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Disney to Build Time-Shares Near Laguna : Resorts: Orange County plan is part of a company strategy to construct townhomes close to its amusement parks.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Walt Disney Co. said Monday that it will buy 70 acres overlooking the Pacific for its first California resort: a Mediterranean-themed village of 650 time-share condominiums, shops and restaurants

The plan for Newport Coast is part of the entertainment giant’s strategy to build time-share townhomes near its amusement parks around the world. Disney already has a successful time-share project near Walt Disney World in Florida and recently announced plans to build resorts in Vero Beach, Fla., about 95 miles south of Walt Disney World, and on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina.

“This coastal site fits what Disney is trying to do with its vacation villages. It doesn’t have to be right next-door to Disneyland,” said Ray Watson, a member of Disney’s board and a vice chairman of Irvine Co., which sold 35 acres of the Newport Coast tract to Disney Vacation Development Inc.

While terms of the deal were not disclosed, local real estate brokers estimated the price for the first 35 acres at about $25 million.

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Disney has yet to finalize purchase of the rest of the parcel.

The huge Newport Coast project is on one of the last stretches of undeveloped ocean-view land in Southern California, in the area between Corona Del Mar and Laguna Beach. Disney’s plans must clear federal, state and county regulatory hurdles. But executives said they expect no delays and that construction is scheduled to begin next year. The resort could open as early as 1997.

“It’s amazing, with the huge California coastline, how few opportunities there are for people to vacation with their families at beach resorts,” said Beth Heller, director of development for the project.

Exactly how interests in the Newport Coast resort will be sold has not yet been determined, Disney executives said.

The condominiums--studios, one-, two- and three-bedroom units--may be marketed as part of the Disney Vacation Club, which allow members to buy time at the company’s resort near Disney World, as well as other planned resorts. The properties include 24-hour front-desk service and recreational amenities.

The Burbank-based company said it has sold more than 9,000 memberships in its time-share projects since establishing the club in December, 1991. Memberships begin at $12,390.

The time-share business has drawn widespread criticism of hard-sell tactics used to market shoddy developments in undesirable vacation locations. But Disney relies on a soft sell and builds high-quality resort projects that could compete with any luxury hotel, said David Matheson, a spokesman for the American Resort and Residential Development Assn., a trade group in Washington.

“Almost everyone in the industry is looking at what Disney is doing and trying to do it themselves,” Matheson said. “They are bringing a level of respectability to the time-share industry.”

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The land purchased by Disney originally was earmarked for a Marriott hotel. But Marriott failed to obtain financing, according to Irvine Co. executives.

“This is in lieu of the hotel, so I don’t think it will be that much different,” said Jean Watt, a Newport Beach City Council member. “I hope Disney will do a good job. I hope as a developer they will do something that fits into the environment. It’s such a sensitive area in terms of views. Most of the wildlife has already been evicted from that area.”


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