Earlier this year, Metro Development Group unveiled a long-awaited, landmark amenity at its Epperson community in Wesley Chapel, Fla. The 7-acre artificial lagoon, newly filled with 11 million gallons of fresh water, is the first of its kind to break ground in the United States. Suitable for swimming, boating, and other non-motorized water activities, the lagoon will be the centerpiece of the community’s upcoming amenity village and beachfront area.
While the man-made lagoon from Chile-based Crystal Lagoons is a new concept to American home buyers, it won’t be for long. The Epperson project represents the tip of the tidal wave in the trend toward massive water-based amenities: It is one of 140 such aquatic amenities in the U.S. currently in the planning, design, or construction phase.
Developers and builders say that while the lagoons come with a high price tag—an estimated $600,000 to $650,000 per acre—they are worth it for the attention and buyers they bring. “The demand has been incredible,” says Greg Singleton, president of Metro Development Group. “The response from the customers has been great, and the builders are excited.”
Singleton notes that homes at Epperson, which are priced from the mid-high $200,000s to the $600,000s, have been fetching higher sales prices than homes in nearby communities without a lagoon. More than 200 new-home contracts have been signed at Epperson, and Singleton attributes at least some of the community’s sales to its unique attraction. The development will contain an estimated 1,500 homes at full build-out, which is just enough, according to Singleton, to support the cost of the lagoon and keep the price of surrounding homes affordable.
According to Uri Man, managing partner of Miami-based UM Development and former CEO of Crystal Lagoons, Epperson’s homes are priced about 25% higher than comparable homes in a community without a lagoon. “It’s been pretty consistent around the world that as these lagoons are built and people realize what this amenity is, it has a dramatic impact on interest in buying homes in those communities because of the lifestyle that it offers,” he says.
The Epperson lagoon is the first of five Crystal Lagoons projects in progress for Tampa-based Metro Development Group, and more are slated to open over the next year in several Florida and Texas communities that feature a range of developers and builders, including D.R. Horton, Lennar, M/I, Pulte, Tavistock Development, and Turnberry Associates.
The lagoons’ main appeal is their ability to transform any land asset, even lots in the middle of the desert, into valuable beachfront property, according to Kevin P. Morgan, executive vice president of Crystal Lagoons U.S. This allows developers to create desirable resorts or communities on less-than-desirable tracts of land.
“Today’s home buyer is an educated buyer,” Man explains. “They’re looking for ways to ensure that their investment, when they buy a house, is going to be protected. They want to see real value.” He adds that in other countries and now in the U.S., a Crystal Lagoons amenity can help “ensure the buyers’ purchase investment because it’s a big differentiator.”
From the start of its worldwide expansion, Crystal Lagoons executives have had their sights set on the U.S. and its master planned communities. As of now, the company's “big six” target markets are Florida, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, California, and Hawaii, though the concept is also gaining traction in Georgia and the Carolinas. Morgan attributes this focus to the states’ warmer climates, though he notes that lagoons can be frozen into skating rinks and used 12 months a year in any part of the world.
“A lot of the East and West coasts have been chewed up with development, so developers are trying to figure out, ‘How do I go create value inland?’” says Morgan. “The way to do that for them has been, ‘If I can create a Crystal Lagoons amenity, I can build a lot more real estate and density around it and create my own waterfront destination.’”
Florida was chosen as the firm's first point of entry based on its population density, climate, and strong developer demand for waterfront property. The company’s Florida projects, which make up almost one-third of all U.S. Crystal Lagoon projects in development, include Metro Development Group’s Metro Lagoons, two 7-acre lagoons at the Sole Mia project by LeFrak and Turnberry Associates in Miami, and a 15-acre lagoon at the upcoming Lake Nona Resort in Tavistock Development’s Lake Nona community in Orlando.
The Epperson lagoon is located around the community’s central amenity area, The Hub, which residents will be able to access on foot from a series of walking and cart paths. Still under construction, The Hub will also include shaded areas, a bar that is dry on the land side and wet on the lagoon side, and a multifunctional event space.
Metro also plans to include a permanent restaurant at The Hub, though it will first gauge its residents’ tastes with a food truck stop on-site. “That helps us determine what the demand is for what kind of food,” says Singleton.
One section of the lagoon’s beachside is aimed at teenagers, while a separate family section features a tide pool effect and an island in the center. The lagoon also includes “adult conversation areas,” which offer sections of poured concrete benches where residents can sit in chest-high water and relax. A separate resort-style pool includes a second bar and cabanas.
The lagoon opened for resident use in April with an appearance by Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, who serves as a global ambassador for Crystal Lagoons. The next Metro Lagoons project, a 6-acre waterway at the Southshore Bay community in Wimauma, Fla., is set to break ground in the coming months. Two more lagoon communities, Mirada in Wesley Chapel and Brightwater in Fort Meyers, are set to follow, and a fifth will be located in Polk County.
With specifications and oversight from the Crystal Lagoons team, Metro has assembled much of its lagoon development process in-house and figured out its own solutions to construction issues as they arose.
“Not only were we the first to build a Crystal Lagoons amenity, we were first to negotiate a U.S. licensing agreement, first to design, permit, break ground, and fill,” says Singleton. “Every step of the way these challenges proved to be accomplishments. This has been an exercise in solving challenges—big and small—on a daily basis, and we are extremely proud of that.”
Now that the Epperson lagoon is complete, the firm has found that its expertise is in demand with other U.S. lagoon projects. “We’ve had some people approach us about doing work for them in other markets,” says Singleton. “And so that may be the next step for Metro, to help other developers that don’t directly compete with us—Texas, and other markets—to help them build their lagoon.”
More From Florida
Up north in Orlando, Tavistock Development’s Lake Nona lagoon and resort are set to break ground later this year, with completion estimated in 2020. The lagoon will be available to members of the Lake Nona Country Club and to residents and guests of the upcoming Lake Nona Resort.
The water feature and resort are designed around each other, including a section where the eight-story resort cantilevers over a portion of the lagoon.
“For us, the lagoon was a placemaker. Generally buildings with a geography are more valuable, more successful. And the geography gives identity to the place,” says Bernardo Fort-Brescia, principal of Miami-based Arquitectonica, the project’s architecture firm. “The building bridges over the water, and then it dips down to create almost a thin point of connection between the two sides, like an instant of a building.”
The Lake Nona Resort will encompass 80 condominium units, 250 guest rooms, and 20,000 square feet of meeting space, along with an enormous fitness and spa center and a 120,000-square-foot beach volleyball venue. It is designed to be the world’s first “iconic performance resort,” with an active focus on health, fitness, and well-being throughout the entire campus, including the lagoon.
The waterfront amenity package is still in progress, but “designing the whole campus around fitness and performance is key,” says Scott Gasaway, head of construction for Tavistock Development. “We’re still in the exploration phase, but we’re looking at opportunities to create social interaction.”
The first Crystal Lagoons amenity to break ground in South Florida will be the first of two lagoons at Sole Mia in Miami. The master planned community’s first phase will contain 400 rental units distributed across two residential towers, also designed by Arquitectonica, which will be ready for move-in by April 2019. The buildings will be connected by an amenity deck, which will include an elevated pool and sky park, on top of a shielded garage designed to match the community’s rounded railings and steel-and-glass aesthetics.
The lagoon and its associated beachfront will be located adjacent to the towers, with canoeing, sailing, kayaking, and paddleboarding activities available to residents. The lagoon and residences will be surrounded by 37 acres of open green space, interspersed with walking trails.
The 183-acre community is zoned for 4,390 residential units, and over 1 million square feet of retail and commercial development is also in progress, including office spaces, dining, shopping, and entertainment. The second lagoon is set to be built in Sole Mia’s second phase.
Expansion to Texas
The Crystal Lagoons team also has signed deals for lagoon communities with a number of Texas developers, including the Terra Verde Group, which has just broken ground on a lagoon for the Windsong Ranch community near Dallas, and Land Tejas, which is developing a 2-acre Crystal Lagoons project for the Balmoral community in Humble, outside of Houston.
Land Tejas has enlisted a mix of national, regional, and local builders for the first phase of Balmoral: D.R. Horton, Westin Homes, Historymaker Homes, Colina Homes, and Gehan Homes. The 750-acre community will contain an estimated 2,000 homes at full build-out. Over 100 homesites have been sold as of February, and some residents have already begun to move in.
“Houston’s a very competitive market when it comes to new-home building, construction, and sales, so we’re always looking for something to differentiate ourselves,” says Tim Johnson, director of community sales and marketing for Land Tejas. “When we were approached by Crystal Lagoons, this was almost a no-brainer for us because it was a cutting-edge amenity. And we saw a definite increase in sales pace and velocity in other developments from across the world that had opened up Crystal Lagoons [projects], and an increase in the price that builders could sell their homes for.”
Man, who is serving as a consultant for Land Tejas and its lagoon, notes that the community’s homes are priced at conventional entry-level rates, but he expects these price points to change as buyers and developers realize the value of the lagoon. “The general community in Houston and in Texas is not yet aware of this amenity,” Man says. “When they see one open in person, that’s when the “wow” factor really kicks in.”
The Balmoral lagoon completed its first phase of construction in early April, and, as of press time, the lagoon will host its grand opening this summer. The surrounding amenity village is expected to open in late summer.
The lagoon will have two distinct beach areas: the Family Beach on the north end and the Serenity Beach on the south end. The Serenity Beach, geared toward adults, will feature a volleyball court and fire pit. The Family Beach will be oriented toward children, with a playground, resort-style pool, and splash pads.
The 7,500-square-foot Balmoral clubhouse will include a great room, a caterer’s kitchen, and a fitness center and locker room, with a butterfly garden nearby. Two green areas will be located between the beaches—the Hammock Lawn, where hammocks and cabanas will be located, and an event lawn large enough for hosting multiple functions.
“The idea here is that it is an amenity pool for residents and resident guests, but we will be hosting corporate events, private parties, perhaps even a wedding,” says Jeff Sheehan, amenity development manager for Land Tejas. “It’s really a neat environment. You’re bringing a Caribbean beach experience to Houston, Texas.”