Florida Keys News - Islamorada/KL Free Press
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Is there an RV park renaissance?

KEY LARGO -- The recreational vehicle industry says sales are up, a local RV developer says business couldn't be better and county records show another development on the books.

All this may be a part of a renaissance in the RV park world in the Upper Keys.

More than 10 years ago, when business was booming in the commercial real estate world, resort and condominium projects shot up along the highway as developers gobbled up campgrounds, marinas and other waterfront property. The buying frenzy hailed the end of RV parks and the beginning of bigger development. Then the national economy collapsed in 2008.

Though the economy has rebounded, many developers are still unwilling to take the risk of financing such large hotel projects.

Once the site of a proposed bayfront resort, Point of View RV Resort, which opened last year at mile marker 99, retains the option of upgrading to a hotel by the end of 2021, based on the agreement with the county, according to developer Jim Saunders.

Saunders says business is good at his RV park, where 70 percent of the 110 available lots were occupied last week.

Still, he's keeping an eye on a new hotel being developed up the highway.

"Everyone is watching the Prime property where the Marriott is going up," said Saunders, referring to the construction of Key Largo's first full-service resort in 30 years.

Still, he says RV park development has its benefits. Being able to finance such a project on your own, without having to reach out to partners, is attractive to developers who want a faster cash flow, he explained.

"It's all about looking at the economics," he said.

Saunders' office, Bayview Homes, has also had indirect contact through engineers on a mile marker 104 property now being turned into an RV park.

"They were watching us whether we would be successful," he said.

Saunders' park and the new development are joining nearly a dozen longstanding parks scattered throughout the island for recreational vehicles.

According to Monroe County Planner Rey Ortiz, the bayside lot at mile marker 104 has met the permitting requirements and the construction phase can soon begin.

Documents from the proposed park show 21 RV sites as well as two permanent residential buildings. The resort, so far unnamed, will include a restaurant and pool house.

The property, at 104180 Overseas Highway, is better known as the former location of Hobo's Restaurant.

The planned Marriott hotel, which Saunders says has caught the eye of many local developers, was once a campground and RV park before it was purchased by developers who wanted to build a condominium resort. That project never came to fruition.

Local interest in building new RV parks could be driven by numbers showing that RV purchases are rising nationwide.

Towable RV sales are up 9 percent through May this year compared to last year, according to the Recreational Vehicle Association.

Year-to-date through May, the association reports a 10.6 percent increase or a total of 159,000 vehicles.

At Point of View Resort, many vehicles valued well over $1 million have leased lot space, Saunders said.

"You can see the resurgence," Saunders said. "We're hearing about more and more new builds all the time."

jgore@keysnews.com

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