By Emily Hughey, Special Contributor
Scoff all you want. Call it the "poor man's Cabo." Chuckle at the beach filled with tents, RVs and underage spring-breakers partying without consequence. Rocky Point will have the last laugh.
Drive one hour south of the Arizona-Mexico border and, out of nowhere, framework for high rises emerge from the flat, sandy cauldron of Mexico's Sonoran Desert. Seemingly amid a wasteland, Puerto Penasco has become one of the hottest real estate tickets in Mexico, and Steve Barger has one word to explain why: "Blue."
"This is Arizona's ocean," says Barger, part owner and developer of Las Palomas Seaside Golf Community, a development slated for condos, single-family residences and an 18-hole championship golf course, which set to open late spring.
Located on the 5,000-acre area known as Sandy Beach, Las Palomas is one of at least seven high-rise condominium projects that are selling out before completion.
"There's a demand," Barger says. "And there's only so much beachfront."
If Frank Jackson's James Bond ring tone is any indication, he and other brokers like Barger are on a mission. As CEO of SBR Realty, the brokerage arm of Sandy Beach Resorts, Esmeralda condominiums and Casa Blanca Golf Villas, Jackson is part of the mass of investors rushing across the border to stake a claim on oceanfront parcels that have appreciated an average of 100 percent the past three years.
"We're starting to believe our own hype about becoming the next Cabo or Cancun," Jackson says.
Or the next San Diego? A Dec. 4 New York Times travel story, titled "Puerto Peñasco, Mexico: Boom time for 'next San Diego,'" made just that comparison.
Some say development is going too fast, but with Rocky Point's first international airport, a highway connecting to San Diego, and at least five golf courses on the horizon, Peñasco looks to be just getting started.
"The growth and performance of Peñasco - I've never seen anything like it," said Geoffrey Becker-Jones. "It is evident that this growth is not going to stop."
Laguna del Mar will be a significant part of the Rocky Point boom. The first nine holes of the Jack Nicklaus Signature Design course opened in January of 2004, but the 650-acre, golf and residential community is temporarily closed until a transfer of ownership.
"It's equivalent to having a Ferrari sitting in your driveway waiting for the ignition key," says Becker-Jones, who has development experience in Asia, Europe, Canada, Mexico and the United States.
In terms of master-planned communities, Laguna del Mar is in good company. The visionaries at Mayan Resorts snapped up 20,000 acres and five miles of beach 30 minutes east of town and plan to add condos, villas, single-family residences and estate homes to the 170-unit timeshare resort are already open. Anchoring the development will be three Jack Nicklaus golf courses, one of which will have an unprecedented seven ocean holes. Luna Blanca's style-concious high-rise condos and villas, also located in the Mayan Resort development, promise low-density living with modern flair. and is expected to open late spring.
Las Palomas, too, will be a boon for golfers looking to break up beach time by hitting the links.
"Right now they bring their jet skis, they bring their quads, and soon they'll be bringing their golf clubs," says Barger.
Bruce Greenberg, a Tucson real estate appraiser for 35 years, says Puerto Peñasco is the third hottest market in Mexico, behind only Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta.
"People can go to San Diego and spend a lot of money or they can go to Tijuana or Ensenada where there's a lot of crime and cold water and winds," Greenberg says. "Or, they can drive down into the Sea of Cortez where it's warm and very affordable."
Affordability isn't all of it. For most of the two million annual visitors, it's proximity.
"It's a drive-in destination market," says Mitch Creekmore, senior vice president of Stewart International. "The reason it's so popular because you leave Phoenix and three and a half hours later you're on the Sea of Cortez. It is truly one of the very interesting markets in Mexico because of its proximity to Arizona."
The highways are wide and have ample shoulders, many road signs are in miles instead of kilometers, and very few of the 40,000 expatriates who live there speak Spanish.
Other similarities to America come in the food, which is more comparable to southeast Texas than to Mexico; stuffed flounder and bacon-wrapped shrimp are on almost every menu in town.
The best margaritas can be found at Hacienda Las Fuentes, a restaurant created by Rocky Point developer Larry Large. It will have competition next year when Chicago-based Coobah restaurant opens at Bella Sirena, another luxury condo, villa, and beach house project.
More casual dining options in the Old Port area include: Coffee's Haus (try the mixed berry muffin); The Point (unbeatable views rule); Lappa Lappa (prime cuts of Sonoran beef from the family ranch); and Mary's Tacos (scallop tacos to die for). By night, El Capitán, situated at the top of the town's namesake, is the best place to watch the sun set over a couple of beers.
And if you want to party like you're on spring break, go ahead. Just leave the RV at home.
This article originally appeared in Luxury Golf & Travel, a magazine that caters to those who enjoy the good life, whether that means conquering an incredible golf course, visiting a tropical island or discovering a dream resort. The editors and designers of Luxury Golf & Travel provide a vivid preview of the finest golf courses, resorts and real estate opportunities on the map. To subscribe, click here or call 435-940-1701.
April 1, 2006