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 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 - 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...