The Housing Scene by Lew Sichelman

The Next Big Amenity

Las Vegas hotelier Steve Wynn has discovered the next great amenity. And with it, he plans to bring to the desert the one thing the Nevada gambling mecca lacks: Caribbean-like beaches.

Wynn plans to turn the 38-acre golf course behind his two hotels on the Las Vegas strip into a huge Crystal Lagoon where visitors can not only swim and sun on white sand beaches, but also water-ski, paddleboard and paraglide.

“This is the most fun project I’ve had in my 45 years (in the industry),” Wynn says. “I love this.”

Crystal Lagoons are popping up elsewhere, too. Several are under construction in Florida, as is one in Dallas and another in Houston. In total, the company has some 300 lagoons either built or in development in more than 50 countries, including 15 in the U.S.

“This is a complete game-changer in terms of amenities,” Greg Singleton, president of the Metro Development Group, said at an Urban Land Institute conference last fall in Dallas. “It’s almost like being on a beach in the Bahamas, with crystal-clear water in front of you, except there are no jellyfish, man o' wars or sharks.”

Crystal Lagoons bills itself as a technology company that offers developers a system for building and maintaining bodies of water of unlimited size, in clear condition, at a low cost. And it can help turn landlocked, otherwise non-viable properties into successful projects, says the company’s U.S. president, Uri Man.

“This is an amenity that has the power to change the real estate paradigm,” Man says. “It can transform any location into an idyllic beach paradise and provides real estate developers unmatched value compared to traditional amenities.”

Crystal Lagoons was started in Chile by developer Fernando Fischmann, whose project was on a part of the coastline where the water was bitterly cold and had large waves and dangerous undercurrents. Swimming was prohibited.

To overcome these problems, he dreamed of creating a massive pool that would offer visitors the opportunity to swim and enjoy water sports in a safe and clean environment. After several fits and starts, Fischmann, a trained biochemist, came up with the right formula, and the company was born. Today, it holds some 1,500 patents in 60 countries.

While the lagoons can be of any size and depth -- “there are no limitations,” says Man -- they are typically three to 10 acres in size and eight to 10 feet deep. They have shallow ends that are child-friendly and deeper spots for all kinds of water sports.

Egypt currently boasts the largest lagoon, at 30 acres, but a 90-acre lagoon is under construction in Dubai. In the U.S., a 14-acre lagoon being built in Jacksonville, Florida, will anchor a new single-family community of 1,000 homes and a 100,000 square-foot waterfront retail and restaurant village.

For proprietary reasons, the company won’t talk much about how the lagoons are built. But they are excavated similarly to man-made lakes, and have liners similar to above-ground swimming pools. The liner is made of a material than can withstand the sun’s UV rays and doesn’t deteriorate. “It can last over 100 years,” according to Man.

Whereas conventional pools use high levels of chlorine and other disinfectants, Crystal Lagoons distribute tiny amounts, and only as needed, via a system of sensors and "pulses." They also use super-efficient ultrasonic filtration systems.

The lagoons use 30 times less water than a golf course of the same size, and can be filled with any type of water, including saltwater. One Cabo San Lucas lagoon contains 27 million gallons of sea water diverted from the Pacific. By the time it reaches the lagoon, it is clean and clear.

The first U.S. lagoon is being built by the Metro Development Group at a property in Wesley Chapel, Florida. Before breaking ground in February, the company already had more than 2,000 names on its waiting list, all with only a billboard on Interstate 75. Singleton attributes the numbers to interest in the property’s nearly 8-acre lagoon, which will feature a private beach, swim-up bar, grotto and kayak launch. Metro has also signed deals to build lagoons in three other Florida locations.

Kent Donahue of Bayside Land Partners in Dallas is also sold on the amenity.

"It’s what we are basing our entire theme around,” he said. “We feel it’s going to really be a showcase.”

Developers like Singleton and Donahue are high on Crystal Lagoons because they can sell lots at a faster clip and at higher prices to builders, who, in turn, can sell their houses more quickly and at higher prices. And they can do it on sites that otherwise have no water features other than a conventional pool or two.

“We are able to drive higher lot prices because builders know their absorption rates are going to be quicker and their prices are going to be higher,” said John Kinney, owner/manager of Twin Creek Development Associates in Houston. At the Florida property, builder D.R. Horton has raised its prices four times on houses that would cost $30,000 less elsewhere, according to Crystal Lagoons’ Man.

Man says demand for the technology has been strong because it offers unprecedented value at a very low construction and maintenance cost. And in the process, it offers homebuyers a healthy, active lifestyle in a fun, safe environment.