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2013-04-24 / Front Page

Westham’s back nine to be started in 2014

By Jim McConnell
STAFF WRITER


Tom Page of iStar Financial, which owns the Magnolia Green development, talks about the project to finish the second nine holes at Westham Golf Club. 
Jim McConnell/Chesterfield Obsever Tom Page of iStar Financial, which owns the Magnolia Green development, talks about the project to finish the second nine holes at Westham Golf Club. Jim McConnell/Chesterfield Obsever The New York-based company that owns the Magnolia Green development in western Chesterfield will invest approximately $7 million to complete one of the community’s signature amenities, the firm announced last week.

Construction of the second nine holes at Westham Golf Club will begin in spring 2014. The full 18-hole course is scheduled to be open to the public in spring 2015, according to Tom Page, vice president of land development for iStar Financial, which acquired Magnolia Green and its Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course for $52 million at a May 2009 foreclosure auction.

We’ve always told people that we’re an 18-hole course with nine holes open,” said Bobby Kidder, general manager of Westham Golf Club. “It’s a fantastic facility. Our goal is for this to be the place to be.”

Page’s announcement was welcome news for Westham’s 49 members, many of whom joined the semi-private club shortly after its June 2010 opening and have wondered if the course would ever be completed.

“With only nine holes, it gets really crowded when you make the turn and have golfers already waiting to tee off on No. 1,” said Roland Jordan, who lives in Birkdale and holds a membership at Westham.

“It’s great to hear that it’s finally going to get started,” added Ken Schoemmell, a Westham member and a Magnolia Green homeowner.

Another iStar Financial executive said that the company’s plans to finish the golf course reflect its optimism about the future of the once-troubled Magnolia Green project, which is located about six miles west of Route 288.

Jan Cooper, vice president of strategic marketing and planning, acknowledged that the company “has gone back and forth” on the decision and believes that now is the “right time to make the commitment.”

“We wouldn’t be spending the money if we weren’t bullish on the community,” she added. iStar Financial already has spent millions on a variety of improvements at Magnolia Green, which is about six miles west of Route 288, since it declared the 1,896- acre project’s original developer in default of its $96.9 million loan and foreclosed in 2009.

The prevailing thought was that iStar Financial purchased the property at auction merely to protect its financial interest and would sell it as quickly as possible to recoup as much of its initial investment as possible.

Instead, the company took a more proactive approach. It formed its own land development team and began to look at Magnolia Green as a significant part of its investment portfolio.

“We stepped back and asked how this community can be best positioned to take advantage of the current real estate market,” Cooper said.

Noting that the number of building permits issued for new homes in Magnolia Green dipped from 22 in 2008 to 17 in 2009, iStar Financial first reduced prices on certain housing lines to spur sales and create positive momentum.

It also made significant improvements to the development’s storm water drainage, upgraded landscaping and installed new signage at both its Hull Street Road and Woolridge Road entrances.

Arbor Walk, a community center that includes a pool and children’s play area, a full court paved for basketball, a sand volleyball court and a nature trail, opened last summer.

Home sales have followed. The once moribund Magnolia Green led all subdivisions in the Richmond region with 79 new-home closings during a 12-month period ending in March 2012, according to the Integra Residential Report.

A total of 103 lots were purchased at Magnolia Green last year and 40 more sales closed during the first quarter of 2013, Page said.

“Builders call me every day and want information about Magnolia Green,” he added.

The development is zoned for 3,550 homes, so there is still plenty of room for growth. Page thinks that hosting the 2014 Richmond Homearama at Magnolia Green will help in that regard.

Seven Richmond-area custom homebuilders will begin construction in September on the fully-furnished models that will be part of the May 2014 event.

“That’s going to be huge for us,” Page said.

Cooper said that a new section of town homes should be introduced over the next 12 to 18 months, followed by homes targeted to empty nesters. Eventually there also will be apartments in Magnolia Green, creating what Cooper called “a multi-generational community.”

“It’s a success story now,” she said. “And the best is yet to come for that community.”

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