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Once-golden destination resorts face uncertain future

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Articles - July 2010
Thursday, June 24, 2010

The forensics find the patient suffering from multiple wounds, some self-inflicted: the housing collapse, the subsequent recession, greed, need, bad timing, poor planning, overbuilding, speculation and more than a bit of magical thinking. The law of unintended consequences plus the economic collapse has spared no one. Most of the state’s destination resorts are in various stages of distress: slowed sales to no sales to foreclosures to bankruptcy.

The landscape is littered with foreclosures (currently more than 6,000 in Deschutes County alone), and the housing market in Central Oregon is woefully oversupplied. “Just in Deschutes, you have 15,000 approved lots,” says resort consultant Linda Swearingen.

National housing expert John McIlwain has seen it before: “One of the things the development community is really good at is spotting an opportunity and then overbuilding it.”

And then there’s the long-standing criticism that newer resorts are stealth subdivisions that circumvent land use rules and provide only low-paying jobs and few of the public amenities that create tourism, which is why they were allowed to build in rural areas in the first place. There is growing opposition from Oregonians, legislators, the environmental community, and increasing alarm from nearby cities, which have no say over the approval of resorts. Cities do not share in the tax rewards that go to the counties (in 2008-2009, Deschutes County resorts paid more than $35 million in taxes), which approve the resorts. But cities have to cope with the impact they have on their services, roads, infrastructure and housing stock. Redmond, for instance, is having difficulty attracting high-end housing because of the nearby resorts, which limits its property tax revenues, according to the League of Oregon Cities.


It will take years, if not decades, to soak up the current supply of real estate and recover prices. Residential property in Bend has fallen 75% from 2007 top prices, and commercial property values are half off their peak. A federal housing study released in late May showed that Bend suffered the sharpest housing price drop in the nation over the past year. Roger Lee, executive director of Economic Development for Central Oregon, has little sympathy. “The reset had to happen,” he says. “Prices were too high.”

Even the mighty Jeld-Wen, Oregon’s largest privately held company, is hurting. A major player in the resort industry, the company has developed three destination resorts in Oregon: Eagle Crest near Redmond, Brasada Ranch in Powell Butte and Running Y Ranch in Klamath Falls.

If Chris Pippin is a youthful player in the resort game, Jeld-Wen’s Jerry Andres is the old dog who has been around for decades developing properties for a behemoth company. Andres is not shy about ticking off the problems facing his firm’s Oregon resort properties: “We’ve cut services, we’re not growing. We’ve had layoffs and things are not over yet.” He says that Eagle Crest is about 65% built out, but at Brasada, “we’re selling for less than what we have in it.”




A. Kirk
0 #1 And history repeats itself...A. Kirk 2010-06-28 15:24:25
This reminds me of a TV show I saw on OPB not long ago where Christmas Valley was going to be all divided up into a beautiful resort/subdivis ion, etc. The developer flew people from California to the middle of the desert in planes and the people who bought places to live just about died the first winter because there was a horrible storm. It's practically a ghost town now. Sad how these things go... of course we're a little more modern and educated these days but not always. http://www.opb.org/programs/oregonexperiencearchive/reublong/book.php
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Susan Quatre
0 #2 Very accurate reporting of what's up with DRs in OregonSusan Quatre 2010-06-30 14:11:35
As a Deschutes County resident and a former county planning commissioner, I have seen the withering of the once valuable destination resort. I am very impressed with the breadth of opinion cited by Robin Doussard offered. Just one look at the map shown on page 3 or 4 shows clearly shows the perversion of what once was a great idea intended to bring visitors to Eastern Oregon. Greed took over and saturated the area with misuse of the laws intended to soften the blow of the loss of the timber industry.

No community can rely on one source of economic stability. Deschutes county and the cities within relied too heavily on the construction of new homes and "rural subdivisions" as its basis of growth. It had to come to an end. Had we instead looked to fostering eco-tourism and establishing laws that allowed for better use of the land that is often too poor for farming (events, weddings, RV parks), some degree of economic stability could be realized. I am in favor of the concept of small destination resorts but the last proposal I saw did not allow for RV parks. Recreation and eco-tourism should continue to be Eastern Oregon's goal: not rural subdivisions.

I searched and searched for the Christmas Valley report but could not find it. Any more specifics would be appreciated.

Thank you for the fine article.
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0 #3 Christmas ValleyBrian 2010-07-08 10:59:51
The Christmas Valley stuff was part of an OPB program on Reub Long. You can' watch it online here:

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