Chartered in 1711, historic Beaufort is South Carolina’s second-oldest city after Charleston.
But it’s really more accurate to call Beaufort a small waterfront town of about 15,000 residents where history is alive and well-preserved.
In fact, the entire 300-acre downtown area has been designated as a National Historic Landmark and the immediate area is home to nearly 70 additional National Historic Sites.
So it’s not surprising that Beaufort has been rediscovered in the 21st century as a popular vacation and retirement destination. The restaurants, shops, art galleries, and museums on downtown Bay Street are a stroller’s delight, and the adjacent Henry Chambers Waterfront Park hosts a year-round calendar of community events where locals and visitors alike celebrate the sights, sounds, and tastes of the seasons.
Among the retirees who have long known about Beaufort‘s appeal are military veterans, many introduced to the area while stationed at the nearby U.S. Marine Corp’s Parris Island training depot or the MC Air Station Beaufort. The U.S. Naval Hospital Beaufort tops an impressive list of local medical facilities that serve veterans and civilian retirees.
With a semi-tropical low-country climate and community retirement amenities like the University of South Carolina Beaufort’s Osher Lifelong Learning Center, Southern Living magazine named Beaufort as the nation’s “Best Small Southern Town,” and Coastal Living Magazine found it to be the “Happiest Seaside Town in America.”
DATE NIGHT (with or without the grandkids)
Highway 21 Drive In Hwy21DriveIn.com
The Highway 21 Drive In presents double-feature movies on each of the two giant screens every Thursday-Sunday nights. One offers popular films for kids, while the other has current releases for adults. All are shown in state-of-the-art digital format and can be previewed at the theater website, along with coming attractions and special events. The concession stand has burgers, corn dogs, and all of your favorite movie treats. Located just five miles north of downtown Beaufort on Highway 21.
Beaufort’s strategic location in the heart of the Lowcountry makes for easy day trips to Charleston, Savannah, and Hilton Head Island, or you can check out these local destinations:
Hunting Island State Park SouthCarolinaParks.com/Hunting-Island
Hunting Island is “Beaufort’s Beach,” a 5,000-acre state park with five miles of oceanfront, 11 hiking/biking trails of various lengths, educational programs and events, a fishing pier, 102 campsites with water/electrical hookups and WiFi, and the historic Hunting Island Lighthouse, where visitors can climb 167 steps to the top for panoramic seaside views.
Tanger Outlet Center TangerOutlet.com
Located in nearby Bluffton, just off of Highway 278 on the way to Hilton Head Island, the Tanger Outlet is the region’s largest outlet mall with more than 85 name-brand stores that feature discount deals on adult and children’s clothing, footwear, housewares, jewelry, specialty items, and more. On-site restaurants include Olive Garden, Panera Bread, and Robert Irvine’s Nosh. Open seven days a week.
BEST CULTURAL SITES
Pat Conroy Literary Center PatConroyLiteraryCenter.org
Established in 2016 by family and friends of the late author, the Pat Conroy Literary Center is home to a museum with unique exhibits and a tribute film honoring the life and works of the acclaimed writer who made Beaufort his home. It’s also a learning center that preserves his legacy with writers’ workshops, reading groups, and the annual Pat Conroy Literary Festival, plus community-outreach literacy efforts. Open to the public on Friday-Sunday afternoons.
Santa Elena History Center Santa-Elena.org
Located on Bay Street in downtown Beaufort, the Santa Elena History Center presents exhibits that showcase the region’s 16th-century European exploration and settlement. The focus is archeological evidence from nearby Parris Island, the French site of Charlesfort (1562) and the Spanish town of Santa Elena (1566), established prior to the founding of St. Augustine in Florida. Video presentations, 3-D scale models, and live interpretations in period costumes, plus a children’s interactive area, for history lovers of all ages.
USCB Center for the Arts USCBCenterForTheArts.com
The University of South Carolina Beaufort’s Center for the Arts has been the area’s cultural hub for more than 30 years. Home to the Beaufort Theatre Company, Beaufort Children’s Theater and USCB Chamber Music Series, the center offers a year-round calendar of art exhibits, stage performances, musical concerts, independent films, and special presentations like the Met Opera Live in HD. The website has ticket information for upcoming events.
February 19-24, 2019 Beaufort International Film Festival BeaufortFilmFestival.com
Now in its 13th year, the Beaufort Film Society and USCB Center for the Arts host this week-long tribute to the art of filmmaking in the town where classics like “The Big Chill” and “The Great Santini” were made. Juried awards are given for the best American and foreign independent films, plus animations, long and short features, documentaries, and screenplays. Proceeds benefit local arts programs and charities.
April 27-28, 2019 MCAS Beaufort Air Show BeaufortAirShow.com
The Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort hosts one of the nation’s largest air shows every spring. On the ground are historic aircraft exhibitions and educational presentations, but the real action is in the air: the famous U.S. Navy Blue Angels head the list of performers that range from aerobatic stunt planes to breathtaking overflights by the military’s latest combat jets.
May 3-4, 2019 Taste of Beaufort Music, Arts & Seafood Festival BeaufortChamber.org
A perfect sampler of the Beaufort lowcountry lifestyle, this free-admission weekend event at Chambers Waterfront Park includes a 5K bridge run/walk and kids’ fun run, handmade treasures at the arts & crafts fair, evening music concerts, and dozens of participating local restaurants offering their seafood specialties.
July 12-21, 2019 Beaufort Water Festival BFTWaterFestival.com
A Lowcountry tradition since 1956, the 64th Annual Beaufort Water Festival will be a 10-day celebration of local food, fun and cultural heritage. Most of the free events are held at the downtown Chambers Waterfront Park, including a huge Arts & Crafts Market on the promenade. Family-friendly activities include fishing, badminton and bocce tournaments, boat tours, raft races and water-skiing exhibitions, live music concerts and dances, and fresh local cuisine, all climaxing with the Commodore’s Ball, Blessing of the Fleet, and Parade of Boats.
Celadon is a masterplanned community on Lady’s Island with a focus on the wellness lifestyle for its residents. Located just a short drive from downtown Beaufort, the manicured neighborhood walking trails/bike paths meander around three freshwater ponds, and there’s a Jr. Olympic-size swimming pool for aquatic exercise and relaxation. Celadon Club amenities include a state-of-the-art fitness facility and spa with tailored workout programs, steam rooms, massage therapy, and nutrition planning. Move-in ready homes, homesites with pre-approved plans, and customizable designs from preferred builders are available.
CITY WALK CityWalkBeaufort.com
Designed for just 49 single-family homes in a natural and intimate Battery Creek setting, City Walk’s name rings true: The stylish new community is literally located within walking distance of the restaurants, shops, offices, and attractions of historic downtown Beaufort. Equally appreciated by resident hikers and bikers is the convenient access to the awesome 10-mile-long (and growing) Spanish Moss Trail. Neighborhood gatherings are regular events to share sunsets and refreshments at the private waterfront park. Customizable floor plans feature large lowcountry porches and first-floor master suites, with new homes by preferred builders that start in the low $400,000s.
COOSAW POINT CoosawPoint.com
Set along the pristine Coosaw River on Lady’s Island, the Coosaw Point residential community features gracious lowcountry-style homes in three distinctive neighborhoods with parks that are connected by walking trails. The River Club offers a pool and fitness facilities, as well as a large recreation room for community meetings and private parties. The lighted tennis and pickleball courts are located in the main interior park, while CP’s Crab Shack hosts family gatherings and oyster roasts. Residents also enjoy use of a private floating dock for kayak launching, plus a nearby public ramp for larger craft.
DATAW ISLAND CLUB Dataw.com
With an established residential community in one of the lowcountry’s most picturesque locations, Dataw Island Club offers amenities that are second to none. Both of the club’s championship golf courses—Tom Fazio’s Cotton Dike and Arthur Hills’ Morgan River—are award-winning designs that have been recently renovated, while the Dataw Tennis Center was honored in 2017 by the U.S. Tennis Association as one of the top four private facilities in the entire nation. With complete fitness facilities and scores of active social clubs, Dataw was named by Real Estate Scorecard the winner of its 2017 Bliss Award as “South Carolina Community of the Year.”
PINCKNEY RETREAT PinckneyRetreatSC.com
Located just 10 minutes from downtown Beaufort, Pinckney Retreat is a gated waterfront community planned for 77 choice homesites on the scenic grounds of an antebellum plantation. The Retreat House, originally built in 1763 and beautifully restored with contemporary conveniences, is a hub of community social life. Additional amenities include a pool, covered outdoor dining area with fireplace and grill, covered pier for fishing and crabbing, day dock for kayaks and canoes, and marshside walking trails. Waterfront homes are available from the low $600,000s, with a limited number of home sites on Battery Creek remaining.
CALLAWASSIE ISLAND CallawassieIsland.com
Callawassie Island is located midway between Beaufort and Bluffton in a certified Community Wildlife Habitat that combines the serenity of a nature preserve with the finest lowcountry lifestyle amenities. Kayaks and fishing boats can be launched on the surrounding tidal creeks from four convenient community docks, while Callawassie Island Club members also enjoy year-round golf on the 27-hole course by Tom Fazio, a brand-new fitness center and two clubhouses with pools, tennis courts, and dining rooms. Spacious single-family homes in neighborhoods shaded by moss-draped oaks and choice waterfront home sites are available.
This is an especially good year to consider upgrading with a residential solar-power system for two reasons: the cost has never been lower and the 30% federal tax credit starts to disappear in 2020. Understanding how solar systems function will help you to determine the desirability of that investment.
How Solar Works
Every rooftop solar system has four essential components and an optional fifth.
Solar panels have photovoltaic (PV) cells that turn radiant energy from the sun into direct-current (DC) electricity. Each standard-size panel is 65 by 39 inches (5.4 x 3.25 feet), weighs around 40 pounds, and is typically rated for output at 300 watts. To install an average-size residential system that produces six kilowatts (kW) of electricity, you’ll need 20 panels covering an area of 500 square feet and weighing about 1,000 pounds with mounting hardware. All-weather panels are durable for at least 25 years. Rain removes most grime, but annual inspections may include professional cleaning.
A mounting system secures that half-ton array to the rooftop. Most roofs can handle the weight, while older ones may need reinforcement, but this is definitely not a DIY job. Ideally, the roof has a pitch of around 30 degrees, is unobstructed by trees, and faces south because east-west orientations can be about 15% less productive.
An inverter converts that DC electricity into the standard alternating-current (AC) that powers electrical devices. A performance monitor tracks how much electricity is being produced and used. Data is displayed on a wall unit and can be transmitted to an off-site service accessible online or with an app.
The performance monitor also keeps tabs on excess electricity being fed back to your local utility because you’re not off the grid yet, nor do you really want to be. Instead, it’s a two-way street: you’re both a producer and consumer as part of a net-metering system. For every kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity you generate but don’t immediately use (typically during the afternoon), you get a credit for sending it out on the wires for redistribution where it’s needed. Those credits are cashed in when you’re producing less than you’re using (morning/evening peaks, all night long and during inclement weather). There’s also an annual cycle of summer production versus winter usage. This ebb and flow results in either a credit surplus that can be carried forward according to utility policy or a deficit requiring a small power bill that’s far less than what you’re paying now on the one-way street of consumption only.
So why can’t you just keep all the power you create, use it as needed, and get entirely off the grid? With current technology, electricity is much cheaper to produce and distribute than it is to store. Hence, the optional component of your system: solar batteries. Until there are major breakthroughs in storage capacity, current batteries serve as little more than emergency back-ups and can add 50% to your total price.
HOW MUCH SOLAR COSTS
The good news is that the declining price of solar panels plus a growing number of competing installers have combined to make residential solar-power systems more affordable than ever. As an example using nationwide averages, the 20-panel/6-kW system described above has a gross cost today of around $20,000, including all equipment, permit, and installation charges. Deduct $2,000 for the rebates offered in many states, subtract the 30% federal tax credit from that subtotal and another $1,000 for state credits where applicable, and you’ve got a bottom-line cost of just $11,600.
OK, that’s a big chunk of change, but consider this: you’re paying $100 or more a month for electricity now, which is $1,200+ a year or more than $30,000 over 25 years. But, if your system hits the sweet spot of producing roughly the same amount of power that you consume annually in a net-metering system, your monthly bill will be $0—a total savings of about $18,400. And, several recent studies have shown that a residential solar system can raise a home’s market value by up to 4%; for a $300,000 property, that’s an increase of $12,000 on day one. If you can’t afford the entire up-front cost, there are financing options and even leasing plans. But, under current law, the 30% federal tax credit available in 2019 will decline by 4% each year in 2020 and 2021, expiring altogether for residential solar in 2022 unless the program is renewed, which is ironic because rooftop solar systems are renewable-power sources that enhance American energy independence, create skilled jobs, and may help to save the planet.
The Club Life | Social Networks That Can’t Be Hacked
Once upon a time, retirement communities were built around amenities like golf courses and recreation centers with pools and tennis courts. Social life revolved around the country club or racquet club or other popular activities like boating and gardening.
Today’s active-adult communities offer that and so much more. Baby Boomers still play golf and tennis (or, increasingly, pickeball), but we also like some diversity in the things we do and the connections we make. What may have begun coincidentally in some places—“You collect stamps, too?”—has become a proliferation of “interest clubs” that are changing the dynamics of community social life.
Large planned communities can have 100 or more active clubs, but every community these days has dozens of groups where you can share your writing, learn to play an instrument or sculpt a vase, enjoy sports and games from kayaking to keno, and give something back by tutoring a student or helping the needy. The bonuses are new social networks created and a quality of life enhanced.
“‘Relationships’ is one of the three core Cresswind lifestyle components,” says John Manrique, Vice-President of Marketing for Kolter Homes. “Clubs are a major part of creating, growing, and strengthening personal relationships in our communities.” Kolter began to develop its Cresswind brand for age 55+ homebuyers in 2010, and today there are eight communities in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida. While each site was chosen to enhance active-adult options in its area and offers distinctive amenities, all began the planning process in the same place.
“We design our Cresswind communities around the clubhouse as the social and activity
center for our residents,” says Manrique. “It’s the starting point for each masterplan and then we design the clubhouse itself with a flexibility of space for future uses. Our residents are empowered to create and lead the clubs that they and their neighbors are interested in exploring together. Most have a book club and a cooking club, but we also have clubs for horseback riding, canoeing and kayaking, and even triathlon training. And we’re especially happy when they take the initiative to address a need in the area, so we’ve got clubs that lead food drives, mentor students, build homes, and raise funds for a variety of good causes.
“To accommodate that diversity of interests,” he continues, “we have a lifestyle director at every location to help establish new clubs, schedule events, and reach out to the surrounding community. As interests change over time, we want their opportunities to expand as well. After all, how many pickleball clubs were there 10 years ago?”
For most Cresswind residents, there are no additional dues to pay. “Access to and the full use of all on-site facilities is included with membership in the property owners’ association,” Manrique says, noting that groups like travel clubs set their own budgets for off-site adventures. And while none of the Cresswind communities have their own golf courses, most partner with local clubs that offer access and discounts.
True to the core component of “relationships” in the Cresswind communities, each hosts a monthly cocktail party or potluck dinner in the clubhouse so that new residents can meet their neighbors and find out about existing clubs and activities. Those mixers are appreciated not only by couples, but also by those who are single, divorced, or widowed. “And we recently heard from a new owner in our Cresswind Peachtree City location near Atlanta,” Manrique concludes. “She had decided to move in a few months ahead of her husband, who was finishing up his business back home. She thought it might be a lonely time, but instead was delighted to join several activity clubs and found she was busier and happier than ever. That’s what it’s all about.”
Located on Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau between Knoxville and Nashville, Fairfield Glade is an established community with a 50th-anniversary celebration planned for 2020. It’s also a vacation resort, which means that Fairfield Glade has amenities that include five 18-hole golf courses, a Racquet Club with indoor/outdoor courts for year-round play, and meeting facilities at the Conference Center, which is adjacent to medical services the Wellness Complex.
“Our monthly fees are a fraction of what you’d pay for most other homeowners associations with amenities we have,” says Fairfield Glade’s director of marketing and events, Mary Jo Paige. “We use a ‘pay-as-you-play’ model where our residents and members get a reduced rate for what they actually use. Guests pay a different rate and those fees help to keep member dues low.”
The abundant facilities are an obvious draw, but a half-century of experience has taught Fairfield Glade that interest clubs are the heart and soul of community life. “We have more than 50 different active clubs today,” says Paige, “representing just about everything imaginable. In addition to our golf and racquet clubs, we have groups for fishing, birding, cycling, chess, softball, card games, quilting, kayaking, photography, and writing, to name just a handful. And since all are organized by our residents, new ones are created every year. In addition, we have an events team that plans and manages more than 130 community events every year.
“We’re especially proud of our spirit of volunteerism that supports charitable activities,” Paige continues. “The Fairfield Ladies Club is one such organization with nearly 500 members. And Fairfield Glade hosts our “Get Involved Expo” every year, where over 40 local non-profits can inform our residents about their good work and recruit new volunteers.”
Paige also cited an example of a Fairfield Glade interest club that has, literally, branched out into the surrounding area. “Years ago, a group of residents started a ‘Friends of the Trails’ club to promote hiking and trail building within the community,” Paige says. “Today we have more than a dozen great hiking trails in Fairfield Glade, which the club members maintain.” Many Fairfield Glade residents have gone on become “Friends of the Cumberland Trail,” putting their experience and enthusiasm to work in establishing what’s well on its way to becoming a 200-mile Tennessee trail.
Regular items on the Fairfield Glade schedule are the newcomers’ events that acquaint recent residents with available clubs. “Our residents come from all over the country and bring with them a diversity of backgrounds and interests,” says Paige. “Our activity clubs get and keep them engaged socially and, most importantly, having fun.”
Compass Pointe is a master planned community on the North Carolina coast near Wilmington that offers residents an impressive amenities package and membership options.
The Compass Pointe Golf Club features a centerpiece 18-hole course that opened for play in 2016. Membership also includes access to the nearby 27-hole Magnolia Greens Course. The separate Grand Lanai Amenities Center is open to all, with a recreational lawn out front for bocce ball, a central building with flexible meeting space, a resort-style pool, a new indoor pool and lazy river, tennis/pickleball courts, and a wellness center with fitness facilities.
Amanda Marks is the Vice-President of Operations at Compass Pointe. “All property owners pay a monthly association fee for access to Grand Lanai amenities, plus common areas like the dog park, walking and biking trails, and lakes and ponds for kayaking and fishing,” she says. “Residents can also enjoy our golf course and restaurant on a ‘pay-as-you-go‘ basis or they can choose a full golf membership plan, which gives them unlimited play, access to members-only events, and significant food and beverage discounts.”
While new members are joining the golf club every month, community clubs that meet at the Grand Lanai are growing, too. “We now have more than 30 active interest clubs at Compass Pointe,” says Marks. “They’re all formed and run by residents. Our tennis club is huge with more than 250 members and our bocce club has 200 participants. We also have clubs for for everything from gardening, bowling, and knitting to card games of all kinds and Bible study. One of our more unique new clubs is ‘Professionals Without Walls’ for residents who work remotely and benefit from the interaction and networking opportunities.
“Giving back to the community is a big theme at Compass Pointe,” she continues. “For instance, we have groups that raise money for breast-cancer awareness and volunteer at local community theaters and animal-rescue centers. We also have a very active Veterans Club that organizes patriotic events and fundraisers, and our Culinary Club awards a scholarship every year to a local student studying to become a chef.”
In addition, Compass Pointe has organized a Singles Club for residents who appreciate companionship when attending Wilmington-area events. “Clubs are such an important way for people to make friends, especially when they’re new residents,” Marks says. “In fact, that sometimes happens before they move in: When our agents tour prospective buyers around on Sunday afternoons, they always stop at the rec lawn where the bocce club plays. Many times our guests will join right in and that’s how they make new friends who may soon become their neighbors.”
Set along the waterfront on a tranquil protected cove, Brice’s Creek Harbour is a new residential community on the North Carolina coast that’s a paradise for kayakers, boaters, and fishermen. From their private slips, residents can glide directly into Brice’s Creek, the Neuse River, the Intracoastal Waterway, and the Atlantic Ocean and beyond. They return after a day on the water to enjoy a colorful sunset at their peaceful port-of-call.
Brice’s Creek Harbour offers the ultimate in luxury coastal living. Available homesites include a choice of high-elevation waterfront lots. The customizable floor plans range from 2,000 to more than 2,500 square feet and feature oversized screened-in porches for enjoying the morning breezes and entertaining in the evenings. With exteriors fortified against the elements, nine-foot ceilings inside, and hardwood floors throughout, these contemporary designs include top-of-the-line Kenmore appliances and super-efficient HVAC systems.
Richard Gaylord Homes is the developer of Brice’s Creek Harbour, adding to a 35-year track record of success in the Raleigh area and eastern North Carolina. Community builder Bill McClay focuses on spacious energy-saving designs from the foundation up, while the experienced agents at Team New Bern offer professional customer service.
Located just a five-minute drive from the excellent restaurants, boutique shops, and cultural delights of historic downtown New Bern, Brice’s Creek Harbour is a waterfront residential destination for homeowners seeking a quiet place just outside the mainstream.
Medley at Southshore
Bay Wimauma, Fl
Medley at Southshore Bay is a new active-adult lifestyle destination by Lennar, one of America’s leading homebuilders founded on core principles of quality, value, and integrity. Since 1954, Lennar has constructed new homes for more than one million families across the country.
Four distinctive neighborhoods give Medley at Southshore Bay home buyers real choices that fit their personal styles. The Villas feature three floor plans from 1,396 to 1,731 square feet in size. These low-maintenance residences have two spacious bedrooms, ceramic tile floors, and energy-efficient GE appliances in the kitchen. The Manors neighborhood offers single-family homes with three bedrooms in floor plans up to 2,366 square feet. The Estates homes range up to 2,775 square feet with three-car garages and designer kitchens that have double ovens, granite countertops, and stainless-steel appliances. Coming soon will be even more spacious residences in The Grand Estates.
All homes in the Medley at Southshore Bay come with the exclusive ULTRAFI technology for the fastest Internet and Wi-Fi speeds available anywhere. Additional amenities include a crystal-clear central lagoon for kayaking and swimming, a community clubhouse with tiki bar and pool, and tennis/volleyball courts.
Medley at Southshore Bay’s location, just south of the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, means that all of the region’s cultural attractions, sports venues, shopping centers, and restaurants are just a short drive away. And, there are more than a dozen medical specialty practices located within two miles of the Medley at Southshore Bay entrance.
Cordera Ranch is an exciting new active-adult neighborhood in Nevada brought to life by Freedom Homes, a D.R. Horton company. The low-stress, low-maintenance lifestyle for residents 55 years of age and older is the signature concept of Freedom Homes communities, while the D.R. Horton brand is among the most respected in the nation.
All of the Cordera Ranch floor plans feature single-story designs that range in size from 1,670 up to 1,970 square feet. Each offers a two-car garage, and there are two bedroom/two bath and three bedroom/three bath designs from which to choose. Several quick move-in models with dual-sink bathrooms and spacious kitchen-great room combinations are currently available.
Cordera Ranch community amenities include a centrally located clubhouse with the latest workout equipment in the fitness center and two pools. With an open lawn area for outdoor events, a dog park, and a vegetable garden, Cordera Ranch has been created for homeowners who look forward to becoming neighbors.
Located near the welcoming town of Henderson and just a short drive south of the bright-light attractions of Las Vegas, Cordera Ranch is a new place to call home in an area that offers convenient access to a complete range of nearby medical and professional services. The Grand Opening event on July 14 was a big success and attracted plenty of attention, but ground floor opportunities and choice financing options are still available at Cordera Ranch.
Cliffs at Glassy is a premier residential community in a spectacular highland setting. From elevations over 3,000 feet atop Glassy Mountain, Cliffs residents have panoramic views of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains and more than 12,000 acres of protected wilderness. And, the temperate upstate climate is perfect for the naturally active lifestyle.
Home to one of America’s most scenic golf courses (See “Glassy Golf” on page 58), Cliffs at Glassy community amenities also include a fully equipped wellness center with dedicated fitness instructors and an outdoor pool near the unique Children’s Village playground. There are three community walking trails, easy access to longer hikes in the adjacent nature preserve, and excellent fly-fishing streams throughout the area. Social activities include numerous interest clubs, Friday night mixers with live music, and weekly gatherings at the Sunset Pavilion.
The Cliffs at Glassy features stylish custom-designed homes with all of the modern conveniences and homesites with stunning 50-mile views. While Glassy’s private location offers the ultimate in natural serenity, the thriving regional hub of Greenville is just a 30-minute drive south, featuring outstanding restaurants, shopping, and medical facilities, plus the acclaimed Peace Center for the Performing Arts. New Discovery Tour packages that include lodgings, golf, and dinner are now available for those seeking a truly extraordinary “place to call home.”
With 26,000 total acres—the equivalent of 40 square miles or nearly twice the land area of Manhattan—Hot Springs Village in Arkansas is America’s largest gated community.
Established in 1970 by Little Rock businessman John Cooper Sr. and developed by his family-owned Cooper Communities Inc. (CCI), Hot Springs Village was envisioned to be a major retirement community and golf destination in a central Arkansas area that had neither. But Cooper was also an environmentalist who wrote into the original Village covenants that at least 40% of the development had to remain forever as common areas or otherwise undeveloped land. And by 1975, as the first few hundred lots were sold and retirement homes were built, CCI helped to create the Hot Springs Village Property Owners Association (HSVPOA) and a unique partnership began.
Over the next three decades, the Village grew steadily with retirees from neighboring states and Midwestern cities like Chicago and Detroit. Between 1979 and 2004, nine golf courses were built at scattered locations among the community’s meadows and woodlands, each with its own clubhouse and restaurant. The 11 on-site recreational lakes covering more than 2,000 acres and nearly 30 miles of internal nature trails proved to be equally popular recreational amenities. And, serious anglers and hikers soon discovered a paradise right next door in the pristine 1.8 million-acre Ouachita National Forest and its huge centerpiece lake with waters among the cleanest in America.
Additional facilities were built as the Village prospered: the 654-seat Woodlands Auditorium performing-arts venue, an anchor of an activity center that includes the new Grove Park Amphitheater and Casa de Carta, home to one of the nation’s largest bridge clubs; The Coronado Community Center with its own 300-seat auditorium, a lending library, and meeting space for what would become more than 100 community clubs and organizations; a fitness center with indoor pool and workout facilities; a tennis center with additional pickleball and bocce ball courts; two full-service marinas; and 25 churches serving 15 denominations. Residents also participate in dozens of volunteer organizations with an outreach well beyond the community gates.
Village infrastructure grew with its population. There are 501 miles of roads maintained by the HSV public works department, which also operates the recently expanded freshwater plant at a 12th community lake reserved for drinking water, plus two wastewater-treatment facilities. The Village also has its own police and fire departments located in four community substations, contracts for ambulance services with on-site paramedics, handles its own permitting and inspections, and even runs an on-site animal shelter. For all of these amenities and services, the annual assessment set by a vote of the Hot Springs Village property owners is currently around $780.
Today, there are more than 31,000 HSV property owners, about 14,000 of whom live in the Village year-round in 9,000 mostly single-family homes. It’s large enough to qualify as its own Census Enumerated District and could be an incorporated municipality, but it’s not. Hot Springs Village is a different kind of democracy. Over the years, the working relationship between the original CCI developers and the HSV Property Owners Association evolved, with the latter taking on more and more responsibility. And, in recent years, CCI has turned over all operational control and ownership of most of the common areas and facilities to the POA—meaning that the property owners are in charge at Hot Springs Village, a huge benefit and responsibility in equal measure.
On April 20, 2020, Hot Springs Village will celebrate its 50th year in business and is already at work planning the festivities. For many communities, giving itself a big pat on the back for a half-century of growth and success would be sufficient. But, the seven-member HSVPOA Board of Directors, elected by the property owners to three-year staggered terms, had a different idea: Let’s take stock of where we are, preserve and enhance what we like, make changes where necessary, and get started on a new direction for the Village before we throw ourselves a big 50th birthday party.
Thus began a community-wide engagement with the property owners resulting in the 2018 Hot Springs Village Comprehensive Master Plan. During a year-long process that included outside consultants like DPZ and Crafton Tull, a 22-member volunteer POA committee and the Village planning staff, three surveys were sent out, and community meetings were organized to get as much input as possible. More than 4,000 completed surveys were returned, and hundreds turned out for a series of workshops, supplemented by personal conversations, phone calls, and emails to directors, committee members, and staffers.
The final Comprehensive Master Plan sets three major priorities consistent with an overwhelming consensus of Village property owners:
Protect long-term financial sustainability,
Enhance the community’s natural character, and
Offer new housing options for retirees and working families.
Because POA members set their own annual assessments to pay for Village operations, they have a vested interest in keeping costs down and generating new revenue. One option to achieve the latter—supported by 80% of survey respondents—is to establish an enhanced Town Center in the existing Woodlands Auditorium area. There is relatively little commercial development within the Village gates, but the central location of the Woodlands Town Center makes it an ideal place for a grocery store, specialty shops, professional-service offices, restaurants, and even a hotel. Lease revenue from those businesses could make a significant contribution to the Village balance sheet, as would sales or rental income from more urban-style townhomes, condominiums, or apartments for retirees looking to downsize, as well as younger workers.
Being America’s premier active lifestyle community is who we are, and our Comprehensive Master Plan is focused on preserving that value for our property owners for years to come. – Board of Directors Chairman Tom Weiss of the Hot Springs Village Property Owners Association
But, the plan doesn’t call for putting those eggs in a single basket: areas around the Coronado Center and Carmona Center could be similarly developed, albeit on a smaller scale, with clustered housing, neighborhood markets, cafés, and shops. All three areas would be walkable by design and connected by extended leisure paths, with choice areas reserved for parks and open space.
The Comprehensive Master Plan also focuses on future residential development in Hot Springs Village, with an eye toward both preserving existing property values and attracting new residents. Areas near the three primary activity centers already substantially developed should be prioritized for home site sales, while new pocket neighborhoods with smaller homes should be encouraged, thereby enhancing future housing options for new buyers. At the same time, some platted lots could be combined to create larger home sites, while others could be taken off the market to create pocket parks in keeping with the established natural character of the Village. Perhaps most remarkably, the plan advocates suspending sales of more than 5,000 lots (about 17% of the total) not only in perimeter areas with little existing development but also in large areas of partially-built neighborhoods, especially those lots in existing drainageways or on steep topography. This proposal would reduce the current oversupply of properties, while significantly expanding dedicated natural areas.
Among the other property owners’ desires reflected in the plan are the establishment of a consolidated medical complex within the Village with corresponding shuttle service and expansion of the Lifelong Learning Institute programs. New marketing initiatives are also recommended and one is already in place: the new website at Explore TheVillage.com includes overviews of community real estate and amenities, information about new Discovery Tour packages, and a link to the 2018 HSV Comprehensive Master Plan.
Maybe life really does begin at 50. The folks at Hot Springs Village certainly think so.
HOT SPRINGS VILLAGE GOLF
Hot Springs Village was designed from the start to be both a retirement community and a golf destination. The plan was that residents and visitors could share the cost of creating an unrivaled family of Arkansas championship courses. It worked.
Legend has it that Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto traversed the a
rea in 1541, so the first Village golf course to open in 1972 was named for him. A theme was thus established and the Cortez (1979), Coronado (1982), Balboa (1987), Ponce de Leon (1991), Magellan (1996), Isabella (2000), and Granada (2004) followed. All eight golf courses are 18-hole layouts, except the 27-hole Isabella with her Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria nines. All were designed by the acclaimed architects at Ault, Clark & Associates. Each was built on a distinctive tract of pristine land, some featuring multiple lakefront holes, others offering sweeping views of the Ouachita Mountains. Many have been ranked among the state’s best courses by leading golf publications and have hosted numerous tournament events. All have been consistently refurbished over the years and are maintained to the highest playability and environmental-impact standards.
The ninth HSV course—Diamante—opened in 1995 as a private country club. It’s separately owned by its members, managed by Kemper Golf, and has been ranked among Arkansas’ top private courses since its debut.
The other eight Village courses are owned and operated by the HSV Property Owners Association. Director of Golf Tom Heffer, Director of Agronomy Gary Myers, and their staffs manage day-to-day operations, while a standing committee makes policy and budget recommendations. Visiting players from around the region and nearby Hot Springs vacation destinations pay an average greens fee of $65, which is quite reasonable for a top-flight resort course and contributes to the Village’s golf bottom line.
So much so, in fact, that Hot Springs Village property owners enjoy unlimited play on all eight courses for a single annual fee of just $2,190. (That’s not a misprint: $2,190!) It’s hard to imagine a better value in American golf and unsurprising that HSV residents take full advantage; they account for about 85% of the 243,000 annual rounds played, and up to a thousand are weekly tournament participants in the seven Village golf associations for men, women, couples, and juniors.
The daily fees paid by visiting golfers and the residents’ annual contributions combine to substantially fund operation of the Village courses. As a result, the 2018 HSV Comprehensive Master Plan recommends no changes to the current program. However, new resident golfers attracted by contemporary housing options, plus increased visitor play with on-site accommodations like a Woodlands Town Center hotel, could actually make golf a community profit center in the future. And, POA members will still own their eight Hot Springs Village golf courses—which makes that $2,190 a year an even sweeter deal.
“While our plan includes many beautiful physical elements, our people are the real story. The unsung heroes in its creation and implementation are our 500+ employees, thousands of volunteers, business owners, and residents who will work hand-in-hand to bring this plan to life.“ - Hot Springs Village POA Chief Executive Officer Lesley Nalley