BRANSON WEST, MO-Six years after they secretly began acquiring land here for a 1,000-acre master planned resort, Springfield-based developers Jim and Virginia Shirato watched last week as Gov. Matt Blunt christened the start of the estimated $1.5-billion Native American-themed development.

Located 50 miles south of Springfield, the five- to 10-year plan calls for 2,400 residential units in a variety of formats, a private marina on Table Rock Lake, an 18-hole golf course, indoor and outdoor water parks and a shopping center.

The tract is bordered on the east and west by the Silver Dollar City theme park and Highway 13 and on the north and south by Highway 76 and Table Rock Lake. Jim Shirato tells he began piecing the land together on Valentine’s Day 2000, when he acquired the first piece of ground, about 116 acres contiguous to Table Rock Lake. Over the next two years, the Shiratos worked with various lawyers anonymously to convince landowners from Florida, Arkansas, Missouri, Florida and elsewhere to agree to sell. Aside from that first acquisition, Shirato says he closed on all the properties on the same day.

When word started leaking out locally about the pending land acquisitions, Shirato says he began receiving requests from various Rotaries and Chambers of Commerce and “every little civic organization you can think of” to speak about his plans. “But we decided we would say nothing until all the land was bought,” he says. “And then we decided to wait again to make sure all the preliminary approvals and zoning issues were handled and the engineering was complete and the master plan was in place. Now we’re coming out of the closet.”

The general outline for the project was revealed in October and additional detail was provided during last week’s ceremony. On Friday, Jim Shirato told he spent $18.3 million for the land and will spend another $27 million in cash running roads and utilities throughout the development area. For that $45-million investment, the Shiratos will end up with several hundred residential and commercial building lots to sell off for development under the master plan.

The Shiratos aren’t saying how much they stand to make on the investment, but the 800 single-family home lots alone could generate sales of $80 million. Then there’s the land for the other 1,600 planned residential units, the marina, the water park and some two dozen commercial sites that will be sold off and developed to service the resort. About one-third of the area’s natural terrain will be preserved.

Without getting specific, Jim Shirato says there already has been some institutional money committed to various projects and negotiations are under way with developers for certain pieces of the project. The first phase is the infrastructure and the preparation of some 250 single-family home lots and 250 condominium units, which will be sold off to owners and developers and which, once developed, can be put back into a rental pool. The second phase will include the golf course and another 600 housing units. The third phase will be the 309-unit condo-hotel, the water parks, some of the retail and a Native American history center.

“When we sell 41% of the lots in the first phase, we start phase two; when we sell 35% of the golf condos, we start phase three,” says Shirato. “The only thing we haven’t nailed down is the marina on Table Rock because the [US Corps of Engineers] has to complete a commercial rezoning of the lake; if they issue us the permit soon, then it will be in phase two.”

In addition to individual purchasers, developers will be able to come in and buy as little as three single-family home lots and as few as three low-rise condominium lots, each of which will hold either an eight- or 16-unit building. Even though it will take several years to build out, Shirato says his expectation is that all development parcels will be sold off by the end of 2008.

There will be plenty of competition for buyers, but most of it will be 10 miles east, in and around the City of Branson. According to published reports, Branson is poised to break its record for building permits this year as baby boomers and retirees looking for a place to live, vacation and-or invest for their future. In all, some 8,000 condos are under construction or planned in the Branson area, which is seen as a relatively low-cost alternative to areas of the country.

One example of success is Branson Landing, a $420-million downtown lakefront development consisting of luxury condos, upscale shopping, restaurants, outdoor entertainment and a pair of Hilton-branded hotels. In just over nine months the developer, Branson-based HCW Inc., reportedly pre-sold about 340 condos, including 106 units at an average price of $426,000, 95 at an average of $242,000 and 139 at an average of $160,000. The first phase opens in May. The biggest chunk of buyers came from Missouri, of course, followed by California, Arkansas, Florida and Kansas, according to published reports. About one third of the buyers plan to live in their units while the rest plan to rent them out.

South of Branson, outside Hollister, Argonaut Midwest has broken ground for a $1-billion golf course and lakefront that will include 3,500 condos ranging in price from $175,000 to $750,000. The Florida-based developer’s plans include 1,700 homes, 2,000 whole-ownership condominiums, a retail center, hotels, restaurants, two golf courses and a marina over the next six years.