge. So we have the benefits but a lot of the detriments that you hear about, we are just far enough away.”

Lake Osprey is a new concept for the Roberts family. The rest of their RV properties are land-lease agreements and 55-and-older communities.

At Lake Osprey the lots are owner-owned. “We’re still trying to get our head around how the lot-sales business works. All of them except for this one are 55 and older,” Roberts said. “What’s unique about this property is we have a very strong winter season and we have a just as strong, if not stronger, summer season. So we feel for the best interest of the lot owners that obviously if they’re snowbirds or want to leave here, they can get some revenue coming on their lots.

“Usually,” he continued, “our demographic gets quite a bit younger in the summer months. It’s a lot of families that want to be somewhat close to the beach but they like that their kid can run around and not worry about getting hit on the street or that. The pool is a little bit quieter and it’s smaller, quainter. They can get their kayaks and get in the lake, they can go down the road and play at the local golf course that we neighbor.

“So we really have two seasons,” Roberts said, “which is unique for us — our projects in Arizona have one season and that’s the wintertime, and during the summertime we’re lucky to have 20% occupancy.”

Screen Shot 2016-06-16 at 4.50.16 PMRon Daniels was surprised by the age of the buyers. “The snowbirds leave and that doesn’t really seem to be our market for purchasing. They’re kind of settled, in their 70s and 80s, they like to enjoy themselves, and head home in the spring. They’ve got their pension, their savings, they’re a little bit unsure of the future — they’re holding back.

“All of a sudden,” Daniels continued, “we started seeing Baby Boomers. They are the people that are new empty nesters and they were coming back. A lot of them are from Mississippi and Arkansas and this is where they used to come to the beach when they were kids. So they’re starting to come back this way and we’re starting to see more sales there and now we’re starting to see them as our market. The younger Baby Boomers, well they’ve got some income coming in, they have early retirement maybe. I’ve had some people that had some big jobs, one fellow here managed industrial plants around the world, I mean he was a big shot manager, he’s in his early 50’s, he’s retired, and he’s done. He’s got his pension. So he’s here, so those are the kind of people we’re drawing right now, which surprised us.”

Thanks to some savvy marketing at the Florida RV Trade Association (FRVTA) Tampa Supershow, online videos, Facebook and an in-house initiative, Lake Osprey had a successful winter season, according to Daniels.

“What we did was on the lakefront lots, since you can’t run a fifth-wheel there, we bought a trailer caddy that you pull planes with to hangars. It pulls 50,000 pounds,” he explained. “You come in with a fifth-wheel and we’ll say, ‘Do you want to be on the lake?’ ‘Oh yeah, I’d like to be.’ Because normally they couldn’t get on there. So we take and we pull them up to the site, they unhook their vehicle, we hook it up, pull it in to the site, and when they’re ready to go we back them out and send them on their way. This is a five-star place and we take fifth-wheels, most others don’t.”

Roberts understands that growth can take time in properties like Lake Osprey. “We’re well-capitalized and our horizon for success is a lot longer than for most. Some people would be getting discouraged with Lake Osprey already, only owning it for two years and it still not showing a profit. But we look at what’s it going to be like five, 10 years from now. And again it’s a much longer-term vision of what we consider success. We’re not impatient because we don’t have other investors’ money in it. We can make decisions and not worry about the immediate return, it’s what’s the long-term return on that investment that matters.”

Roberts is open to continuing the company’s growth to the east and moving into Florida. “We still have a huge passion for the RV industry and we’re really bullish on it. I mean obviously RV sales have been enormously encouraging. So we base our decisions on long, long-term plans because we just think it’s the right thing to do. It’s not a situation of ‘Hey, you know, how’s that going to affect the shareholders’ interest?’ Or ‘How is that going to affect our stock price next quarter?’ Our name is on here. We’re Roberts Resorts. We’re not hiding from that,” he said.

“I just ran into a great lady (at Lake Osprey), and she said that she stayed at Gold Canyon and Pueblo El Mirage, which are two of our other great properties in Arizona and I am really proud that we own those properties. And it wasn’t a question of anything that I had to go ‘Oh, sorry we didn’t have everything perfect for you.’ We’ve owned those properties for 30 years and I know exactly what her experience was like and I have a lot of confidence that she had a great experience, and she did,” Roberts continued. “It was great to have that. I wouldn’t give up that confidence level of knowing she had a great experience over, hey I could have cut a few corners here or there and not given her that experience.”

And that’s exactly the experience Lake Osprey aims to provide.

—Shawn Spence

 

Campground Overview

Name: Lake Osprey RV Resort

Address: 12054 Gateway Drive

Elberta, AL 36530

Number of Sites: 98

Physical description: Located 20 miles from the Gulf of Mexico beaches of Gulf Shores, Ala. Situated on 72 acres next to a sanctuary. Open to Class A units 15 years or newer, Class C and Fifth-Wheel units 10 years or newer and 29th feet or longer

Season: Open year-round.

Rates: $42-$53 daily, $210-$294 weekly, $580-735 monthly (plus power)

Website: robertsresorts.com/resorts/lake-osprey

Contact: 888-436-6860; lakeosprey@robertsresorts.com

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