Once-golden destination resorts face uncertain future

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Articles - July 2010
Thursday, June 24, 2010

He says only 29 homes out of 900 planned at Brasada have been built and of the couple hundred lots sold, more than 50 are in foreclosure. Public amenities that have been built include a restaurant, sports center, golf course and 80 overnight cabins.

“When you factor in capital requirements to get [resorts] started,” says Andres, “we wouldn’t touch another one in this state.”

In addition to the bruising downturn, developers say state rules requiring them to put in an upfront investment of at least $10 million in recreational amenities such as overnight lodging and golf courses have forced them into a large-scale Sunriver-type business model that is no longer viable.

That likely is irrelevant to a county likes Deschutes, which partied the hardest with resorts. Its commission approved every resort that came before it and the county now has eight resorts totaling about 11,000 acres and almost 7,500 approved home sites.

Central Oregon LandWatch, a conservation group, charges that “elected officials have shown little concern for the economic, social, environmental or energy-related impacts that these resorts bring that affect our landscape, our natural resources, our environments and our communities.”

The county is suffering from something of a resort hangover. Community meetings in 2008 and 2009 in Deschutes found residents wanting stronger efforts to offset resort-related impacts. Some wanted an outright ban on future resorts.

“We may have made a mistake in Deschutes County with so many resorts,” says Rep. Gene Whisnant, a Republican from Sunriver.

“With the resorts that are here,” says Deschutes County Commissioner Alan Unger, “we aren’t going to be looking at another resort for many, many years.”


TOP: The successful Sunriver resort was built in the 1960s and helped define the state’s large-scale destination resort industry.
MIDDLE: The shuttered sales office at Remington Ranch, one of the casualties of the housing collapse that has hurt or stalled many resorts.
BOTTOM: Property at Brasada Ranch near Prineville “is selling for less than what we have in it,” says Jerry Andres of Jeld-Wen Development.

The debate over Oregon’s large destination resorts has been swirling almost since the state in 1984 amended Goal 8, one of its statewide land-use goals, to allow them to be built outside urban growth boundaries. The exception was made in the hope that resorts would boost tourism and create jobs in struggling rural communities in the model of the successful Sunriver and Black Butte developments built in the 1960s. Black Butte has played a widely credited role in helping nearby Sisters thrive, and Sunriver provided a similar boost to pre-boom Bend. The other pre-Goal 8 resorts are Salishan, Bandon Dunes and Otter Crest on the Coast, and Inn of the Seventh Mountain outside of Bend.

A dozen resorts statewide have since been approved by counties under Goal 8, nine of them in Crook and Deschutes counties. The approval rests with the counties after they have gone through a resort mapping process, and eight of Oregon’s 36 counties have completed that process.

But now development experts reject the Sunriver-type model that Goal 8 requires, saying it takes too much upfront investment and the overnight market is glutted. Peterson Economics, a Washington State firm that does economic studies for the development industry, said in an April report that the large-scale conference hotel and golf resort model is outdated and that “none of Oregon’s new destination resorts, including Brasada Ranch, Pronghorn, Caldera Springs and Tetherow, have major hotel facilities” and none are likely to develop them anytime soon because of financial struggles.

That gives resort opponents ammunition.

The newer resorts “never were destination resorts,” says Paul Dewey, an attorney for Central Oregon LandWatch. “They were always subdivisions fueled by residential sales. What concerned the conservation community was the evolution into pure subdivisions, which is antithetical to the land-use system of protecting the rural environment.” Dewey for years has been battling the Thornburgh development for opponents of the resort, 2,000 acres at the base of Cline Butte in Tumalo. Approved in 2005, its plans call for about 1,000 homes, 350 cabins, a 100-room lodge, 150 timeshares and three 18-hole golf courses. Thornburgh is under appeal at the state level, and its CEO, Kameron DeLashmutt, and his partners are tangled in internal legal battles and foreclosure proceedings.

“There are some developers who are trying to find a way to use the destination resort law to create a cheaper subdivision, not a resort,” agrees Mike Hollern, CEO of Bend real estate development firm Brooks Resources, which developed Black Butte. “In many cases, the developers have circumvented the rules over time.”




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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