March 8, 2018 at 6:30 AM
For Don and Susan Veatch, Margaritaville is more than just a state of mind.
Acting like “Parrotheads” — the chilled out, Hawaiian-shirt-wearing fan nation equivalent to Deadheads — the couple, 62 and 60, respectively, had camped out so they could be first in line for the object of their devotion, singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett.
But they weren’t queuing up for concert tickets or his latest CD. They were waiting for sales to open at the Buffett-branded Latitude Margaritaville development here for people 55 and older.
“It was like a big party, with a band playing and free pizza for everyone in line,” Susan Veatch said.
In this pastel paradise, Key West-inspired houses are being built along streets linked to lyrics of Buffett’s 1977 hit “Margaritaville.”
Once it opens, you can live on Flip Flop Court, Coral Reef Way or St. Somewhere Drive. You can take your dog to the Barkaritaville pet spa; work out in the Fins Up! Fitness Center or the Paradise Pool; take classes or do a little work at the Workin’ and Playin’ Center; see shows at the Last Mango Theater; or dance at a nightly outdoor concert at the band shell in the Latitude Town Square.
And, yes, you can get a Cheeseburger in Paradise at the Latitude Bar & Chill restaurant and a margarita at the poolside Changes in Attitude bar.
While Latitude Margaritaville sounds 100 percent laid back, Buffett himself is clearly driven. In addition to his empire of resort hotels and array of products to sell, Buffett’s first Broadway musical is opening, along with two of a possible chain of active-adult communities this year. And, oh yes, the 71-year-old musician is going on tour with his band.
“To quote a line from a song I wrote with Mac MacAnally, ‘These days I am up about the time I used to go to bed,’” Buffett said in an email. “Well, that could be a little exaggerated, but that is what writers do. I have always been an early riser, and even more so these days.
“A usual daily routine for me is rising around 6 a.m.,” he adds. “I find it the best time to work, be it creative projects or business projects; but it’s one or the other. It’s too distracting to try and skip around. I’ll finish up around 9 a.m. and then get some kind of exercise, preferably outside. It all depends on the weather. Before whatever I do, be it paddling, surfing, swimming, biking or playing tennis, stretching is absolutely a requirement at my age. That gets me to lunch and a nap. After napping seems to be a good time for me to catch up on calls and emails.”
That lifestyle is just what Latitudes buyers hope to replicate — at least the outdoor activity and the napping.
Buffett's business chops
You might think with a business that brings in $1.5 billion annually, Buffett would have an MBA. But his MBA was earned organically throughout his career as a musician.
When asked whether he expected to become a business mogul back in his early days as a musician, Buffett says, “Absolutely not! I just wanted to run the band. I did not want to be a part of a band. Looking back now, that was probably the best business decision I have ever made. It was simple to do at the time, because I had a part-time job and credit at the music store. When it came time to get serious about being a band, we had to have a PA system. Everybody had their own amps and guitars, but a PA system was a big investment. I was able to buy a PA system on credit at the music store in New Orleans, and I figured, that made me the leader of the band. The band agreed. Be careful what you wish for, ha-ha.”
Now, Buffett’s bigger than a band leader. Margaritaville-branded items range from rafts and blenders to Margaritaville resorts, vacation clubs and vacation rentals, said John Cohlan, chief executive of Margaritaville and Buffett’s longtime business partner.
“The best business experience that put my attempt at being a performer into perspective was when I got a job as a reporter for Billboard Magazine in Nashville, when I couldn’t get a job singing in local bars,” Buffett said. “Hard to believe, but at that time there were not a lot of live gig opportunities in Music City. It was surely a blessing in disguise, as my boss, Bill Williams, the Nashville Editor for Billboard, taught me what the road to success and achieving success really meant. Let’s just say that talent was considered a disposable commodity by most record labels then, and I don’t really think much has changed these days. What it made apparent was that live performing, which I had started doing when I was in college, was a better option than waiting for a check from the record company.”
Buffett built his business on the foundation of live performance. That’s just one element of Latitude Margaritaville that makes it unusual for an active-adult community: Live music shows will be scheduled five to seven nights a week.
“It was important to me to be in charge of my own destiny, not give it away, like a lot of people do,” Buffett said. “A lot of artists just want to be artists. From that time in Nashville and years on the road traveling and playing, I feel there is no such thing. That was when I steered my ship in the direction being a live performer. At that point, it is a combination of hard work, talent and a lot of luck that you will need to succeed at anything.”
The Margaritaville brand, while based on fun and frivolity, is serious business.
“As things started getting bigger, it became apparent that I could not deal with the increased workload alone,” Buffett said. “I think that is when I learned to delegate authority, like any good ship captain has to do. I come from a line of sailors and captains, and it kind of came naturally. I had a lot of help from my wife, smart friends, early business partners, and learning from mistakes I had made along the way. When it became obvious that we had somehow created a brand, those early lessons still applied to today.”
Leaping into Latitude
The decision to expand the Margaritaville brand into active-adult communities seems like a natural fit, particularly because Buffett’s fans tend to be aging baby boomers who have followed his career for decades.
“Latitude Margaritaville seemed like such an obvious idea to us,” Cohlan said. “What better place to enjoy the ‘back nine’ of life than Margaritaville. We think of Latitude Margaritaville a bit like going back to summer camp — where old friends, new friends, family, numerous activities, state-of-the-art amenities, quality food and beverages, and great music come together. Simply put, it’s fun.”
More than 100,000 people have already expressed an interest in buying a home at Latitude Margaritaville, asking for updates on the development or requesting information, Cohlan said.
“We asked them a lot of questions about a broad range of preferences, and they indicated they preferred a place with a focus on ‘55 and better,’” Cohlan said.
More than 225 of the homes at the Daytona Beach community sold within two months after sales began and before models were open. When completed a decade from now, the community will have about 7,000 homes.
“We expect many of the buyers to be Parrotheads, but we’ve seen that all buyers share a passion for the Margaritaville lifestyle of fun and relaxation,” Cohlan said.
Although they don’t consider themselves rabid fans, the Veatches enjoy Buffett’s music. The couple live nearby in Ormond Beach. About half of the buyers at Latitude Margaritaville so far plan to live there full time; the other half will use their residence as a vacation home until they are ready to retire there, said Sy Wolf, a new home sales professional at Latitude Margaritaville.
The Margaritaville Corp.'s development partner for Latitude Margaritaville is Minto Communities USA, a Florida-based developer in business for 40 years. The developer’s first foray outside of Florida is the Latitude Margaritaville Hilton Head, where a sales office recently opened.
“We were looking to downsize from a bigger house and when we saw a sign for Latitude Margaritaville we checked out other homes built by Minto Communities,” Susan Veatch said. “We love the quality of the houses, but even more important, we like it that all the amenities will be included in our homeowner’s dues. They’ll even take care of our yard.”
Homeowners will be able to use golf carts to get around the community, another feature Veatch appreciates, along with the partnership with Halifax Health, which will have an onsite professional for health checkups and health education.
Living at Latitude Margaritaville
In spite of the “life’s a beach” atmosphere at Latitude Margaritaville, the community is about 10 miles from Daytona Beach. The community will have shuttle bus service for residents and their guests to a private beach club that will have a swimming pool, beach umbrellas and chairs, cabanas, shaded areas where residents can picnic, and restrooms. The beach itself is open to the public, but access to the club is private.
Latitude Margaritaville is just off Interstates 95 and 4 for easy access to Orlando and St. Augustine. In addition, the community is three miles from two hospitals and a VA outpatient center.
Onsite amenities at Latitude Margaritaville will include a fitness center with an indoor lap pool and whirlpool spa; a community center with a workshop, pet spa, business center, meeting rooms and arts-and-crafts rooms; a pool with cabanas, lawn games and Tiki huts; a restaurant with indoor and outdoor dining; a theater with a stage and banquet hall; plus the town square with its band shell. The first phase of the town square is expected to open by the end of this year. The development will also have walking trails and pickleball, bocce ball and tennis courts.
Monthly homeowner association fees range from $194 to $223 in 2018. They will rise when the community is complete to $260 to $289. The fees include access to all amenities as well as yard maintenance for all homes.
The community doesn’t have a golf course, but the LPGA International Golf Course is across the street from the development, and 18 other courses are nearby.
“We found that less than 20 percent of the people interested in living here are golfers,” Wolf said.
Eventually, the community will also have a retail site with a grocery store, shops and another restaurant.
Buyers can choose between 15 floor plans, including the Caribbean collection villas, priced from $235,990 to $267,490, which have 1,503 to 1,862 finished square feet. These homes have two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a den or hobby room or both and a two-car garage.
For example, the Barbuda villa, priced from $257,990 to $265,990, includes a great room, a dining area, an open kitchen and a covered lanai off the great room. This model also has a master suite with a walk-in closet and a bathroom with a double-sink vanity and a large shower, a den, a second bedroom, a second full bathroom and a laundry room.
The Beach collection single-family houses, priced from $277,990 to $306,990, have 1,684 to 2,110 finished square feet. These homes each have two or three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a den and a two-car garage.
For example, the Coconut model, priced from $277,990 to $286,990, has a center island kitchen open to the bay-windowed breakfast room and the great room, which has access to a covered lanai. This home has a master suite with two walk-in closets, a second bedroom, a den and two full bathrooms.
The Island collection homes, priced from $331,990 to $358,990, have 2,310 to 2,564 square feet. These homes have two or three bedrooms, three or four bathrooms, a den and a three-car garage.
For example, the Aruba model, priced from $333,990 to $342,990, includes a central great room, an open center island kitchen, a dining area, a covered lanai, a laundry room and a powder room. This model has a master suite with a bay window and two walk-in closets, a second bedroom, a den and two full bathrooms.
Buyers can choose from eight color schemes, including pastels and tropical colors. Standard features include nine-foot-high ceilings, laminate counters, recessed lighting, ceramic tile flooring in the bathrooms, kitchen and hallway, and carpet in the bedrooms and den.
Active-adult communities are known for keeping residents busy, but the music and dancing at Latitude Margaritaville is expected to keep everyone pretty happy, too.
“Jimmy shares the excitement of our future residents,” Cohlan said, “so you never know when he may pop in to say hello and play a song or two.”