Melbourne, Fla.-based Holiday Builders this month is building three models at Beaver Dam Crossing, a community in Stone County, Miss., near Biloxi, where Holiday plans to build 396 homes. Kim Shelpman, Holiday's president, says her company expects to start selling homes at Beaver Dam in February. She says the company is "going full force in Mississippi," where Holiday has already posted billboards stating that its homes will start in the $130s. Ron Tuttle, Holiday's Southwest president, who is overseeing its activities in Mississippi, adds that his company is eager to get going there, especially after Fannie Mae announced last week that it is extending relief financing to hurricane victims through June 2008.
Beaver Dam Crossings is about a half mile from Horizon, a large proposed master planned community in McHenry, Miss., 24 miles from the Gulf of Mexico. Both communities were hatched by the same development company, Mississippi Investors VI, which is owned by Florida-area developers Robert Windham and Mike Adkinson. Shelpman says that Holiday is interested in building at Horizon, too, and has "rights of first refusal" on lots there. After several months of delays and snafus, it appears that Horizon's first phase -- 8,000 single-family homes on 5,000 acres -- is finally moving forward, albeit slowly.
In a phone interview with Builder Online last Friday, Windham said that 11,000 of the 23,000 acres he and Adkinson own in Mississippi are now entitled. The developers had planned to start selling finished lots to builders in Phase One last spring, but this project went through a series of setbacks, including slower-than-expected regulatory approvals; the decision by its financial partner, Regents Bank, to pull out of the project; and torrential rains that soaked the area in October and delayed construction.
As the developers scrambled to find new financing, Holiday Builders wanted to move forward with Beaver Dam. So Adkinson's company, which is installing the infrastructure for both projects, pulled about 80 percent of its equipment off of Horizon so it could accommodate Holiday's request, says Windham.
Sources familiar with Horizon tell Builder Online that the developers have been reviewing loan documents and expect to secure financing for the first part of Phase One -- 3,300 lots -- sometime within the next two weeks. (Horizon is also a designated "Public Improvement District," which allows the developers to sell bonds to help defray the cost of the project. Windham says he has met with a number of bond house underwriters, and believes he can entice interested buyers, despite the current credit crunch.)
Earlier this year Mississippi's environmental protection bureau issued permits to Horizon's developers for a 10-million-gallon per day effluent discharge. They've since carved out 71 acres for a sewer treatment plant at Horizon, which on December 1 received approval for its water rate base. Infrastructure for at least parts of Phase One should be completed by mid-March, says Windham, who notes that a number of builders continue to express interest in building there, including Meritage Homes. A Houston-based builder, NuWay Homes, which started up only last September, has signed a letter of intent to construct houses on a 202-lot subdivision within the community. Rodney Bray, NuWay's CFO, tells Builder Online that his company would pay $35,000 per finished lot plus a $3,500-per-lot impact fee. Despite being a stick builder, NuWay's first houses at Horizon will be modular ("just to get them up quicker," explains Bray), and NuWay has contacted several modular manufacturers -- including Oak Creek Homes, Patriot Homes, and Horton Homes -- as potential suppliers. NuWay wants to build stick homes eventually at Horizon. "It all depends when lots are ready," says Bray. "These people in Mississippi really need affordable housing."
That's especially true after last week's announcement by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that it would evict people living in FEMA-supplied trailers within six months. Some 100,000 Mississippians who lost their homes after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita were living in 38,000 FEMA trailers when Horizon was launched officially last January. Windham continues to talk about the state's pent-up demand in the face of a severe housing shortage. That demand will grow, he points out, as eight more casinos will be built near the Gulf Coast over the next three to five years, and will draw tens of thousands more workers to the area.
"This should be the best [housing] market in the USA that hasn't been slowed down by the subprime market," he says.