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ggh 10-16-2005 09:12 PM

Springfield Newsleader Article about Branson Boom
Branson braces for next boom

Developments are expected to bring thousands of new residents to city.

Kathryn Buckstaff

BRANSON Country music stars incited a Branson boom in 1991. Within three years, the number of theater seats, hotel rooms and restaurants doubled and the annual number of visitors climbed from 4 million to 7 million.
It's happening again, only this time, the Branson boom of the 21st century will bring thousands of new residents.

Add it up:

In the past two weeks, developers have announced projects worth more than $2.7 billion in Taney and Stone counties.

More than 8,000 homes and condominiums are planned or under construction.

The city of Branson expects to break the 1993 record of $119.5 million in new construction with $103.3 million logged through September. In addition to housing, national retailers and new entertainment attractions are in the mix.
"I really don't see it slowing down," said Mike Rankin, Branson's economic development director. "I'm getting calls from developers and investors around the country and across the water. And when they think of Branson, they think of a large area from Blue Eye to Kirbyville and the outlying area."

Rankin cites several reasons he's even getting calls from investors in Australia, China and Japan who have read about Branson's boom on the Internet.

"It's a safe haven in the central U.S. with a perception of family values, our development costs are less here than in other areas," and Branson is an easy drive from many population centers, Rankin says.


The Midwest is just beginning to see the development of planned condominium communities that is already rampant in other areas, said Marie Roberts, co-founder of the Internet site privatecommunities.com based in Vero Beach, Fla.

The Web site lists information about condominium communities with amenities such as golf courses, clubhouses, stores, day-care centers, water recreation and even assisted living facilities as a future option. Most are on the East and West coasts, Roberts said.

"In the past, they were mainly in the Southeast due to the weather, and now it's becoming a wonderful lifestyle that people are responding to," Roberts said. "It's baby boomers relocating and continuing to work in areas with entertainment, maybe areas they grew up in, and also people younger than baby boomers, upwardly mobile professionals who want something a cut above a good neighborhood. People can go into any town and find a house in a good neighborhood. But this is like getting all your toys in one box."

And people are shopping online, she said. By year's end, the Web site started in 1996 will have had more than 2 million visits.

"People are making changes to their lives at the earliest point they can," she said. "We're selling to schoolteachers and middle-management when people see an area they love, and they have a tie, or maybe because it's a great place to raise kids. The purchase is definitely emotional."


On the downtown lakefront, the $450 million Branson Landing, a new entertainment and shopping district, is quickly taking shape along a mile of Lake Taneycomo.

Set to open next spring, the 95 acres will hold lakefront restaurants such as Joe's Crab Shack, a Belk department store, a Bass Pro Shop with a marina, a fountain show designed by the company that did the fountains for the Bellagio hotel casino in Las Vegas, a boardwalk and a public plaza. In 2007, a 20-story Hilton Hotel and the Branson Convention Center will open.

Atop some of the shops and the Hilton, luxuriously appointed condominiums are just beginning to be built. All but one of those condos are already sold or reserved, said Dennis Evans, vice president of sales and marketing for HCW Development Co., developers of Branson Landing.

Here's what's coming:

106 residential condominiums: all sold, average price $425,000

70 "condotel" units, two-bedroom condominiums with one lock-out bedroom suite that owners may place in a nightly rental program: all sold, average price $319,000

95 condominiums in the Hilton Hotel: deposits on 94 but some contracts not yet finalized, ranging in price from $160,00 to $550,00
"We have a waiting list of 26 people who put up $5,000 in case one of those contracts isn't signed," Evans said. "And we did this all with a sales staff of four people."

Buyers are from 38 states, including Hawaii. Missouri produced the greatest number of buyers, followed by California, Arkansas, Florida and Kansas, Evans said.

Some have been Branson vacationers; others bought because of the allure of Branson Landing on the downtown lakefront, he said.

"When people come here, they see the value, and sometimes it takes a stranger to come to our town to see the value we've got here," Evans said.


In Stone County, more than half the planned 420 condos have sold at Cliffs at Indian Point, still in the early stage of construction, said Jerry Kennedy, marketing director for Florida-based developers Argonaut Midwest Holdings Inc. Prices range from $99,900 to $249,900.

"The buyers are mostly coming from the East and West coasts," Kennedy said. "Most are buying for a second home or as an investment in the rental pool, or just as a vacation site."

Argonaut also plans two other private communities south of Hollister with 2,100 condominiums.

Smaller developers also are getting in on the market. Charlie Ingram, co-host of "Good Morning Ozarks" on KLFC Christian radio in Branson, is building River Bend Place, 22 upscale condos on Lake Taneycomo where owners will be able to hop on a community pontoon boat and have lunch at Branson Landing, he said.

They're priced in the mid-$200,00 range, and he's sold seven, two of them to Californians. He's owned the land for 11 years, he said.

"The buyers are locals who want a quiet residential area on the lake close to Branson Landing, and out-of-town people who want a nice neighborhood as a second home," Ingram said


Condominium developers cite Branson Landing for boosting the potential market for new residents.

"Branson Landing is a godsend," said Springfield developer Jim Shirato on Wednesday when he announced the 900-acre Indian Ridge community he plans in Stone County. Shirato says it will have 2,440 homes and condos, a hotel, a marina and a golf course. "It is the bookend on the east and this is the bookend on the other end of Missouri 76," Shirato said.

Shirato said most of his inquiries from other developers wanting to buy property in Indian Ridge have been from New York and Florida.

Argonaut Midwest Holdings managing partner Bob Maddox also credits Branson Landing with sparking his interest because that attraction and the convention center will bring first-time visitors and younger people to Branson, he said.


As growth continues across southwest Missouri, regional planning is becoming the norm, said Jim Anderson, president of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce.

Planned communities also are sprouting in Greene and Christian counties.

"What happens in Branson happens in the entire region," Anderson said.

Already, the chamber regularly meets with other area planners to wrestle with two huge issues: "Where's the labor force coming from, and affordable housing," Anderson said. "Are those negatives? No. Those are challenges. There's not a specific action plan yet, but there's a lot more collaboration than there ever has been. It think everyone realizes this is a regional issue. We just need to plan for it."

As the newcomers age, health care also will become a pressing need, and Skaggs Community Health Center in Branson is on top of that challenge, said community relations director Tracey Barton.

The hospital opened in 1950 with 25 beds. Since the last boom began in 1990, the number of patients discharged has grown by 87 percent, Barton said. In 1990, the hospital expanded to 99 beds and now has grown to 145 beds and operates 18 satellite clinics in Taney and Stone counties.

"Every year in strategic planning, we look at residential growth and development," Barton said. "We know that if we continued on the growth pattern already established, we would run out of beds in 2007."

In 2000, Skaggs built a $23 million, five-story outpatient center for the growing number of physicians.

They added an open-heart surgery suite, and will open the Skaggs Cancer Center in 2007. They're adding new building that will house rehabilitation, orthopedic and neurosurgery specialties. And the five-year plan calls for a new high-rise tower.

The number of beds hasn't yet been set, but they will be private rooms.

"Studies show us that baby boomers don't want a roommate," Barton said.


Native Ozarker Layne Morrill recently sold 50 acres of land that will become the new entrance to Indian Ridge Resorts Inc. The 900-acre planned community will add 2,440 homes and condominiums, a golf course, hotel, retail and a marina on Table Rock Lake to the town of Branson West, population 400.

The 50 acres Morrill sold is the site of the modest clapboard home where he grew up, but he said he's not worried about the change newcomers from the coasts may bring.

"I believe the majority look at this area more like we do," Morrill said. "They kind of like the world they see, and they want to be part of it, not change it."

But there's a cautionary tale here, too, said Pete Herschend, whose family founded Silver Dollar City, the theme park that opened in 1960 and now hosts more than 2 million visitors a year.

Herschend also is the founder of the Upper White River Basin Foundation dedicated to preserving water quality in the area's lake and streams.

"How are we going to increase the level of protection for the environment, all forms not just the water with the growth that will happen?" Herschend said.

"The person who moves here from Omaha or Oakland comes because of a quality of life. Some would say taxes and real estate prices are important, but they aren't front-burner issues because if people are looking for a cheaper place to live, you can find cheaper."

Some developers in the early 1990s left scars on the land that will never heal and disappeared with no consequences, he said. And Taney County still has not adopted building codes, although most towns have.

What's needed, Herschend said, is "thoughtful and enforceable regional planning."

"I don't want people telling me I have to paint my house orange, but there are big sections of land that have to be preserved."

Herschend praises the authority of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, with rules that allow only 10 percent of the shoreline of Table Rock Lake to be developed commercially.

"Compare this with what's happened at Lake of the Ozarks, and you can say it's a really good rule. I am more optimistic than I was a few years ago. We've at least started down that road as opposed to the "nobody can tell me what to do" that was the attitude for some time."

The bottom line: "Bigger isn't better. Smaller isn't better," Herschend said. "Only better is better."

Tanya 10-18-2005 10:07 AM

I'm sad to see all that developement. I don't think developers will be happy till they fill every spot of open land with a subdivision. :( I wish I could afford to buy up 1000 acres and keep it undeveloped.

Davidab53 10-18-2005 11:59 PM

I totally agree with you Tanya.......... In a few years the Branson we love today may be gone! I sure hope not.

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