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Near Tucson : Webb Adult Community Scaled Down

July 24, 1988|DON G. CAMPBELL | Don G. Campbell is a retired Times staff writer. and

TUCSON — Low mileage . . . clean interior . . . one owner . . . easy terms. . . .

Whatever it takes to move the product--from used cars, to sable wraps to penthouse condominiums--dictates the marketing strategy.

And no one has laid down more ground rules on how to sell a speciality item that didn't even exist until 1960 than the company that "invented" the product: Del E. Webb Corp.

Founder Webb, a carpenter turned entrepreneur, saw a market for retirement communities when the phrase wasn't even in the American vocabulary.

Selling Life Style

Here, in the beautiful high-desert country framed by the soaring Tortolita, Tucson and Santa Catalina mountain ranges, the Webb organization is replaying the game it knows best: selling a life style.

Last March, Webb's board of directors decided to bow out of the leisure and gaming industries and concentrate on its real estate interests.

Almost simultaneously, Webb closed escrow on its fourth retirement community, a 1,050-acres parcel near Las Vegas.

How do you sell an idea of which real estate, itself, is almost an afterthought? Are the techniques being used here to market Sun City Vistoso (beautiful view) radically different from those used to promote the original Sun City, 20 sun-baked miles from downtown Phoenix?

'Doing Things Differently'

It was a mind-boggling gamble when Webb unveiled it in 1960, and it had a thousand detractors for every one of the 8,900 acres he had acquired for Sun City.

Today, about 47,000 people live in Sun City--and another 15,000 in adjacent Sun City West. Banks, thrifts and brokerage houses soon followed. (Today's Sun City retiree has an average age of 62 and an average annual income of $22,000.)

"We're naturally doing some things differently now than we did back in 1960," Paul Tatz, president of Del E. Webb Communities, concedes. "Not only in the way we've built the succeeding communities," (Sun City West in '78, Sun City Vistoso in '87, and the embryonic Las Vegas Sun City), "but in how we market them. Tatz added, "We've found that the warmth of a smaller, more intimate community appeals to many people."

Self-Containment

Vistoso, with 1,000 acres--300 of them dedicated to green belt areas--will have a maximum of 2,700 homes and about 5,000 residents, although "it's expandable to some degree," Tatz added.

Another shift from the original Sun City concept: a compromise in exactly how self-contained a retirement community should be.

While the necessity for up-front, self-contained recreational facilities remains in place--Vistoso's hub is a 20-acre, $5-million recreation center and an 18-hole championship golf course, with two more satellite recreational centers and commercial and medical facilities slated for future construction--"we're no longer providing all of the cultural, social and shopping amenities that we did with the original Sun City," Tatz said.

"For this reason, we're . . . building the communities closer to the hub city." Vistoso is about 12 miles from downtown Tucson, and the Nevada community will be a similar distance from downtown Las Vegas.

Vacationers Beckoned

One major marketing tool employed by Webb is the "Vacation Special"--a heavily discounted, short-term stay at the retirement community.

Almost simultaneously with the construction of model homes at Sun City Vistoso, for instance, construction was also started on 28 one- and two-bedroom apartments in adjacent Vacation Village.

The furnished apartments, complete with maid service, were offered at prices ranging from $450 a week during "high" season (Jan. 1 to April 30) to $199 a week during the summer (May 1 through Sept. 30).

Vacationers have unlimited use of all recreational facilities and get the normal resident's golf green fee of $7.

Tatz said, "about 12% of our sales are directly traceable to these Vacation Specials. But it's a fine line we have to walk: if we make it too attractive, we're simply booking bargain vacationers."

'Shopped' for Retirement

One couple checking out of Vacation Village recently, the James Femals of Neenah, Wis., had "shopped" for a retirement home at a number of adult communities since Femal retired from the steel fabrication business a year and a half ago.

While saying they "loved" Sun City Vistoso, the Femals had packed for a similar weeklong vacation at Phoenix's Sun City West.

"I'm pretty sure that's where we'll settle. It's simply that it's so far to the grocery here," Femal said. "I know that in two or three years, there are going to be at least a supermarket or two within easy driving distance but," and he laughed, "I'm 70 years old. I can't wait too long for the growth to catch up."

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