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Destination Resorts 2.0

As the recession recedes and tourism grows, Central Oregon resorts redefine themselves for a new generation.

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The Tetherow Golf Course (left) and the Tetherow Lodges hotel (right). The hotel was completed last year.

Chris van der Velde wants you to know: The Dutch do things differently. “In Europe, we don’t leverage that kind of stuff,” says van der Velde, the half-Dutch managing partner of Tetherow, a 700-acre golf resort located on the southwest edge of Bend. A former pro golfer on the European circuit, Van der Velde,was a minority partner in the original resort back in 2004, when developers across Central Oregon were, as van der Velde says, out of control.

“We overran the budget by almost 200%. My philosophy was: The project needs to be sustainable. The developer and I didn’t see eye to eye. That’s why I stepped out.”

Van der Velde stepped back in in 2009, when he partnered with longtime friend Willem Willemstein, another Netherlands native, flush from profits earned in the oil business, to purchase a majority stake in Tetherow, including the golf course, club house and 106 residential lots. (Two other developers also own lots on the property). Starting in 2012, the resort began to see an uptick in sales. In 2014, Tetherow sold 51 home sites, up from seven in 2011. Membership today clocks in at 318 families, up from 87 in 2010.

Despite the forward movement, van der Velde is careful not to oversell. “The destination resort model is challenging because it requires putting in costly amenities,” he says. And while the second home market is coming back, “it’s not quite there.”

Slow and steady

Cautious optimism is the mantra among resort developers in Central Oregon, where many properties are reporting record number of visitors. Construction, especially commercial construction — hotels, restaurants, new pools — appears to be on the upswing, if not exactly booming. In 2014, Deschutes County issued 54 permits for commercial construction for eight destination resorts, up from 28 in 2013. The county issued 130 permits last year for homes in resorts, 74 more than 2012. "We don't have to create amenities. We have Bend."

The slow turnaround in the resort sector, and some of the private, resort-like communities, suggests the specter of the recession is fading. It also suggests a new chapter is opening up in Central Oregon’s luxury resort story. During the market boom and bust of the past decade, the area was ground zero for new resort development, until many properties collapsed under the weight of bankruptcies, foreclosures and environmental battles restricting development. More than a half-dozen resorts were proposed between 2000 and 2008, yet only three opened. In some communities, a few homes were built but not much more.

Today, the outlook is improving, says Deb Tebbs, president of Cascade/Sotheby’s in Bend. Some locations are doing better than others. “Because of the failed projects of the 2008-2010 cycle, people are a bit leery,” Tebbs says. “The ones that are doing well are those that have produced a clear vision where they’re going.”

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