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ORANGE BEACH, AL-AIG Baker Shopping Center Properties LLC has turned over the reins to an estimated $1-billion development to a two-year employee who was first on the ground for the planning stage. The top exec steps up just as the developer is ready to forge ahead on the Wharf’s second condo building, the 243-unit Boggy Point.

Beason Wilkes has been named vice president of production and managing director of the Wharf, a 220-acre, mixed-use development designed to be a destination resort and entertainment location. Wilkes tells GlobeSt.com that the 243-condo Boggy Point, now 75% sold, will go vertical in 45 days. Its condo presales are yielding $425 per sf to $450 per sf. Delivery is planned for 2008.

Meanwhile, vertical work is under way on the 190-condo Levin’s Bend, which was sold out in a 24-hour period at an average of $363 per sf. The condos, ranging from $300,000 to $1.2 million, will deliver in first quarter 2007.

Wilkes says a third condo tower, Long’s Bayou, will be released for presales at the end of Q1 2007. The Wharf has been approved for 1,500 condos in eight towers.

The Birmingham, AL-based AIG Baker’s team also is prepping a plan for a 125- to 150-condo project, Blackwater Beach Club, with frontage on the Gulf Coast and part of the amenity package for all Wharf owners. The two developments are roughly three miles apart. Wilkes says the beachfront land is under contract, with a closing planned in 90 days. If the deal stays on track, Blackwater Beach Club could be under construction as early as April 2007.

As the residential component starts to build, Wilkes says the 300,000-sf retail space has at least 140,000 sf now leased. At build-out, the Wharf will have 1.1 million sf of retail, five hotels and the condos, three of which will have street-level shop space. Big-box space has been ticketed for the development’s westernmost boundary. Wilkes says “three or four boxes” will go onto the site, hopefully next year. The retail play is focused on a grocery store, sporting goods and electronics store.

As for the hotel component, Wilkes says talks begin in the past week with franchisees. He’s hoping to get “one or two” of the contracts inked in the next six months.

The Wharf, rising along the intracoastal waterway, includes a 228-slip marina for boats from 30 feet to 170 feet. “We are shifting the whole paradigm of personal boating on the Gulf Coast,” Wilkes says. “It will be a destination for well-heeled boaters.” And, the slips will be for rent and not for sale so the developer can control the component, he stresses.

Wilkes estimates it will take nearly eight years to complete the project, which opened Memorial Day weekend with a 112-foot Ferris wheel, main street-style shops and restaurants, Aveda spa, 15-screen RAVE theater and 10,200-seat amphitheater touted as the largest one between Jacksonville, FL and Houston. Wilkes says there are no fractionals or timeshares in the condos or hotels. He says one-third of the residences have been bought by investors, of which half has said they’re not planning to resell; one-third went to buyers who put the units into a rental program until they’re ready to retire; and the balance went to permanent residents or second-home buyers.

“The whole idea is lifestyle. If you live at the Wharf, you’ll never have to leave. When it’s done, it will be a city,” Wilkes says. “Baby Boomers historically migrate toward the water. We know they’re coming this way. And, they are coming.”

Wilkes says all streets will be deeded to Orange Beach, which shares 38 miles of white-sand coastline with Gulf Shores. AIG Baker has seven development sites along the Gulf Coast, some banked for the future. Plans are now being finalized for a 3,700-acre, 1,650-lot single-family development, also called Blackwater. Wilkes says ground will break at the end of Q1 2007. The vision for developer and city officials alike is the Wharf “will be the Downtown they never had,” says Wilkes, who’s taking the development reins from the firm’s president, Alex Baker.

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