30 years later, Missouri 'lake paradise' languishing

Written by Muleskinner Staff

(WARSAW, Mo., AP) — More than 30 years after a Forbes publishing subsidiary conducted a worldwide campaign to market land in central Missouri as a “lakeland paradise” the area is largely undeveloped and dreams of a vibrant but secluded community have not been realized.

Sangre de Cristo Ranches, a Colorado-based division of Forbes Inc., bought the property in 1984 and advertised relatively cheap prices for home sites on about 13,000 acres about 20 miles east of Warsaw. The push attracted buyers from around the world who wanted to be part of Forbes Lake of the Ozarks Park. Once all the lots were sold, the company turned over management to a landowners association.
In the ensuing years, only about 50 homes were built and most of the 2,000 landowners have never seen their land. Some of the land parcels, which range in size from 1¼- to 6 acre-lots, have gone through foreclosure, with more than 60 properties currently listed for an upcoming sheriff’s sale in Benton County, The Kansas City Star reported (http://bit.ly/1G9yxNH ).
Some residents are perfectly happy with the secluded, slow-paced lifestyle in a gated community that includes a shooting range, RV park, tennis courts amid spectacular views and abundant wildlife. The property includes nearly 5 miles of shoreline, with three interior lakes.
Other landowners would like more activity, said Gary Batson, president of the Forbes Lake of the Ozarks Owners Association. “In the beginning, there was a rush. They were marketing, and they sold to people all over the world. Now, we’re trying to do some things to spark some interest and get our name out there again.”
Forbes’ sales pitch highlighted the seclusion and natural beauty of the area, attracting buyers from as far away as Australia and Germany. For $50 down and $50 a month for 15 years, someone could own 1 ½ acres of virgin forest.
“And a lot of people thought, ‘Forbes Magazine — they’re rich. This is a good investment here,'” said Rich Meister, secretary of the landowners association. “They could own a little slice of the wilderness, and Forbes was backing it. It had to be something good.”
Today, most of the nearly 50 homes are permanent residences, with some vacation homes, said Sean Dockery, whose company manages daily operations for the landowners. A few are under construction and about half the lots are set up for camping. Other than being required to have 1,000 square feet on the main floor, homeowners are mostly free to build any type of home they want. The average house is worth $300,000 to $400,000.
But over the years, many of the landowners either lost interest in the property or couldn’t afford to keep it.
“Some of these people have passed the land on to their kids, and the kids have no idea what this is,” said Jim Kramer, a board member of the landowners association. “They’ve been getting a bill once a year for the dues but have never been there. And some simply decide they don’t want to pay that anymore.”
Besides facing foreclosure for failing to pay land association dues — $132.75 a year per lot — some owners lost their property in a sheriff’s sale for not paying their taxes.
Meister said the association needs to be more aggressive selling the property. Committees have been formed to judge interest in the property.
“We’re in our infancy trying to poke our heads out from underneath the sheets, and we don’t really know what we’re doing,” he said. “It’s all trial and error.”
Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com.