Deeds and WeedsApril 2, 2009

Ritz Carlton Sells Virginia's Creighton Farms

Three years ago, the Ritz Carlton luxury hotel chain made its first foray in the housing community market, joining a group of developers in buying Creighton Farms, a 900-acre luxury community wrapped around a Jack Nicklaus designed golf course in Loudon County, Va., and agreeing to manage the property.

The results were less than spectacular.

Last week Ritz Carlton and its partners announced they were selling Creighton Farms to a Massachusetts-based company that oversees similar communities, Southworth Development. This story in Tuesday's Washington Post reports on the sale, while providing a laundry list of the problems that plagued Creighton Farms and undoubtedly led to Ritz Carlton's exit: only about 30 of the development's 181 housing lots have been sold (prices start at $750,000); just a dozen houses under construction, none of them finished, which means no full-time residents; about 50 golf members (one-fifth of capacity); an unfinished golf clubhouse.

A spokeswoman for Ritz-Carlton, Vivian Deuschl, told the Post, "No one could have foreseen the economic crisis we are in." 

Meanwhile, officials at Southworth have high hopes for their new acquisition. The golf club is being renamed The Club at Creighton Farms. Plans for the residential part of the community also sound as though they are being downsized, which sounds like a smart plan given the current state of the economy: many lots are being rezoned into smaller sizes, and the emphasis is shifting away from custom homes to turn-key homes from an approved list of builders.

Still, "The vision of [the community] will not change," insisted Jason Paul, who was general manager of the facility under Ritz Carlton's management, but has been retained by Southworth to serve as Creighton Farm's new director of operations. 

-- G.R.