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Resort, luxury development booming along both coasts of Baja

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Although Mexican law prohibits foreign ownership of land within 100 kilometers (60 miles) of the border and 50 kilometers (30 miles) of the coast, there has been an explosion of residential development along both Baja coasts, mostly within easy reach of the United States.

Up until a change in the law in 1997, foreigners seeking property within the coastal or border zones were restricted to a 30-year trust or lease that was renewable at the end of that time. Since then, however, foreigners have been able to obtain a 50-year renewable trust, and developers have been taking advantage of the opportunity with increasing vigor.

Gabriel Robles, managing partner of Baja Resort Advisor LLC, a Baja consultant and developer, said some 60 projects are currently under construction or in the pipeline between Tijuana and Ensenada. That represents about 16,422 units, which are mostly condos. These are spread from the Playas de Tijuana area to the north, and to Rosarito to the Hussong's property in Ensenada to the south. Thousands more units are being planned much further down the peninsula in Loreto on the Sea of Cortez, La Paz and Cabo San Lucas at the southern tip.

The Baja del Norte projects include Ventanas al Mar, an eventual 2,300-unit project north of Ensenada being developed by investors out of Culiacan being built near the town Salsipuedes.

Robles noted that Mexican investors at Salsipuedes are eyeing another 750-acre development that may bring another 2,000 or more units.

The name Salsipuedes translates to "get out if you can," and there are three theories as to the origin. One possibility is that the town is at the foot of a step hill and during periods of heavy rain, the mud can keep people from getting out. The second is that the ocean at this spot is also known for having swirling currents that have wrecked ships. The third is that the attractive spot is so popular with surfers they don't want to leave.

A property at kilometer 16, which is 10 miles north of Rosarito Beach, has grabbed the attention of Donald Trump, Irongate Properties of Los Angeles and S&P Destination Properties of Vancouver, Canada.

Chris Lyman, a representative of the consortium, noted a sales event for the planned 562-unit Trump Ocean Resort -- a condo hotel -- was held last Friday at the Manchester Grand Hyatt. He said buyers collectively put down deposits of more than $122 million for 188 suites in the 232-unit first phase of the Trump project. Priced from the $200,000s to nearly $3 million, the studio, one-, two-, and three-bedroom units will range from about 500 square feet to 2,500 square feet.

"As evidenced by Friday's sales results, Baja is clearly gaining momentum as a destination," S&P President Sid Landolt said. "This is more good news for the resort real-estate market. Clearly there's still a lot of interest and demand for high-end vacation real estate."

The property will feature an owner's concierge, a lobby bar and lounge, a pool house bar and café, a dining restaurant, an infinity-edge resort pool, lap and family pools, a spa and fitness center, tennis courts and walking trails.

"It should be under construction in mid-January and the first tower (232 units) should be completed 18 months later," Lyman said.

In Ensenada, the Hussong family of cantina fame has teamed up with Reno-based Meridian Development Group to develop the planned 464-unit Porto Hussong Resort.

The resort will include a 250-slip mega-yacht marina to cater to the rich and famous. Jennifer Lopez and Ricky Martin were among the celebrities at a recent site event.

"The production of 100-foot and larger vessels is booming," noted John Corrough, marina consultant and designer of the Porto Hussong marina. "With the mega-yacht fast becoming the 'Bentley of the ocean,' there's been a worldwide increase in their sales and they're being produced faster than there is space available.

"Porto Hussong will offer the first and only mega-yacht marina, between San Diego and Cabo San Lucas on the Pacific Coast of Baja for vessels larger than 200 feet."

The standard units in the Hussong development will range from $600,000 to $3 million.

"The Meridian Club" will feature 14 penthouses ranging from 4,000 square feet to 7,500 square feet in three- and four-bedroom configurations that sell from $230,000 to $300,000 for five weeks of annual use. Other Porto Hussong features will include a 46-suite boutique hotel, spa facilities, cafes, restaurants and upscale shops.

Project spokeswoman Cassie Piercey explained Finasol, a Mexican contracting firm, will shortly begin construction, with completion of the project sometime in 2009.

Another new arrival that is currently under way will be the Rosarito Beach Condo-Hotel, adjacent to the famed Rosarito Beach Hotel.

The condo-hotel on land owned by Hugo Torres Chabert will feature 192 one-bedroom units, 65 two-bedroom units and 14 penthouses of its own. That project is slated for completion in March 2008. The units will range in price from about $100,000 to $500,000.

Much further south of the border on the Sea of Cortez, the Loreto Bay Co., a Scottsdale-based firm with Mexican partners, said on its website that as of the end of August, it had sold more than $300 million worth of homes on that 8,000-acre, eventual 6,000-home property.

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