Thursday, October 1, 2009

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus

It was hot, rainy and humid in Loreto, Baja California Sur, Mexico, today, while here in Albuquerque it was sunny, cool and breezy. Most people would happily opt for the latter weather-wise, but George and I don't. There's something about Loreto and Loreto Bay that has captured our hearts in a way we never thought possible. We were totally smitten the first time we laid eyes on Loreto Bay, despite the heat, dust and construction chaos. The contrast of those stark mountains and desert vegetation against the calm shimmer of the blue waters of the Sea of Cortez took our breath away. Wham! It was love at first sight.

Both of us have lived and traveled all over the U.S. over the course of our lives. Neither of us on our own different paths finding a place that suited so well we thought to stop for long. But the wanderlust that has plagued us both for so many years seems to have found an end with our discovery of Loreto Bay.

And finally, after months of uncertainty, it seems that our dream of living in Loreto Bay may actually come true.

As of today, there are more than 330 construction workers assembled and ready to resume construction (as soon as the aforementioned rains stop!). Homes that were very near completion when Citigroup gave us the finger and so nonchalantly walked away from this development are being completed and turned over to jubilant home owners.

This resumption of construction and hope is due to the efforts of Beck International and Stan Barton, as well as home owners and others in Loreto Bay who never lost the faith and continue to work tirelessly to make this project a viable and livable reality.

Here on our current home front we're preparing for our move. The house is finally on the market and an estate auction this weekend will take care of all the superfluous "stuff" we've accumulated over the years. Sorting through our lifetimes of possessions has made us teary-eyed and stressed. What to keep? What to leave behind? The memories that have been evoked during this process have been powerful and poignant. It's been scary but also very liberating and exciting. Our decision almost two years ago to make our home in Loreto Bay is almost a reality. And whether our home is completed by Christmas or not, this will be the best Christmas we could imagine because we know our dream of living Loreto will soon come true.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Hospitality house is a hit!

The best part of every trip to Loreto Bay is the opportunity to meet fellow home owners, but with the Inn and its restaurants closed we didn't have any real options for informal gatherings during this last visit. Until Founder's home owner Susan Hill came up with the ingenious idea of opening her casa and creating a hospitality house - the Founder's Club - for all of us to enjoy.

She opened her lovely casa to any and all home owners from Loreto Bay and administrative staff members from 7 to 9 a.m. for coffee and rolls and then again from 5 to 7 p.m. (but often later!) for wine, beer and snacks and great conversation. It was a relaxing and enjoyable way to get to know our future neighbors. Susan also made her computer with Internet access available to those of us who weren't hooked up, a real bonus as we were able to check our email every time we visited.

We met so many interesting people, some who already have their homes in the Founder's Neighborhood and many, like us, who are anxiously awaiting our homes in Agua Viva.

What's most striking about all those we met is the shared vision of Loreto Bay and how drawn we all are to that magical place. Whether from the cold climes of Alaska or the more temperate environs of Southern California, we all share a love of Loreto Bay. We were also lucky to meet a couple who make their home in Nopolo, which is the original development created by Fonatur just down the road. They offered some invaluable tips on living Loreto and funny anecdotes about life in Baja and it's just that kind of information we crave.

Another bonus we experienced was meeting an almost year-round resident of Founder's who happens to be a member of the Master Condo Regime. Colette was a font of valuable information, which can only help Agua Viva home owners as our casas near completion. Colette and her friend, Robert, shared a tremendous amount of detail about what we can expect. Gracias, Colette and Robert!

But the best part of the whole experience was meeting Susan, who is as charming as she is inspired in setting up this venue. Her hope is that others will follow her lead by opening their casas to fellow home owners. As she said in a release, "I am definitely on the lookout for others to carry on in my absence and for Paseo residents to offer their homes. This enterprise is available for take over by anyone wishing to do so."

She certainly inspired us! Thanks, Susan.

AV home owner meeting, parte dos

Sorry for the delay in getting this posted. Our Internet time was limited to Beck’s office hours as we didn’t have access in our casa.

One of the most surprising revelations at Monday’s Agua Viva home owner meeting was the statement by TSD’s representative, Hector Medina, that construction monies were put into areas “where they shouldn’t have gone.” Medina , who was responding to a question about where all the money had gone, also acknowledged that TSD had been having cash flow problems. Gee, who knew.

He told home owners that TSD has already reached agreements with contractors and is now in the process of executing those agreements, which involve paying the contractors and in some cases that payment is in the form of land.

As for the estuaries – an important feature of the Agua Viva (Living Water) phase of the Loreto Bay development – Medina said the estuaries have been placed on hold, adding there is no plan in place to finish the canals.

Regarding the infrastructure, Stan Barton of Beck offered some numbers, but acknowledged those costs are uncertain. He said Beck has had substantive meetings with TSD to get detailed information on the cost to finish the utility infrastructure and based on conservative numbers from contractors that figure could be around $1 million. Worth noting is that there is a huge discrepancy between the numbers that Beck has been given for utility costs and the much lower numbers that former TSD employees are putting out as the actual remaining costs.

Also worth noting is that those former employees and TSD are not providing the documents to prove their numbers. At issue is whether the monies paid by home owners and held in escrow by Stewart Title for those utility costs were released before the work was completed.

Other expenses cited by Stan include paving for the walkways, based on the same materials in the Founder’s Neighborhood, which he estimated at $1.7 million. Landscaping is estimated at $600,000.

However, he did say the cost for walkway paving could be substantially reduced by using different materials.

The good news as reported by Stan is that he expects around 40 homes will be completed in the next month or so. Stan is also trying to reduce home owners costs in a number of innovative ways, so keep checking the Beck Web site for details!

On a personal note, George and I have confidence in Stan Barton and his ability and desire to finish this project. George has had a number of conversations with Stan, both before and after this meeting, that lead us to believe that he and Beck are our best hope for living the dream of Loreto Bay.

Next up: Hospitality House is a hit!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Updated update

In our post on the AV home owner meeting Monday, we incorrectly stated that Hector Medina, TSD's representative at the meeting, would not allow a co-advisor to serve along with him in sub-regimes K and L. He did agree to accept home owner advisors. Medina/TSD holds a majority of votes in both those sub-regimes.

As these positions are in an unofficial advisory capacity to Master Condo Regime administrator Bob Toubman, we're not sure how much weight they will have. But, then again, it doesn't sound as though anything of substance is expected to be decided before the meetings in February.

We'll try to post more on the meeting later today, but because we're having to use the Beck offices for Internet service we can't make any guarantees!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Home owner meeting, update

I just had the opportunity to read another online account of the Agua Viva meeting yesterday which contains information that differs from my previous entry.

I understood that TSD representative Hector Medina refused to accept a co-advisor for sub-regimes K and L. However, this other account states that he did agree to that compromise.

I'll check with Bob Toubman who should have minutes of the meeting even though it was informal. The information will be posted as soon as I can get it!

Home owner meeting, part 1

Enthusiasm and high spirits were evident among the more than 50 home owners Monday prior to the start of Agua Viva’s first ever sub-regime meetings. But for many of us those high spirits took a nose dive with the news from Master Condo Regime administrator Bob Toubman that none of the four AV sub-regimes had a quorum.

The rules governing the process state that if a 75 percent quorum isn’t reached on the first call, then another call will be made two hours later at which a quorum of 51 percent is required. None of the sub-regimes came close to the 51 percent (Toubman didn’t even wait to make a second call, which is a good indication of how low our valid proxy numbers were). This was depressing news for those of us who worked so hard to get the word out about the proxy process. Special thanks to Penny Davis and Rich Simmons for all their hard work on behalf of Sub-Regime I.

But it was the news that ALL of TSD’s proxies were invalid that really caused a stir. Tempers flared when Bob announced that TSD sent photo-copied proxies for the lots it owns. Proxies must be originals which is something that TSD must have known, considering they went through this whole process with the Founder’s Neighborhood just a few short months ago.

Bob then explained that the lack of a quorum means he legally carries the vote for our sub-regimes. However, he offered a compromise that would allow home owner voices to be heard by casting “unofficial” votes for a Master Condo Regime advisor from each sub-regime.

Those advisors are Rich Simmons for Sub-Regime I (the largest of the sub-regimes) and Barry Sardis for SR J.

Things really got sticky, though, when home owners learned that TSD had the majority vote in sub-regimes K and L. According to Bob, all lot owners, even those with invalid proxies, were eligible to participate in the unofficial vote.

The situation quickly went from tense to angry.

TSD’s representative at the meeting, Hector Medina, told home owners that TSD does NOT want to take a stand in opposition to the home owners. “I won’t be voting against you,” he said. But shortly after making that statement, Hector said he would not go along with a compromise that would allow a co-advisor voted on by home owners for sub-regimes K and L. TSD’s majority vote in those two sub-regimes means they get to appoint the advisors.

Comments were overheard calling the whole thing a set-up.

A question was then raised about whether TSD can be considered an owner if they don’t build on the lots they own within two years. It was pointed out that according to our contracts, we, as home owners, are required to build within that two year time frame.

Bob didn’t have an answer, but said he’d look into it. (Home owner follow up needed!)

In happier news, while on a tour of their home Friday, Karen and Terry Stepp (AV24) discovered their 90 percent complete home is actually 100 percent complete! No one knew. Not Beck, not TCC and not TSD. How the heck does that happen?!

Next up: More on the home owner meeting…

Monday, August 10, 2009

Dateline: Loreto

Hola from steamy Loreto Bay, where the brows are hot and sweaty and the cervezas are thankfully cold and sweaty. I’ll leave it to others to post actual temperatures, as I’d rather not know!

George and I arrived on Thursday afternoon and walked from the plane in sweltering heat and humidity into the new cool, modern and spacious airport, where the wait was still long but a lot more comfortable than in the old terminal.

After picking up our rental car we headed into Loreto proper for a look-see and a nice cold cerveza before heading to Loreto Bay. We stopped at Augie’s on the Malecon for those cervezas and found it changed. The second floor open restaurant where we hoped to sip our drinks is no more. That space is now for rent, so we stopped in the downstairs bar, which was icily air conditioned. Once we’d cooled off, we decided to head for “home” and proceeded – as we’d always done – back up the street (which I believe is Hidalgo?. George noticed that the cars parked on both sides of the street were pointing in the same direction, toward the Malecon, and wondered if the road was now one-way. But being the brains of the operation, I said, “Nah, there would be signs! Keep going!”

Boy, was I wrong. Right as we got to the intersection where Mike’s Bar is located we were stopped by two of Loreto’s finest who proceeded to shake us down for driving the wrong way down a one- way street. Their English was as limited as our Spanish, but it didn’t take long to realize they were not going to return George’s driver’s license unless we handed over 300 pesos. They didn’t even make a pretense of writing out a ticket and they weren’t very good at demanding mordida, but we got the message, and, sadly, they will probably get better with practice. Our advice: Be very careful when driving in Loreto!

The only other sour note we’ve experienced since we arrived was driving into Loreto Bay and seeing the line of dead trees blocking the Paseo in the northbound lane as we approached Agua Viva. Seeing those dead trees really brought home the impact of Citigroup’s actions. They didn’t just walk away from the development; they walked away from any claim to care about being part of a living, breathing sustainable community. It was sickening to see those dead trees acting as sentinels to the entrance to Loreto Bay.

But once past that unhappy sight, the signs of Citigroup’s abandonment were less apparent. The golf course looks green and well-kept and the people were just as upbeat as we’ve always known them to be.

We’re fortunate to be staying in a very lovely Casa Chica that looks out onto the golf course, where we’ve seen workers tending the fairways and greens and even a few hardy souls out hitting golf balls.

We’re also very fortunate to be sharing the house with two wonderful friends and fellow home owners, Karen and Terry Stepp, AV 25. They’ve been such great company and we’re going to miss them when they leave on Tuesday.

Next up: Karen and Terry get a wonderful surprise! The home owner meeting!!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Speak no evil.... or else!

The latest missive from the soon-to-be defunct TSD Loreto, while praising its role in creating a smooth "transition" from their services to those of Beck International,
offers a verbal whack on the knuckles for anyone thinking of complaining via Internet blogs.

The same company that brought everything to a screeching halt is now saying we must not complain about what's taking place or we could jeopardize said smooth transition.

We've been hearing those calls for silence and patience since last January when we were first told of a possible buyer/s for the project. Home owners were cautioned that any negative publicity could adversely affect a sale. There's been no adverse publicity via home owner blogs and there's been no sale. We've been "mum" and there's been no progress. And now we're told to keep quiet or the "transition" will be affected.

Here's the relevant passage from the latest email we received from Mr. Bedsole: "Unfortunately, there is some inaccurate information being disseminated by various parties, including over Internet blogs. We will try to communicate with people who may be misinformed of the facts. However, as we do so, please understand that the only communication you should consider “official” is the information you receive directly from the Company (i.e., Loreto Bay News). We will not routinely monitor, respond to and/or verify information from other sources. Furthermore, for the sake of all homeowners we ask that all concerned parties refrain from making any allegations that are not based on information obtained from the Company, as misinformation can only delay our transition efforts."

Here's a news flash for Embree C. “Chuck” Bedsole, interim president of TSD Loreto (the front for Citigroup Propery Investors in this fiasco): Security through obscurity never works. It may work on your end, but it doesn't work for those who have the most invested - the home owners of Loreto Bay. The only way problems can be solved is through open discourse. And that's something that's been discouraged for as long as we've been involved in Loreto Bay.

No more. As I said in my last post, Citigroup walked away from this project leaving home owners, contractors and workers in limbo. But that's putting it mildly. What they did was leave workers unpaid, home owners with half-finished homes (or, in some cases, just dirt lots). There's also a question regarding escrow monies that were collected from home owners for utility construction, which was released to TSD Loreto before the work was done. We know this to be true in our case. We paid $6,500 into that escrow and we do not have utilities to our lot. They defaulted on payments, ceased construction and left everyone on the ground holding the bag. And for that they deserve our silence and acquiescence?

In a nutshell, what's happened is that Citigroup/TSD Loreto has washed its hands of this project. It's been the home owners and Beck International (in the person of Stan Barton and his able staff) who have resurrected Loreto Bay. Good for us and good for Loreto Bay.

George and I still believe our home will be finished. Not through the efforts of those who were charged with making this project a reality, but through the hard work and dedication of others. Not TSD Loreto.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Please pass the salt...

Tonight we received a comment on our last post "Mum no more" that was of the "let me rub a little salt in that wound, if you don't mind" category.

Written by someone with the username hammersb, It read: "I wouldn't blame Citigroup for your personal lack of judgement (sic) and due diligence. If your sole source of information is a smiling realtor with a margarita in their hand then you must assume the consequences of your decision.

"Remember how fun it was to jump up and say I'll take it? Well now you can join the legion of real estate buyers who failed to understand what they were getting into. The original developers were the ones who took your money, not Citibank!"

Although it garnered a shrug and "what a jerk!" comment from both George and me, I decided to write a post about it for a couple of reasons. The first being how incredibly duped we've felt over the past few months when looking back on our Loreto Bay journey.

Contrary to the anonymous comment about our lack of judgment and due diligence, George (a successful realtor here in Albuquerque, BTW) did a ton of research before we booked for the sales event in Loreto. On paper, it all looked good. Unfortunately, we had no way of knowing that some of the people involved were not being truthful. Would we have bought if we'd known that Butterfield was (at that point in October 2007) a mere shill for Citigroup? No. But we didn't know and we did buy. And now we have to make the best of a bad situation and that's been difficult, to say the very least.

I'm sure we're not the only home owners who feel foolish. Who didn't want to tell family and friends about the Chevy-sized monkey wrench thrown into our plans. It hasn't been easy owning up to the fact that we could be out hundreds of thousands of dollars. It's been hard not to hear the implied "I told you so" from our friends and family after we deliver our bad news. Actually, though, in our case it's been more of an "Oh My God" refrain from those near and dear to us for which we are very grateful.

Despite what Mr./Ms. hammersb thinks, Citigroup dba TSD Loreto walked away from Loreto Bay after totally mismanaging the project. Yes, the economy went south but the bottom line was that it was easier to walk away with their money (and ours) and that's just what they did, leaving hundreds of American and Canadian investors holding the bag, as well as Mexican contractors, workers and business owners.

Now for the second and most important reason for this post: The good news is that ultimately I think we and all the other LB home owners will prevail. It may take time but it will happen. We have come together as a real and viable community (albeit without finished homes in most cases) to seek solutions and to make this dream a reality. So to all those "I told you so'ers" out there: We may be down but we're not out. See you in Loreto!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Mum no more

The news coming out of Loreto Bay this past month has been depressing, disheartening and downright scary. But no matter what life throws at us, there's always a spark of hope. And that we do have.

First came the news that Citigroup - that bastion of fiscal mismanagement and greed -decided to bail on the project, leaving home owners, contractors and workers scrambling to salvage the dream of Loreto Bay. While Citigroup reaps billions in federal bailout monies (along with many, many other financial institutions), those with a personal investment in Loreto Bay are left to pick up the pieces.

But the damage goes much farther than those with a personal stake in the project. The town of Loreto has been damaged by Citigroup's failure to live up to its promises. Businesses in Loreto are suffering. Some businesses haven't been paid for work done on the project. Locals who worked in Loreto Bay lost their jobs with little hope of finding new employment. Who will frequent the restaurants and shops? How many of these small businesses will have to close because of Citigroup's decision to bail?

It's difficult to describe all the ramifications that are possible with this turn of events. The multi-million dollar Troon golf course - one of the centerpieces of the project - may be reclaimed by the desert due to Citigroup's decision. The Inn at Loreto Bay is now empty, the pool drained and the property fenced. Thanks Citigroup. Flesh and blood people worked there. Where are they now? Summarily discarded, tossed aside like yesterday's garbage.

The town of Loreto will survive as it has for centuries. There is income from sport fishing and other recreational activities to keep the town alive. But this is still a terrible blow to the whole community.

There is a bright spot in all this. The Mexican government has gotten involved in finding a buyer for the development. The home owners of Loreto Bay have banded together - with the help of Beck International, the company overseeing construction -to make Loreto Bay a living, breathing reality. To finish the hundreds of homes that stand partially completed. But the fact remains that Citigroup and its arm, TSD Loreto, have dealt a devastating blow to many. And that should not go unnoticed or unmentioned.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Mum's (still) the word

It's been more than three months since any word has been heard from the new Loreto Bay caretakers, Alvarez & Marsal, a highly regarded leading, independent global professional services firm (a description straight from their very own Web site). This silence comes after a purportedly heartfelt pledge from them for more open and frequent communication about the development's state of affairs after they took over daily operations from Re:Play in January. But once again, that assurance - like those from Re:Play - has fallen flat on its face. We have heard nothing since the middle of February.

So what is going on in Loreto Bay? Other than the piecemeal and incomplete news we hear from other home owners about construction progress, we just don't know. (As a side note: We are very grateful for any news we hear from our fellow home owners. This is in no way intended to denigrate their contribution, but, truth be told, it isn't from an official source.)

Is this a viable project? Are there serious and interested buyers? Is there a light at the end of this particular tunnel?

We were assured back in January that news of a buyer was imminent. Hasn't happened. We were assured back in January that we - as in those of us who have invested in this development - would be apprised of information on a timely basis. Hasn't happened.

Is it better to sit and wait with hand over mouth for information? Should we, too, stay 'mum' about the situation in Loreto Bay, to perhaps, maybe, possibly, safeguard our investment? Is that wise?

It hasn't worked to date. We're still at the mercy of the 'powers that be,' those anonymous, faceless folks who are in control. At this point in time, we have to wonder who exactly is Loreto Bay Company? What is the status of the project? Once again, is it even a viable project?

George and I certainly hope so as we've staked our future on the place. In fact, we absolutely yearn to be there. We're hoping to move to Loreto Bay and live out our lives there. With a planned investment of that magnitude, it would be nice to know just what the hell is going on.

Happily, though, we have seen some progress on our Encantada. Not as much as Loreto Bay claims, but close. And believe me, for that we are truly grateful. But more substantive news would be welcome... Very welcome.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A new player in the wings?

A new post by LB home owner Kaz on his Nopolo News Web site brings a twist to the Loreto Bay bidding drama currently under way. An email sent to Kaz from former LB owner David Butterfield claims there is yet another possible bidder for the property, one with ties to Butterfield himself.

Here's the email:

Hi Kaz,

For the last six months I have been working as Executive Chairman of a waste to energy company I co-founded seven years ago. It’s been an incredible experience. It’s still in the sustainable world but doesn’t satisfy my passion for building beautiful towns and buildings.

At the moment, I’m in Loreto helping an old friend, Kevin Kelly, to prepare a bid to buy Loreto Bay from Citi. Kevin and I were partners in the new town of Civano. He’s the one that really pulled it off. Until Loreto Bay, Civano was arguably the most sustainable project in North America. If Kevin wins the bid, Loreto will be transformed from the somewhat saddened state it is in now. Kevin completely gets sustainability and hospitality. His plan is to bring Canyon Ranch to Loreto. His passion is on a par with all of us who dreamed of what Loreto could be.

You are free to use this information and let people know what is going on. You can find out more about Kevin at Civanoliving.com


This news throws what little we know - or think we know - about the bidders into question.

From all that we've read over the past few months, we assumed the bidding process was well under way and that the bids were from three possible players: The team that is heading up the new Marriott development in Loreto Bay; a Mexican businessman/investor (could be Carlos Slim) and a SF bay area developer. (Although the way this news has morphed over time, those possible contenders may be a figment of our imaginations or I may have lost track. If that's the case, please forgive me.)

Does this news mean that Citi has rejected the bids that may have been offered? Has anyone actually offered a bid?

The January 18th letter from Alvarez & Marsal's Embree C. "Chuck" Bedsole, the interim president of Loreto Bay, states quite clearly, "At present, we are in serious negotiations with several prospective buyers and we should have important and exciting news in the next few weeks."

OK, it's been more than a few weeks since that news hit. Four weeks and four days, to be precise. So, what's going on?

Is the news that Butterfield's old friend is interested in buying the property good news or bad? Who knows.

What we do know is that an update on the status of the bids from A&M would be greatly appreciated.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Re:Play re:jected

At long last news... When we got up this morning we discovered a letter on the official home owner site relaying the news that Re:Play is definitely out of the picture. The letter (which can be found at www.loretobaynews.com) states: "The purpose of this initial message is to inform you that as of December 31st 2008 the management contract of Replay Resorts has expired. We have now engaged Alvarez & Marsal Real Estate Advisory Services, LLC to serve as the interim asset manager of the project."

This news comes from Embree C. “Chuck” Bedsole, the interim president of Loreto Bay Company. As stated on the Alvarez and Marsal Web site, Bedsole is a managing director with Alvarez & Marsal Real Estate Advisory Services in Dallas. He advises companies from the United States, Latin America, and Europe on hospitality, tourism and real estate projects in the Americas.

Bedsole's qualifications are lengthy and impressive. He is a member of the U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce and the Urban Land Institute. He is fluent in Spanish and is a frequent speaker at key industry conferences on lodging and real estate development in the U.S. and Latin America.

It's a relief to finally know - officially - what's going on with Loreto Bay. And to know that a firm like Alvarez and Marsal has taken over management.

It seems at least somewhat appropriate to do a mini-postmortem on Re:Play and its performance over the past year.

To be honest, the only real benefit we saw with Re:Play was that the contracting firm, Beck, came on board early last year to oversee construction in Loreto Bay. That company's presence was felt almost immediately with an increase in construction throughout the development. But was that Re:Play at work or Citigroup's backing and infusion of capital?

On the downside, the flow of communication tanked under Re:Play and left home owners frustrated and uncertain about the future of Loreto Bay. Promises of more open communication were made and broken by Re:Play from the get-go, which led to online speculation by unhappy home owners. The way Re:Play handled all this was horribly counterproductive. Home owners have always been the best marketing arm for Loreto Bay, but Re:Play didn't seem to understand that basic marketing premise.

And many of the management decisions made by Re:Play just didn't make sense. Case in point was the new Web site unveiled by Re:Play early last year. The site remains cumbersome and incredibly lacking in information about Loreto Bay and the homes offered for sale.

When he first saw the site, George immediately noticed several glaring errors regarding the homes offered in LB. No matter which floor plan you clicked on you got the floor plan for the Nueva Chica. He notified Re:Play right away about the errors and got an embarrassed "Oops! We'd better fix that." Why was this site launched with so little information and so many errors?

In addition to a lack of information, the new site also lacked the appeal of the old one. A generic blue whale logo replaced the old Inn tower logo which reflected the warmth and charm of the area.

We hope that among the new management team's first priorities will be a revamping of that Web site. The old site drew people to Loreto Bay. And we should know because it was that very site that led us to visit, and subsequently buy our Casa Encantada.

Our hopes are high for the future of Loreto Bay now and we're happy to welcome Bedsole and company on board. We're also hopeful that the vision of Loreto Bay as a sustainable and earth-friendly development will remain under the new owners - whoever they might be.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

More grist for the mill

Since yesterday, several posts have appeared on different Internet sites positing (mostly similar) scenarios for what's happening with the Loreto Bay development. Most of the information is credited to "credible" or "reliable" sources, but none appear to be from any official source, i.e. Loreto Bay or Citigroup.

Each agree that Citigroup has three bids for the sale of Loreto Bay, the only thing that differs is who has made or is making the bids. It is also agreed that Re:Play's contract expired Dec. 31, 2008, and has not been renewed. There appears to be some disagreement about whether Re:Play is completely out of the picture or just renegotiating a new contract. However, the firm Alvarez and Marsal has been named on a couple of sites as the new management company.

A quick look at the company's Web site reveals they do have a real estate advisory arm which can: "develop and execute sophisticated real estate strategies aimed at improving operations, unlocking value or minimizing risk. ...A&M Real Estate Advisory Services adds further depth to A&M's core problem-solving competency for healthy and troubled companies."

Sounds expensive.

As for the bidders on the property, Mexican businessman Carlos Slim (ranked as the second wealthiest man in the world in 2008 by Forbes with assets totaling more than $60 billion) has been named as a potential buyer and he is by far the most interesting of those mentioned. His story begins with his Lebanese father emigrating to Mexico at the age of 14, where he opened a dry goods store with one of his brothers. He built on that success with real estate holdings and other business acquisitions. His son, Carlos, apparently inherited his father's business acumen, starting as a mathematics teacher and moving on to real estate, mining interests and more. He has also endowed a number of charitable foundations over the years. In
1990, Slim's Grupo Carso, with French and American partners, purchased the state telephone company, Teléfonos de México (Telmex) and the rest is history. He's a fascinating man with a fascinating business and philanthropic philosophy.

As far as potential owners go, Slim's appeal lies in his business successes and the fact that he is a Mexican with an obvious love of his country. What better steward for the original dream and vision for Loreto Bay? And speaking of that original dream and vision, David Butterfield and Slim will both be speaking at a Gaining Ground conference in Guanajuato, Mexico, in April. The conference will focus on sustainability and the future of the real estate market. Coincidence? There is also information on the Internet that Slim has bought up a good bit of Baja real estate, including land in and around the Bay of Conception near Mulege.

The other bidders are purported to be Spano Partners, currently heading up the Nopolo Marriott project, an unnamed Bay area company or Re:Play - take your pick.

We're also getting conflicting information on construction activity in Agua Viva. According to Laurie with TCC, only skeleton crews are at work in the development, including Agua Viva. But Kelli who writes the Watch and Learn blog states in her latest post that "crews are working hard in Agua Viva", but work on the Paseo has not yet resumed. Of course, those observations are most likely a matter of perspective, with Laurie having a different take on the level of construction in her role with TCC.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The rumor mill grinds on and on and on...

Over the past week or so several disturbing bits of unsubstantiated news, or rumors to be more blunt, have surfaced on the Internet concerning Loreto Bay. No surprise there as people are apt to fill a void - in this case an information void - with any little tidbit that comes their way.

The most recent is a rumor that Re:Play has been fired, or as a reliable source in Loreto put it, their contract expired and, to date has not been renewed.

We've also heard conflicting information on construction in Agua Viva. A visiting home owner said crews were back, although not in full force. But Laurie from TCC says not so. There are still pockets of crews throughout the project, she said, but many crews did not return because they have not been paid. (In a related vein, TCC is still fighting to quell the rumor that they are operating without proper permits and documentation. Obviously, the fact that they are still operating at all should totally dispel this malicious and persistent rumor.)

Why haven't some of these contractors been paid? We, like many other home owners, have been making hefty payments to LB since purchasing our homes. Where did that money go? Or, is the absence of work crews the result of a delay in renegotiating contracts?

Rumors are also flying about the possible sale of the development. It's not news to anyone that beleaguered Citigroup has been shopping the development for some time now. What is news - again unsubstantiated - is that there are now three potential/interested buyers: Re:Play, J.W. Marriott and a third unnamed foreign party.

It's more than irksome that we're getting information from sources that in some cases seem to be less than reliable. One in particular on the Loreto ning site comes to mind (see above reference to TCC's ongoing problem). Are we the victims of some one's malicious sense of humor? Or is this credible information? We simply don't know.

And we won't know until someone in a position of authority within Loreto Bay, Re:Play or Citigroup fills us in. But judging from past experience, we’ll be left wondering for quite some time to come, ensuring that rumors and misinformation continue to fly.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor!

The first port-of-call on our 10-day Mexican Riveria cruise last month was lovely Puerto Vallarta. As an historical aside, this was the town made famous in 1963 as the infamous love nest of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor during the filming of 'Night of the Iguana'. Big news back then as Taylor left husband #4, Eddie Fisher, to join Burton on the set. The couple eventually bought a house there and the rest is history... Which in this case means a once sleepy, little fishing village is now a major tourist destination overrun with visitors flocking to the Hard Rock Cafe and buying souvenir T-shirts at Senor Frog's. Could this be Loreto in 10 to 15 years?



Sarcasm aside, it is a very pretty place and we did enjoy our visit and tour of a tequila factory in the countryside outside of town. During the tour of Hacienda Dona Engracia we learned the difference between blue and green agave - blue is used to make tequila, while green is simply ornamental. We saw a demonstration of how the root of the blue agave, called the 'pineapple' weighing between 40 and 80 pounds, is first roasted, which releases the sugars, then shredded and put through a press. Then the juice is placed in fermentation tanks and yeast is added to aid in the process. Finally, the fermented product is distilled - according to strict government regulations - either once or several times. Tequila that is distilled only once is considered inferior (as in it will rot out your insides, at least according to our distillery tour guide), while two or three distillations is considered optimum.

Tequila blanco, or silver tequila, is the low-end of the better tequilas, with oro, or gold, tequila next in the lineup due to two months of aging in oak barrels. Reposado tequila – or “rested tequila”- must be aged for up to a year. Tequila añejo is premium tequila and needs to be aged in oak for at least one year; however, many producers age anejo up to three years, resulting in a premium tequila at a very premium price.

We found out how premium that price can be after a tasting of the various tequilas mentioned above - excluding, of course, the inferior type. To be honest, I liked them all and so did George. Although the Reposado was our least favorite as it had an overly smoky flavor that didn't mesh with our perception of how tequila should taste. At about $70 U.S. a bottle, we didn't make a purchase that day. Nor did we actually fall on the floor at any point. Although it looked to be a close call for the lady sitting next to me during the tasting, who kept exclaiming that she never drinks, while knocking back the tequila like a pro!

The rest of our day in Puerto Vallarta was spent wandering through the old section of town near the Malecon, which was just beautiful with sculptures and art on display everywhere we looked. We stopped at an upstairs bar for a cerveza and did some people watching on the streets below. All in all, it was a fine day.

Next up will be our report on La Paz, a bustling city without the tourist trappings of Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Cruise news and more...

Travel, a nasty cold and family visiting over the holidays sidelined this blog for the month of December but it's a new year and time for a new start. So here goes...

Our cruise to the Sea of Cortez was a resounding success on every level, particularly the comfort level. The air was warm, the seas were calm and the food and service onboard the MS Ryndam were excellent. But best of all, we got to experience Loreto from an entirely new perspective.

We arrived in Loreto early on the morning of Dec. 17 to cloudy skies and mild temperatures. A tender ferried us the short distance from the ship to the marina, which was busy with fishermen and pelicans on alert for a taste of the catch of the day.

For the first time I felt a sense of coming home as George and I walked along the Malecon... a bit premature, I know, but the feeling was there nonetheless. And it felt good.

Right away we noticed that the new hotel - La Mision - is almost a mission accomplished. It looks to be a beautiful hotel, but we didn't try for a closer look as our time in Loreto was very limited. We did notice that the upper floors appeared to be finished as many of the rooms had draperies. The pool also looked to be near completion. It certainly does add an elegant look to that section of the Malecon.

Our first stop was the rental car shop on Paseo Miguel Hidalgo, where we were greeted first by a salesman for The Villa Group and not the Budget Rental guy as we expected. That was a surprise, but not really an annoyance because we were so happy to be back in Loreto. Eddie, as he insisted we call him, was full of information about how he could save us money on our rental, as well as a new home. He was actually pretty nice, but it's a little worrisome that this particular group of salespeople seems to have taken over the streets of Loreto. During our visit in October we were accosted by this sales group several times as we walked through town.

Speaking of streets, the city did a wonderful job in repaving Miguel Hidalgo. It's now a lovely brick (OK, faux brick) street with wide flagstone sidewalks that lead into town. It would have been nice to take a leisurely stroll along those much improved sidewalks, but we were in a hurry to get to Loreto Bay!

As we were driving toward Nopolo, we decided to take the new south entrance, Vialidad, into the development, as we'd read it was now open though not finished. It was obvious that a good deal of progress had been made on the street and the Paseo since our visit in October, but there is still a lot of work remaining. The walkways along the main Paseo are coming along nicely and will make for an even lovelier stroll than the one previously mentioned. But for now, the entire area still looks like a construction site.

After taking some quick photos (posted to the right) we made our way into Agua Viva where our casa is located. We could see from the Paseo that no work had been done on our Encantada and I'd be lying if I said that didn't bother us. But there were still workmen about in our cluster and throughout the area. After almost four months of seeing no progress on our home it's hard to stay upbeat, but we were able to take photos for our cluster neighbors showing progress and that helped - at least a little. We did get some great photos from our tower showing the views we'll have from every direction. Spectacular!

After spending time taking photos and engaging in too much speculation about why nothing has been done on our home, George and I headed toward the new Marriott Discovery Center and lunch with our former sales associate, Laurie Sanborn, a Loreto Bay home owner who now works for Marriott.

In an earlier post, I made an off-the-cuff comment indicating exasperation with the new project. The comment was ill-advised because I didn't know enough then to make an informed judgment. And it turns out I was wrong in thinking the project will be a detriment to Loreto Bay. My initial concern - and George's too - was that the buildings will be six stories high. But the buildings and layout are so beautiful, I can't see how the height of the structures will take away from the landscape and skyline of Nopolo in any way.

The Discovery Center is housed in the main building of what was once The Whale's Inn - talk about a nice piece of real estate. The grounds are beautifully landscaped, which Laurie said will be a feature of the development, along with several pools, a spa, restaurants and other amenities. We were impressed with the entire project and although the condo concept isn't for us, it seems obvious (now) that the project will only enhance our investment. For more information and photos, go to www.liveloreto.com - it's definitely worth a look.

After a wonderful lunch on the terrace with Laurie and her charming friend, Ed, we headed back for a meeting with LB's Hector Morales. Or rather, we headed back for George's meeting with Hector. I was determined to take it easy by the hotel pool. Sorry, George!

According to George, Hector was optimistic that the first phase (ours!) of Agua Viva will be completed by June. Insistent on that subject, as a matter of fact. He also said that homes in default won't be completed, which isn't good news for home owners who aren't in default. Having a partially completed home - or empty lot - next door isn't a pleasant prospect for anyone.

Both Hector and Jesus Gonzalez offered words of encouragement about the project and our casa. They're both so charming and friendly it's hard not to believe them. But, ultimately, it's Re:play calling the shots, and, as we all know, they are not nearly as open, friendly and forthcoming.

We'll be posting more on our trip - and any other noteworthy news - in the coming days...