Tuesday, May 02, 2006


South Napa Timeshare Resort Nears Completion

Napa's seemingly endless March and April rains turned hillsides lush and lawns green, but they played havoc with construction of the south county's newest luxury timeshare resort and conference center.

The Meritage Resort, in the Napa Valley Corporate Park, was slated to open by month's end. While buckets of rain put a damper on those plans, crews work furiously to finish the $60 million timeshare project.

"We're about 90 percent done," said General Manager Michael Lennon.

"We just have some site work and exterior work to be done," he said, in addition to completing a perimeter access road. "We're shooting to open by Memorial Day weekend," he said.

Guests who'd planned to use the hotel or facilities in May have been rescheduled or moved to other locations, said Lennon.

"We're helping them make new plans," he said.

The Napa Chamber of Commerce originally planned to host its annual Business Expo in Meritage's 10,500 square foot ballroom in May.

"The Expo moved to June, which is fantastic," said Lennon. "We really want to have (the event) at the hotel."

"We were of course disappointed to have to delay the Business Expo, but we're still excited to be having our event at the Meritage," said Chamber President Kate King. "The public and business community can look forward to a great Business Expo on June 14."

Even with the delays, interest remains strong in the timeshare resort.

"We're opening with over a million dollars of group business on the books," said Lennon. "It's fantastic."

Management staff for the facility has been hired and front office personnel are currently undergoing training, said Lennon.

Here comes the bride

Brides-to-be are already planning to have their wedding bells ring at the resort.

"We are getting a tremendous about of interest with our timeshare property for weddings," said Sharon Burns, director of catering. "The brides are very excited about having a winery experience at a resort."

Hotel facilities offer a private vineyard and a multitude of indoor and outdoor event spaces for receptions and other gatherings. An indoor chapel, dubbed "Our Lady of the Grapes," accommodates 60 guests.

How do you sell brides-to-be on an unfinished resort?

"We have storyboards we can show them. I go though all the details," said Burns. "The brides see it and they feel it.

"I booked today a September wedding for 150," said Burns. That particular group comes from out of town, she said.

"The majority of our interest is from the Bay Area, East Coast, New York and Chicago," she said.

Burns expects to host up to 15 weddings for the rest of 2006 and 50 to 60 weddings yearly thereafter. An average nuptial at the Meritage costs between $25,000 and $30,000, not including lodging, said Burns.

"One of the things our clients love is the option of using our four and five bedroom timeshare suites. That way the wedding party can stay together," said Burns.

A grand opening and ribbon cutting is scheduled at the Meritage for July 11.

Vino Bello timeshare property

Promising to "charm your imagination," Meritage sister property Vino Bello expects to debut 116 timeshare units in June.

The privately-held Shell Vacations Club owns the "timeshare ownership resort" Vino Bello.

Shell Regional Director of Sales and Marketing Perry Bergelt said he expects 30,000 Vino Bello visitors within the first 12 months.

The club hopes to sign new owners by offering free "mini-vacations" and product previews to select guests. 110,000 existing Shell Vacation Club "timeshare owners" are also potential visitors, said Bergelt.

After completing construction and the proper state registration processes, the Vino Bello "inventory" officially becomes part of the Shell Vacations Club and available for purchase.

Mindful of sales regulations, Bergelt was careful to point out that the timeshare resort has not done any pre-selling.

The vacation club pricing varies depending on destination resort, season, location, size of unit and length of stay, said Bergelt. Shell lifetime memberships begin at approximately $8,000 with average membership around $15,000.

Early indications are that Vino Bello will be sold in the $40,000 price range, said Bergelt.

"We anticipate an overwhelming demand," said Bergelt. "We expect to sell out our inventory; we do in all our properties."

While exact timeshare real estate buyers remain unknown, their demographics aren't. According to John Carter, Shell regional director of marketing, Shell Vacations Club owners are mostly married, ages 35 to 55 with household incomes of $80,000 a year and up.

You don't have to be an owner to enjoy a night or two at the Vino Bello. Shell spokeswoman Lynn Davis pointed out that available Vino Bello units can be rented via the Meritage Resort reservation system.

"It's a hidden secret of sorts," said Davis. "What you get is a real nice timeshare for the price of a hotel room."

A preview center at the Vino Bello site showcases the studio, one and two bedroom luxury units. Rooms include full stainless steel kitchens, granite counter tops, custom furniture, fireplaces and private balconies.

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