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Three score and ten or more

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Panama City Number 2

Panama City Number 2.

The face of Panama City Beach has radically changed in the past ten plus years.  I told you in the previous post what it was like twenty years ago.  It is no longer the same.  It still has one of the most beautiful white sand beaches in the world, and some of the clearest azure and emerald water that anyone could imagine.   Many of the beautiful resorts have been replaced, not by more beautiful but by bigger.  

When I first saw the Ocean Towers resort, the reason for the name was obvious.  The two seven-story buildings were visible for miles.   They are now surrounded by fifteen condo buildings over fourteen stories tall, and are visible only if you are within a couple of hundred yards.  From a distance, Front Beach Drive resembles nothing so much as the pictures that used to be seen on television news of the high rise “vertical slum” urban renewal projects in Chicago and other  big cities.  Yesterday, Sunday, the traffic was almost unbelievable.  I spent thirty one minutes in stop and go to clear one stoplight near Wal Mart.  There are cranes and building starts everywhere, and almost every single family house within two miles of the beach is for sale.  To say that the beach was crowded is a silly understatement.  From our place on the sixth floor, the beach in the afternoon looked almost like the line into the stadium for the Super Bowl (It was the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, so crowds were inevitable.).  

The results of this growth are mixed.  There is a part of me that thinks that a lot of investors in these massive buildings are inevitably going to go broke, if only because, in spite of the built in parking garages in each building, the (mostly two or three lane) streets  in the city will soon become virtual parking lots with no one moving.  The crowds would seem to insure that every business would be booming, but many of the smaller businesses have closed (I suspect that higher taxes may be a factor).  On the other hand, it would appear that the value of my time share has substantially increased.  This is something that almost never happens.  To help understand this, I have to return briefly to the time share business.

There are a few large companies who deal in time share real-estate.  They include massive hotel chains like Marriot and others, and some, also massive, companies that specialize in time share.  These include Spinnaker, Resorts Development International or RDI, Blue- Green, Weston, Sunterra, and two or three smaller groups.  Some of these instigate the building of resorts and through subordinate groups control construction, then using another subgroup, the sales, then after  sales are complete they have management groups to control rentals, check in, maintenance, etc.   Ocean Towers, when we bought our unit was being sold and managed by RDI.  RDI sent out messages to owners offering financial rewards for referrals etc.  I don’t know whether it was through sale of interest, or by offices of the condominium board, but after a few years RDI was replaced by Blue-Green.  After only a few years of Blue-Green affiliation the condominium governing board at Ocean Tower “fired” the management company.  I don’t know all the details but I know that part of it had to do with the percentage of income that was kept by the Management Company.  Whatever was the process, I found it pleasant because when all other maintenance fees (I own more time share property than any sane man) were increasing, the fees at Ocean Towers actually fell.  We no longer had a big company doing stuff but the elected condominium board actually took control.of every aspect except exchanges (exchanging resorts is one of the good things about time share though, with the purchase of RCI, the largest exchange company by Cendant (Several hotel and motel chains as well as Avis car rental etc.), the cost and convenience of exchange has become a little scary.  One result is that resales at Ocean Towers have been handled by the condo board itself.  Some of the units and weeks were for sale at that time for as little as 600 to 2000 dollars.  Since the overbuilding of Panama City, units that would have sold for a couple of thousand bucks are now on sale for ten and twelve thousand.  And seem to be selling.

(continued) Next Day.  Today is Tuesday and the Memorial Day crowd has left, and the traffic has gone from insane to simply a little crowded.  The beach below our window looks like a normal tourist beach, so  I am now looking forward to a relaxing remainder of the week.

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