Hilton Head Island time share's building continues in slow economy

gmartin@islandpacket.comJanuary 5, 2012 

An artist's rendering of Spinnaker Resorts Bluewater Phase II Villas which are being constructed on Hilton Head Island at Gumtree and Squire Pope roads.

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It might be the offseason for tourists on Hilton Head Island, but Bluewater Resort and Marina by Skull Creek is anything but quiet.

Despite the chilly temperatures, a team of laborers is rushing to complete a five-story, 28-unit structure in time to accommodate some of next summer's visitors.

The ongoing construction is emblematic, its developer says, of a local time-share industry making a slow but steady recovery from the recession.

"We're seeing a bit of a comeback," said Charlie Halterman, the construction manager at Bluewater. "Of course, we anticipated it happening last year, too."

Halterman's project is ambitious. The building is just the second of seven planned structures on 18 acres off of Squire Pope Road that will eventually offer 213 time share and rental units.

Construction began on the first building in 2005. Halterman said the recession slowed the speed of the project's development.

He declined to speculate when the entire project would be completed -- citing uncertainties that typically accompany an election year and the time it takes to secure construction permits.

Halterman believes the nature of development generally has changed dramatically in the past 15 years.

"Back in the late '90's, I bet we could have put up all seven buildings in two and a half years," he said. "We're just going a little slower."

The recession has left the time-share industry shaken but hardly devastated, according to Rob Welch, Marriott regional vice president.

"Obviously, sales are down," he said, "but from an operations side, occupancy at our units has remained stable."

Welch said both the nature of time shares and the higher socioeconomic status of his company's clientele contributed to its relative stability in recent years.

"Once they prepurchased their vacation, people still felt committed to going," he said. "We're in the upper tier pricing-wise, and our customers generally survived the economy better than many others."

Will Potter, general manager of Royal Dunes Resort on Hilton Head, said most local time-share agencies saw an occupancy dip of about 5 percent during the recession.

"We've actually been pretty steady through this down economy," he said. "But we've been lucky."

Follow reporter Grant Martin at Twitter.com/LowCoBiz.

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