THE COASTAL BEND MAGAZINE • January/February 2018 57 56 THE COASTAL BEND MAGAZINE • January/February 2018 Growing the Coastal Bend F rom the early 1970’s through the mid-1990’s or so, much of the country’s upscale residential development centered on selling the country club lifestyle. It was the ul- timate American dream—to work hard through college, or in a small business, or decades as a corporate man, and to ascend to a double sized lot in a tightly controlled neighborhood that carried a distinctly prestigious identity tied to a center of social activity—the Country Club. Developers knew that the revenue stream was not really in the clubs themselves, which are typically owned by member shareholders who simply purchase their places of importance within each club. The money was always in the sale of lots and the building of new homes, and the clubs were an enticement, an amenity that added value to the home and prestige in comparison to unaf- filiated neighborhoods Twenty years after the all-out boom in residential golfing communities, and a decade after the sport reached a peak in popularity that coincided with the Tiger Woods phenomenon, times and markets have changed—and not in a subtle way. Since 2006, when half of the world’s golfers and golf courses were in the U.S., and thirty million Americans played golf regularly, the sport has shed six million amateur players and more than 900 courses have closed across the country. In 2007 there were eight operating golf courses in Nueces County and one in Portland—two municipal and six private country clubs, some offering daily play, and one fully daily play. By 2017 the Padre Isles Country Club had been purchased by Schlitterbahn and reduced to nine holes, the Newport Dunes course in Port Aransas (designed by Arnold Palmer) went bankrupt and was pur- chased by McCombs Properties, and is now Palmilla Beach, and two private clubs, Kings Crossing and Pharaoh Valley, went out of business completely—in the years since, nature has taken over. These days, five and six-bedroom homes of over 4,000 square feet, located on the thriving south side of Corpus Christi, back up to wild, untamed wilderness, complete with feral hogs, coyotes, a wide variety of birds of prey, as well as transients, vagrants and other nature lovers. As residents of Pharaoh Valley recently experienced, the overgrowth that was once a chal- lenging par four on the back nine, is now a standing fire hazard. In November, smoke from a wind-blown brush fire on the former golf course could be seen for miles, and nearly threatened once-prestigious homes located on the course. While it is thought that the Kings Crossing Country Club was closed due mostly to spite be- tween the club’s owner and residents of the subdivision, Pharaoh Valley Country Club closed due to financial insolvency—and no one has lined up to bail it out and bring it back. Home values in the subdivision peaked in 2009 just before the golf course closed, largely declined for several years, and have since recovered to flat for the most part, as the rest of the market has grown in value over the same period. The problem for Pharaoh Valley homeowners was in no way unique, and neither was the solution. “A good friend of mine had bought thirty-five golf courses that year and he was looking for golf courses that were out of business or about to go out of business,” said Jeffory D. Black- ard, founder and CEO of Blackard Global, a Dallas-based firm that has successfully developed residential and mixed-use communities in Texas, across the U.S., and internationally. “I had not been to Corpus Christi since I was a kid,” Blackard added about his trip to the city in 2013 to look at property that one of his associates had under contract on North Beach. Real estate broker, Symptom of a Greater Disease: The Barisi Village Challenge When one of America’s most successful developers can’t invest $300 million to repair and improve Corpus Christi, it’s time to ask, “Do we want the Coastal Bend to grow, or not?” Top: The Italian village concept that is the model for Barisi Village in Corpus Christi. Above: Once a prestigious south side neighborhood, Pharaoh Valley has slid into a state of decline since the country club and golf course closed in 2010. Left: Croatian village architecture at Adriatica in McKinney, Texas, ranked“#1 Place to Live in the United States”by TIME magazine, and a community developed by Blackard Global. Lower: One of dozens of unique businesses at Adriatica. Marilyn Jordan, drove Blackard through Pharaoh Valley and he found himself in- trigued by the location’s proximity to Oso Bay along Ennis Joslin Rd., and to Texas A&M University Corpus Christi, as well as to the challenge of improving the land and returning property value to existing homeowners. “Because I build villages, it was fas- cinating to me,” Blackard said, “I would love to make a village out of this to prove a point, because Pharaoh Valley is a declin- ing market. And could you make a village there that would completely turn values around? “It was basically the challenge of it that got me interested.” Blackard could never have imagined the series of challenges he would encoun- ter in Corpus Christi, even with at least $300 million in hand and a driving desire to resurrect a once prestigious neighbor- hood, while bringing to the Coastal Bend a previously unequalled standard of mixed- use development—like what you see in the DFW Metroplex or Austin. Jeff Blackard’s thirty-five-year re- sume places him in elite company among the most successful developers in the Unit- ed States. Starting with master planned communities in Fort Worth and Plano in the early 1980’s, Blackard was soon devel- oping commercial sites like the 112-acre Alliance Business Park in Plano, home to Baylor’s Scott & White Hospital. He was part of the tech boom expansion of Ra- leigh-Durham, North Carolina, in the 90’s. Blackard built a luxury, waterfront resort hotel on the Croatian coast, as well as the Pirates Cove canal front development on Galveston Island. Blackard’s “Adriatica Village” in McKinney, which was completed in 2014, was voted the “#1 Place to Live in the United States” by TIME magazine, and features dozens of unique restaurants, ca- fes and retailers, single and multi-family homes, office space, plus parks, beautiful common areas, gathering space, an audi- torium, concert pavilion…and on and on. Adriatica is modeled after a Croatian vil- lage, which inspired the architecture, land- scaping, and entire design and feel of the community. A devout Christian, Jeff Blackard’s ministry and philanthropic work have made more headlines in the Dallas-Fort Worth area than any of his developments. His Amazon Outreach ministry employs the use of a 100-foot riverboat to spread the Gospel and disperse assistance to vil- lagers along the Amazon River. He was awarded the “Developer of the Year” award by Accessology for spearheading projects that help the disabled and physi- cally challenged. Blackard once shared his feelings of personal guilt associated with a very public event, revealing in a D Maga- zine interview that golfer Payne Stewart was en route to a meeting he arranged in Dallas, when Stewart’s plane lost cabin pressure and eventually crashed after its occupants fell unconscious. Jeff Blackard’s interest in Pharaoh Valley led him to a meeting of the home- owners’ association, where he introduced himself, his company and his concept for the failed and decaying golf course prop- erty—Barisi Village—an approach paral- lel to that of Adriatica, except based on an Italian village design, and that includes a nine-hole golf course. Although the ma- jority of homeowners were in favor of the project from the time it was first presented, the judicial requirement for modifying the deed restriction that the golf course must forever remain a golf course (or presum- ably whatever nature intends for the land once a golf course goes defunct), did not provide a clear course for modifying the deed. With the help of skilled attorneys and supportive public officials, especially State Representative Todd Hunter from Cor- pus Christi, Senate Bill 1168 passed both houses of the Texas Legislature in 2015, was signed by Governor Greg Abbott, and included a provision that allows the deed for a golf course to be modified by a 75% Top: Residential town homes at Adriatica Village in McKinney. Upper Left: Public event space at Adriatica. Upper Right: Pirates Cove waterfront community on Galveston Island. Middle Left: The Linda Esperança, a 100- ft. riverboat from which Blackard’s ministry, Amazon Outreach, operates. Middle Right: Blackard Global founder and CEO Jeff Blackard. Left: Hotel Svpetrys on the Coatian coastline. These days, five and six-bedroom homes of over 4,000 square feet…back up to wild, untamed wilderness, complete with feral hogs, coyotes, a wide variety of birds of prey, as well as transients, vagrants and other nature lovers.