Beachwalk developer gambling on the area's largest amenity, a 14-acre Crystal Lagoon.
Driving along County Road 210 in St. Johns County last March while exploring the area and house hunting, it seemed like coming upon the landscape used for filming of the 1977 motion picture “Capricorn One.”
For non-baby boomers, the movie’s plot was a mission to Mars that never happened, with scenes of the hoax set in a desert-scape soundstage with nothing but the illusion of dirt and rock as far as the eye could see. One of the stars was O.J. Simpson, back when he was young, thin and still likable.
Blowing sand rendered a dusty haze across the highway as earthmovers shaped the land on both sides.
Semitrailers parked along the north side of the road were emblazoned with promotional signage for Beachwalk. It was explained to me later that day that a developer was building “some kind of fake beach or something.”
Little was known about Beachwalk then, and apparently not much more was known nine months later.
A story about the nearing completion of the centerpiece Crystal Lagoon that appeared in Realty-Builder’s sister publication, the Daily Record, was among the most active on the paper’s social media platforms.
In early January, TV commercials for Beachwalk hit the airwaves. One of them aired during dinner at a St. Johns Town Center-area restaurant. The bartender overheard me mention the ad to my wife and said, “I just heard about this place. I’d live there!”
Word is getting out.
Ultimate outdoor living
This edition of Realty-Builder places an emphasis on trends in outdoor living spaces. It’s not even arguable that Beachwalk will feature a one-of-a-kind attraction beyond back doors in Northeast Florida. It will literally be some homeowners’ backyard.
The 14-acre Crystal Lagoon will bring a taste of Caribbean beach lifestyle to the Jacksonville area as the long-dormant Twin Creeks Planned Unit Development continues to rise up as three residential neighborhoods.
Along with Beachwalk, Beacon Lake and Creekside are adding about 3,000 single-family homes plus a planned 348-unit apartment community.
Home construction has begun in all three neighborhoods. To handle the traffic, County Road 210 is being widened from two lanes to six at the expense of the developer, Twin Creeks Development Associates, with a targeted summer completion.
The Crystal Lagoon is essentially a 36 million-gallon swimming pool that will give residents a resort beachlike experience. It will have a sandy shoreline, beach club and nonmotorized water sports such as kayaking and paddleboarding. A cafe and swim-up bar also are planned.
The lagoon is the focal point for 175,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space arranged in a village of Key West and West Indies architecture. Use of the lagoon is restricted to Beachwalk homeowners.
The lagoon will be the second completed in the U.S. by Chile-based Crystal Lagoons. A residential development in the Pasco County town of Wesley Chapel finished filling a 7.5-acre lagoon in mid-January. A second lagoon is planned for Wesley Chapel and another in southern Hillsborough County. A total of five are planned in western Florida. Crystal Lagoons has 16 signed deals in the U.S.
A ‘technology company’
Crystal Lagoons has built and operates 60 lagoons around the world in resorts and residential developments.
Sizes range from 1.5 acres to 90 acres. They incorporate a proprietary technology to efficiently clean the water that uses a fraction of the chemicals required for a typical swimming pool, recirculating only 2 percent of the water volume per day and using a fraction of the water necessary to operate a golf course.
All of the lagoons are monitored and operated at a central command center.
When Crystal Lagoons Regional Director Chris Souza spoke at a meeting of a Jacksonville civic club in November, he didn’t describe his as a lagoon company. “We’re a technology company,” he said.
And he said the Crystal Lagoons concept is the next big thing for enhancing property sales, pointing to a test residential project that was built near the company’s first lagoon at San Alfonso Del Mar resort in Chile. After the technology for that first lagoon was refined, company founder Fernando Fischman decided a demonstration was in order.
“Our owner decided, ‘I'm going to buy a piece of land, third row, off the coast, and validate our technology.’ ” Sousa said.
“He bought this piece of land on the cheap and it was zoned for 85 single-family homes. He rezoned it with 850 vertical, put in a 1.8-acre lagoon, and sold out under two years. Now this was the point where he realized, ‘OK, I have something.’”
John Kinsey, principal of Twin Creeks Development Group, thinks he has something, too, in Beachwalk. He’s gambling on a significant amenity investment to enhance the value and sales of homes — and homebuyers’ willingness to pay a premium for it — and to attract retailers and restaurants.
With all the other projects Crystal Lagoons has in the works, it’s looking like a pretty safe bet.