Seabrook finds its way into Sunset magazine feature

A town hall is nearly completed, the vacation home market is roaring back, and there’s a waiting list for available retail space.

As it has continued to grow in size and stature, Seabrook also continues to gain national, international and local attention as one of the most unique coastal developments on the West Coast, most recently being named as the site for this summer’s Sunset magazine first “idea town” feature.

Seabrook founder and President Casey Roloff announced the prestigious Sunset distinction Friday during a one-on-one tour of what is now unquestionably the fastest-growing beach town on the Washington coast, with more than 200 homes sold since the 2004 groudbreaking and new blocks bustling with construction.

“People are coming to the realization that there is a place now that rivals the Oregon coast on the Washington coast,” Roloff said as he drove a modified golf cart around his layout that is rooted in what is called “new urbanist” planning principles. There are million-dollar seaside residences that might be found at Pebble Beach or Cannon Beach, or San Juan Island-style cottages, a new midtown village for townhouses and even a bed and breakfast.

At 40, Roloff has come to believe he’s now fully realizing the dream he had when he started building atop an ocean bluff just south of Pacific Beach.

Back then in 2004-05, there was nothing but the location. No pool. No spa. No retail core. No golf course or other resort attraction. Just the beach, the bluff, a forest and a dream where development would progress as money came in. A place where people would walk rather than drive once they arrived. A place of charm and character with all the modern amenities and all the old-school comforts of the past.

In many ways, Seabrook under Roloff’s guidance has been able to fully weather the recession and he’s now starting to see the luxury real estate market ramp up once again as the economy appears to have turned a corner for even bigger growth ahead.

“I do think the word is getting out,” he said of Seabrook’s success. It was named 2011 Community of the Year out of 420 entries around the country at the Pacific Coast Builders Conference in San Francisco. Previously, Coastal Living featured an oceanfront home at Seabrook as its 2010 “ultimate beach house.”

“We’re all working hard out here, and sometimes you feel like you’re on an island,” Roloff said of the satisfaction that comes with such awards. “We’re really proud about what our team has been able to accomplish.”

The Sunset feature is “much, much bigger” than anything Seabrook has yet experienced in terms of exposure, Roloff believes. Workers on Friday were just beginning to work on the foundation of the buildings, which also will look over the ocean on the west side of the highway from the main Seabrook centter.

The magazine, Roloff notes, has 5 million readers and is a much more West Coast targeted market. Seabrook has had some mentions in Sunset before, but nothing like what will be experienced this summer.

“They always do an ‘idea house,’ but the fact that their editor said, ‘we need to do something different this year,’ and that they are doing an idea town and it’s Seabrook is major,” Roloff said.

Tell someone you are building a town from scratch, “their ears perk up,” he said.

The magazine’s reach both in print and online is expected to have new visitors streaming though Seabrook for tours that can be arranged after the grand opening in late July. Expectations are for more than 15,000 visitors.

Roloff looks forward to sharing his principles for town building that he’s now cashing in on from his tried and true method.

In the past year, Seabrook has opened an indoor pool, added several new retail shops, and it will soon complete a full town square with yet more retail.

“The pool was a huge game-changer for us, but it’s nothing compared to the retail component,” Roloff said. “People don’t drive out here to go swimming, but it really has enhanced the experience. The town hall is going to drive a whole new crowd here for corporate retreats, weddings, events, and then the retail district already has more demand than we have space for.”

Roloff tells of an owner of a well-known boutique hotel who came to Seabrook and reviewed the development numbers: greater than 32 percent growth in each of the past four years.

He told Roloff he was amazed at the success because all he had were “houses at the beach.”

Now, with all the new amenities being completed, Roloff knows Seabrook truly has reached “the tipping point.” In the new Mill District, 12 of the 32 lots already are sold with houses on them or under construction. Because owners can subsidize their second-home expenses with vacation rental income as part of Seabrook’s cottage rental program, the town’s business plan has managed to work even during the recession.

While other resort developments in the state suffered huge losses, such as Semiahmoo in Blaine or Suncadia east of Snoqualmie Pass, Seabrook posted big gains: Revenue for nightly rentals was up 41 percent year-to-date for 2012 in the last published numbers. Nightly rentals have gone up from about 3,000 in 2008 during the peak third-quarter months, to nearly 6,000 in 2011, and about 4,500 for the same quarter in 2012.

“This is kind of the anti-resort,” Roloff said with pride.