The Florida retirement community that offers over 600 holes of golf and has more golf cars on property than New York has taxis has seen its population swell to 110,000 since 2000.
A recent Bloomberg report highlighted the continued growth of The Villages, located in central Florida about an hour north of Orlando. The world’s largest retirement community is also America’s fastest-growing metropolitan area, Bloomberg reported, with a population of 110,000 that has more than quadrupled since 2000, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. The Villages’ population rose 5.2 per cent last year, on par with megacities like Lagos, Nigeria, and Dhaka, Bangladesh, Bloomberg noted.
A major contributor to the growth of The Villages—described to Bloomberg by one 77-year-old resident as being “like an adult Disney World”—continues to be golf. The community has 42 golf courses and over 600 holes on a property the size of Manhattan, it was noted, and has more golf cars than New York has taxis. Golf-car accidents have actually killed more people in the community’s history than criminals, Elaine Dreidame, president of the Property Owners’ Association of The Villages, told Bloomberg.
C&RB reported on how golf cars are The Villages’ preferred mode of transportation in its March 2012 issue (http://clubandresortbusiness.com/2012/03/01/preferred-mode/)
The Villages’ status as the most rapidly expanding U.S. metro area highlights the transformation of the world’s demographic profile, Bloomberg noted, and of how the over-60 set—which the United Nations projects will almost triple to 2 billion by 2050—offers opportunity to marketers and homebuilders even as it raises issues relating to the need to care for an aging populace.
Few have benefited from the spending power of retirees more than H. Gary Morse, who developed The Villages, Bloomberg noted. The Holding Company of the Villages Ltd., owned by Morse and his family, has sold more than 50,000 new homes since 1986, generating $9.9 billion in revenue, according to disclosures in municipal-bond filings.
The Villages, which has rules governing everything from how long children can visit to how many pet fish residents can keep, has helped Morse build a family fortune worth $2.9 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
In addition to selling homes, Morse, 77, and his family own the local newspaper, a radio station and a television channel, it was noted. They also hold a controlling interest in Citizens First Bank, which provides mortgages.
The holding company is the landlord of more than 4.5 million square feet of commercial real estate, including dozens of restaurants and retailers, Bloomberg reported. “They own everything,” Andrew D. Blechman, author of “Leisureville,” a book about The Villages and other retirement communities that ranks Morse’s as the biggest, told Bloomberg. “You basically have a city of 100,000 people, owned by a company.”
Harold Schwartz, Morse’s father, started selling tracts in Florida in the 1960s, after buying a few thousand acres about 60 miles (100 kilometers) northwest of Orlando, Bloomberg reported. He recruited Morse to join the business in 1983 and the pair soon began marketing homes to retirees, offering free golf for life.
Following an age-restricted model used by developer Del Webb’s Sun City in Arizona, The Villages took off as growth among the elderly began outpacing all other age groups, Bloomberg reported.
Census figures show that the over-65 population in the U.S. increased 74 per cent between 1970 and 2000, more than twice the rate of those 64 and younger, Bloomberg reported.
Marketers for The Villages, where new home prices range from about $150,000 to $1 million, have capitalized on that trend in large part by airing commercials on the Golf Channel, it was noted.
The community now spans three Florida counties, including Sumter, where the median age of 65.5 makes it the oldest county in the U.S., Bloomberg reported. About 97 per cent of the residents are white, according to census figures.
The town squares, golf courses and other amenities in The Villages were financed with tax-free municipal bonds, issued under a provision in Florida law via a community-development district established by Morse’s company, Bloomberg reported. But the Internal Revenue Service ruled last year that the bonds shouldn’t have been given tax-free status, which is generally reserved for public projects.
The district, governed by a board made up of Morse and his employees, was “organized and operated to perpetuate private control,” the IRS said in a 2013 memo, Bloomberg reported. Attorneys for the district have disputed the IRS’s findings.
More than 20 percent of the world’s population will be 60 or older by 2050, compared to 12 percent in 2013, according to a report released by the United Nations last year, Bloomberg reported. And the “demographic dependency ratio” — the number of working-age adults compared with the number of children and the elderly — is primed for a “sharp” rise in the developed world through 2050, the report added. By 2047, the world’s elderly will outnumber its children for the first time, UN projections show.
Those trends, which are vexing urban planners from Berlin to Tokyo, bode well for The Villages, Bloomberg reported, noting that on a recent day, construction workers could be seen operating machinery at golf courses, in new subdivisions and at the local hospital.
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