After nearly 40 years of stops and starts, the dream of creating a golf course and residential community at Paradise Ranch near Merlin is closer to becoming a reality. - Jamie Lusch

Closer to Paradise than ever before

MERLIN — Paradise Ranch has been so long in the making that for some it may seem like a new venture.

The 300-acre golf community — first broached nearly 40 years ago — has been in a perpetual development process longer than many of its neighbors can remember.

Daniel Charbonneau, the project's present co-owner, was a consultant for his predecessor for the better part of a decade before stepping forward in 2003 to lead a new push for completion of the site eight miles north of Grants Pass. Charbonneau is close enough to his goal, he says, that he can feel the birth pangs. "Today, we're fully entitled, and fully approved construction permits can be taken out for houses," Charbonneau says. "But we still have 18 months of physical work on the golf course and roadwork."

For more than a quarter of a century, the project moved in agonizingly slow increments. In recent years, however, the pace has quickened and the way has been cleared to begin building homes along the golf course.

"The project was approved in 1993 as a resort with 73 conditions," says Charbonneau, who has lived in the Grants Pass area since 1995. "In 2003, we began tackling those 73 conditions. After six years of going through the tedious planning process, spending $3.7 million with 22 consulting firms, we were able to obtain final approval."

Many of the early conceptions and projections of the finished product have changed over the years. The first 63 of 200 homes now can be built along the 7,400-yard Jack Nicklaus-designed course.

Last month, the property was appraised at $65 million in its present condition, with a projected value of $110 million when completed. Charbonneau says it will take $6 million to finish the road and corresponding sewer system and another $2.5 million to complete the ninth hole of the golf course.

"We're making good progress," he says. "The first nine holes can be completed in a few months and the rest (road and sewer) could take two or three years to complete."

Charbonneau said they hope to be able to finish the homes and final nine holes of the golf course in five to seven years.

He and co-owner Bill Leep of Jacksonville are in negotiations with both lenders and equity investors to cover the short-term expenses. "It's no secret that financing has been challenging for the past 18 months," he says. "But one major lender in New York is saying our timing is good. Because we've got our permits and are shovel-ready. Up until you are granted permits, your hands are tied."

It just didn't come to fruition as fast as hoped."The same week we had our final platting, Lehman Brothers went bankrupt," Charbonneau says.

Charbonneau hopes to follow a path similar to the one developed at Bandon Dunes by Mike Keiser on the Oregon Coast.

"It will be a privately owned public course," Charbonneau says. "Originally it was going to be a private club. Bandon Dunes has a fantastic environment; they got it right. They understood this generation of golfers moving and traveling. They won't be offending golfers who won't play (a course) because it's private, that's what the recession provided us."

Those 6,000-square-foot homes along fairways are passe, as well, Charbonneau says. Instead, the single-story, European-style homes will be in the 1,800- to 2,400-square-foot range.

"I read a Wall Street Journal projection," he says. "Consumers are more pragmatic and are not going to spend the same type of money. They understand prosperity is not endless."

Lots priced to include the resort's amenities start at $300,000 — half the price of Pronghorn, another Nicklaus golf resort in Central Oregon — Charbonneau says. Construction on the first of 50 villa apartments is scheduled to begin this fall.

"We're looking mainly at San Diego, Los Angeles and the Bay Area where there is a desire to relocate and move to Southern Oregon," Charbonneau says. "We know that's our market."

Chamber of Medford/Jackson County Chief Executive Brad Hicks remembers driving by the property on his way to North Valley High School on the other side of Monument Drive in the early 1980s. "It was just a pasture," Hicks recalls. "People have hoped for a long time the development would come to fruition and it's getting close."

"The entire region can potentially benefit from it," Hicks said. "When you look around the globe at the locations where a Jack Nicklaus golf course exists it has done a tremendous deal in raising property values around them."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail

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