Laguna del Mar about to be sold

Laguna del Mar about to be sold

By Judy Newman, The Wisconsin State JournalMcClatchy-Tribune Business NewsFeb. 9–Alliant Energy Corp. has found a buyer for Laguna del Mar, the ill-fated golf resort in northern Mexico that the Madison utility company owns.Alliant officials won’t say yet who is buying the land or at what price. But Bill Harvey, Alliant’s chief executive, president and chairman, told a conference call Thursday that the Madison utility holding company has reached an agreement with a buyer.

“The (sale) of Laguna del Mar will mark the end of our foreign investments,” Harvey said.

Over the past couple of years, Alliant has sold utility-related assets in China, Australia, New Zealand and Brazil, purchases made primarily in the 1990s as Alliant sought to grow, diversify and increase its profits.

The Mexican property, in an area at the end of the Gulf of California known as Puerto Penasco, or Rocky Point, was supposed to be a model. Alliant oversaw construction of all of its utilities, from sewers to lights. A nine-hole, Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course was built and there were plans for another nine holes, tennis courts, sport fishing and 1,750 homes nestled in a gated, luxury resort community.

But work halted after a seawall built to protect against the area’s dramatic tidal changes was destroyed in 2000. Later, Alliant feuded with its development partners, believed to be businessmen from Phoenix and Mexico, and took over full ownership. Eventually, in the summer of 2005, Alliant announced plans to sell the property.

Harvey said Laguna del Mar, valued at $82 million as of Dec. 31, 2004, is believed worth $60 million as of December 2006.

Ironically, as the land has sat untouched, dozens of other projects have sprouted nearby. “Last year, Rocky Point was the fastest-growing resort area in Mexico,” said John Alty, sales manager for the Pointe de las Conchas condominium development across town. An international airport and a highway from California scheduled to open in 2008 are expected to vastly expand the tourist market, which now is mainly from Arizona, he said.

Laguna del Mar’s golf course is beautiful, Alty said, and is consistently groomed, but “nobody’s ever played on it.”

News of the planned sale came as Alliant announced earnings of $193.1 million, or $1.66 a diluted share, on revenue of $841.3 million for the last three months of 2006, an improvement from its net loss of $63.9 million, or 55 cents a diluted share, on $906.8 million in revenue for the 2005 fourth quarter.

An after-tax gain of $150.1 million from the sale of its utility-related assets in New Zealand boosted the 2006 quarter’s profits.

For the full year, Alliant reported earnings of $315.7 million, or $2.69 a diluted share, on $3.4 billion in revenue, up from a $7.7 million net loss, or 7 cents a diluted share, on $3.3 billion in revenue in 2005.

“The financial profile of our company is now stronger and less volatile than it has been for some time,” Harvey said.

He said Alliant will double the buyback of its shares from $200 million to $400 million and provided more details on plans to build a 300-megawatt, coal-fired power plant in Cassville, a 600-megawatt, coal- fired plant in Marshalltown, Iowa, and wind generation.

Alliant stock gained $1.17, to close Thursday at $38.73 a share.