Real-life Margaritaville wows parrothead retirees

Real-life Margaritaville wows

The colorful sales center of Latitude Margaritaville Daytona Beach is on LPGA Boulevard just off an exit of I-95. [ SUSAN TAYLOR MARTIN | Times ]

DAYTONA BEACH — Near the corner of Latitude Drive and Margaritaville Avenue, 72-year-old Jack Conroy explained why he wouldn’t mind spending the rest of his years surrounded by all things Jimmy Buffett.

“It’d be a good lifestyle,” he said, following a sign that pointed “This Way to Paradise” and nine model homes replete with images of parrots, flip-flops and surfboards. Bottles of “Mango Margaritaville Mix” evoked happy thoughts of wasting away on tequila and cheeseburgers as Buffett’s voice crooned from hidden speakers:

That old sun is hot and that old clock is moving slow.

If there is one thing that is not moving slow, it is Latitude Margaritaville Daytona Beach, Florida’s newest 55-and older retirement community. A collaboration of Buffett’s Margaritaville Holdings and Tampa-based Minto Communities USA, it has enjoyed a reception nothing short of phenomenal ever since it was announced a year ago.

When the sales center opened in November, more than 200 Parrotheads — as Buffett’s fans are known — camped overnight for the chance to put a deposit on one of the first 378 lots available.

On the last weekend in February, 3,000 people showed up for the opening of the model homes.

And every day since, droves of prospective buyers and curiosity seekers have been pulling off nearby 1-95, climbing on shuttle buses marked “Latitude” and riding out to the site where residents will start moving in next month.

For the over-55 set, Margaritaville Daytona Beach is becoming a bona fide tourist attraction.

“There’s huge interest,” says Bill Bullock, Minto’s senior vice president. “We’re seeing crowds like a destination-level attraction.”

Susan and Arthur Lydick of Jacksonville, “big partiers in our day,” arrived on a recent Thursday morning and spent 40 minutes wandering in and out of the Key West-style models, professionally staged and painted in Easter egg pastels. The actual homes will be about 1,500- to 2,500- square feet and range from the low $200,000s to the mid $300,000s.

“The pricing is good for us,” said Susan, who wants to downsize from their 3,000-square-foot house. Her husband, who uses a cane, likes the idea of driving a golf cart to the town center, which will include a grocery, Latitude Bar & Grill and a Barkaritaville pet salon. Shuttles will ferry residents to a private beach 15 minutes away.

Showing the couple around was Daytona Beach real estate agent Marc Greenberg. Since the models opened Feb. 24, he’s averaged four trips a week to Margaritaville with clients.

“It’s been amazing,” he said. “The vibe is youthful, everyone who comes in is so excited and overwhelmed by what the project is going to be. The prices are really nice.”

The Daytona Beach Margaritaville is the first of what could be many active adult communities evoking the boozy, beachy, laid-back lifestyle popularized in Buffet’s 1977 hit song. Latitude Margaritaville Hilton Head is under construction in South Carolina, and Minto is eying possible sites in other areas, including Tampa Bay.

The idea of living in a real-life Margaritaville clearly has its appeal. Since sales began in Daytona Beach four months ago, Minto has sold 250 lots — two and a half times more than in its new community in West Palm Beach.

Another 110,000 people have signed up for information on the Latitude Margaritaville web site.

“As far as registration,” Bullock said, ‘‘nobody has seen this level of interest.”

Minto, which is currently selling new homes in 11 Florida areas, is no stranger to retirement living. It completed the development of Sun City Center south of Tampa, whose population has ballooned to more than 20,000 over a half century.

“We’ve always been a lifestyle builder,” Bullock says. “It’s one thing to build a good house; it’s another thing to build a lifestyle, especially in an activeadult community. (Residents) want to be engaged, socialize and have fun. If you think about what Margaritaville is, it’s about fun and music and realizing that fun lifestyle.”

Also capitalizing on that lifestyle is Buffett’s own Margaritaville Holdings, a hospitality company that manages and franchises a chain of casual dining restaurants, stores selling Buffett-themed merchandise, and several hotels and casinos. They have helped make the 71-year-old Buffett — whose musical “Escape to Margaritaville’’ opens soon on Broadway — one of America’s richest celebrities with an estimated net worth of $515 million.

Minto and Margaritaville Holdings were brought together in November 2016 by a mutual business contact. At the time, Buffett’s company was looking for a restaurant site in Daytona Beach. Minto was pursuing plans to develop up to 6,900 homes on land it had acquired on LPGA Boulevard about a mile from Interstate-75.

“We had a meeting at the Orlando airport where I met two (executives) from Margaritaville Holdings,” Bullock recalled. “We spoke for a good hour, hour-and-a-half and when we left that meeting, we both agreed there was something here to pursue further.”

Minto asked its homebuyers what they would want most in an active adult community. “Number one is a warm, coastal climate — that’s Florida embodied,” Bullock said. Also cited were easy access to transportation, health care, venues for shopping, dining and entertainment and continuing education. Daytona Beach had all of that including Embry Riddle Aeronautical University — a plus for retired Parrothead pilots and aviation buffs.

Last March, the two companies announced that they had teamed up to develop Margaritavilles. Among those who camped overnight in November to put down deposits for the lots in Daytona Beach were Kevin Ray and his wife, Elaine. They arrived at 3:30 p.m. on a Sunday to find themselves 95th in line.

“The last time I spent overnight waiting was probably back in the early 70s for a concert ticket for the Grateful Dead,” said Ray, now 69.

The couple, retirees from Chicago, have been living in Apopka in a community with a now-closed golf course. They had looked at The Villages in central Florida but decided it was too big. Then news of Latitude Margaritaville “popped up,” Ray says, and the couple, who’ve attended several Buffett concerts, knew that was where they wanted to build their fifth and probably final home.

“I had a wonderful time. I was pumped up on adrenalin,’’ Ray said of his more than 18 hours in line. “Not only were the other people waiting so friendly and open, they all had the same level of excitement. We spent the whole night talking to people and Minto did a super job keeping us entertained and fed.”

The Rays expect to move into their two-bedroom home in June. As much as they like the house, they’re even more excited about amenities including the Changes in Attitude poolside bar and Last Mango Theater for dances and banquets.

“It’s a resort lifestyle,” Ray said. “It’s everything we’re looking for.”

Like the Rays, many in the initial wave of buyers already live in Florida though Margaritavilla is also drawing people from high-cost, high-tax states like California, New York and New Jersey. Compared to an average age of 74 in Sun City Center, ‘‘we are seeing our first residents skew a lot younger,’’ Bullock said.

Still, in coming years, knees will give out, hearing will dim, memories will fade.

“Naturally, as a community ages in place, ancillary functions will find their way in, whether its assisted living or continuing care facilities,” Bullock said. “Right now we’re not building that because the demographic bulge is not at that age.”

So as Buffett sings in Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes:

Oh, yesterdays are over my shoulder,

So I can’t look back for too long.

There’s just too much to see waiting in front of me,

and I know that I just can’t go wrong…”

Contact Susan Taylor Martin, Times Senior Correspondent at smartin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate

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