Florida Developer on Target with Resort Plan

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June 15, 2009 by   - () Leave a Comment

In a pocket of land north of Lake Okeechobee in South Florida, past the winding nature trails that fill this 5,600-person town, Bill Harvey is patiently waiting. 

He waits for the flock of snowbirds traveling in recreational vehicles headed for the warmth of the South, according to the Palm Beach Post. But the commercial real estate developer's also hoping to point those travelers to his new Silver Palms RV Village, a $15 million project built on faith that a recession could never kill Americans' passion for RV travel. 

"The demand for RVing is still unbelievably strong," Harvey said, "and it's not something people are willing to give up now." 

Harvey bases that optimistic outlook on the fact that over the last five years, nearly 50 Florida campgrounds have been sold to developers and turned into condos and strip malls. That's left a gaping hole in the demand for RV sites, he said, one he aims to fill. 

A PKF Consulting study has shown that even with gas prices on an upswing, RV vacations can be 27-61% less expensive than other forms of travel for the savings on hotel, airfare and rental car costs.

As families turn to vacationing in RVs, Kampgrounds of America, a chain of 450 RV parks in North America, reported a 3% increase in campers this Memorial Day weekend. 

"A lot of people are camping today instead of other forms of travel," said Bobby Cornwell, executive director of the Florida Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds. "It's the RV sales that are down; not because of a lack of popularity, but it's … lending and being able to get financing." 

In fact, new RV sales are down 57.6% in the past year because of financing trouble, but Cornwell said current owners of RVs are camping now more than ever. 

And Harvey said those faithful to the RV lifestyle are now demanding a new generation of campsites, equipped with the activities of a recreation center and the atmosphere of a country club. 

When construction wraps up on Silver Palms in late July, the park will be a part of this new species of campgrounds – with a pool, Jacuzzi, 9,000-square-foot clubhouse with a ballroom, lakes and daily activities for residents. Moreover, the RV sites sit in the landscaped, 90-acre gated community and are paved in flashy stone. 

Since construction began last July, Harvey has sold about one-third of the completed 167 sites. Eventually, the park will have 512 RV sites, starting at $55,900, which Harvey said people are willing to pay to be able to own their own site in a competitive market. 

"I felt really good at the prospect of moving forward and spending millions on this," he said. "There's nothing in Okeechobee that's even close to us."

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