(This is Part 1 of a two-part series. See Part 2.)
MANZANILLO, Colima, Mexico — The airport has been remodeled, the downtown refurbished, the roads improved and new equipment has just arrived to clean the beaches.
While this waterfront community has been under the second-home radar screen compared to the more popular Mexican Pacific Coast destinations of Los Cabos, Ixtapa, Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan, it clearly is on the move.
While you can still buy a $115,000, three-bedroom, two-bath condominium two blocks away from the same beach where Bo Derek made her debut in the movie “10,” the big boys have arrived and have begun rolling out more expensive alternatives.
Tim Blixseth, the Roseburg, Ore., native who turned the Yellowstone Club, a private ski community in Big Sky, Mont., and Porcupine Creek, a 240-acre private golf club near Palm Springs, Calif., into fractional vacation spots for the wealthy, has added a prime piece of property 31 miles north of the Manzanillo International Airport to his fractional empire.
Blixseth, 55, recently paid $30 million for 25 acres at El Tamarindo, home of an oceanside resort 132 miles south of Puerto Vallarta that includes the country’s third-best golf course, according to Best’s Golf Guide. (Number two is 20 miles down the road at Isla Navidad, while Mexico’s top-rated course is the Cabo del Sol Ocean layout in Los Cabos).
Blixseth’s master plan is to charge members premium prices to vacation in some of the world’s most exclusive spots that include a Caribbean resort in the Turks and Caicos Islands, a fly-fishing lake near Cody, Wyo., and series of stone cottages surrounding a golf club outside St. Andrews in Scotland. The El Tamarindo property is expected to be a popular winter getaway, while a 14th-century chateau near Paris should be jammed in the spring and fall.
The cost to participate? Get out your wallet. Blixseth plans to charge his first group of 25 members $3 million apiece. The next set of 25 will pay $3.5 million. That process will continue, with $500,000 raises, until 25 memberships are sold at a $10 million. While current members of his Yellowstone Club are expected to receive a discounted rate, all participants will reportedly pay a $75,000 annual maintenance fee.
While Blixseth’s investment has brought excitement north of town, activity is also hopping closer to the downtown core. The Karmina Palace, one of the more popular waterfront resorts, was sold this year to the Barcelo Group for $48.5 million after the previous owner seriously considered a bid for $22.5 million just 18 months ago for the 324-suite hotel. CBRE Melody, the real estate investment banking arm of CB Richard Ellis, is currently financing resort project and said to be looking for others.
“Tourism and foreign investment are critical to our economy and our future,” said Sergio Bravo, secretary of tourism for the Mexican state of Colima. “We have wonderful beaches and a new cruise ship terminal. The federal government is helping to develop the future plan for the coasts to the north. The possibilities are very exciting.”
Mario Chacon, who holds a degree in industrial engineering from the University of Costa Rica, was stationed in various parts of the world as an executive officer for Jose Cuervo and British American Tobacco. After six years in Guadalajara (a 3.5-hour drive from Manzanillo), he and his wife, a physician, chose to live in Manzanillo with their two children rather than return to his native Costa Rica. Chacon is now director of operations for Cascadas de Manzanillo (www.vivacascadas.com) a 530-acre, waterfront community aimed at U.S. second-home buyers.
“I love Costa Rica and much of my family is there, but the real estate here is less expensive and the fishing is probably better,” Chacon said. “Also of importance is safety — Manzanillo is the safest city in Mexico. You can go anywhere in this area night or day, and for a family person that’s important.”
Hearing those safety statements piques the interest of many foreigners, who could find sun and warm water just about any place in Mexico. Susan Dearing has lived here for more than 16 years. She operates a scuba shop, writes guidebooks about the area and oversees two helpful Web sites, www.gomanzanillo.com and www.divemanzanillo.com.
“It’s the safest place I’ve ever lived — period,” Dearing said. “Not only does the state of Colima have the lowest crime rate in the country, but Manzanillo has the lowest in the state. And, the people are more than nice.”
Next week: A former basketball coach leads an attractive second-home project.
Tom Kelly’s new book, “Cashing In on a Second Home in Mexico: How to Buy, Sell and Profit from Property South of the Border,” was written with Mitch Creekmore, senior vice president of Houston-based Stewart International. The book is available in retail stores, on amazon.com and on www.tomkelly.com.