EMERALD ISLE — Legendary Emerald Isle businessman and politician Ronnie Watson has sold his 46-year-old resort, the Holiday Trav-L Park off Coast Guard Road, to an international company.
According to online records at the Carteret County Register of Deeds website, the sale closed on June 17, transferred from Watson Family Assets to MHC Trav L NC, registered in Delaware, N.J.
The parent company of that firm is Equity LifeStyle Properties of Chicago. The excise tax on the transfer is listed as $70,000, which means the sale was for $35 million or more.
Thursday, Mr. Watson said he is bittersweet.
“It’s been 47 years since I started planning this thing, and we’ve been open for 46 years,” he said. “it’s been good to me, and I hope good to Emerald Isle and eastern North Carolina. I think we’ve been the best RV park in eastern North Carolina.
“I don’t mind telling you, there were some tears when I finally decided to do this. They have been after it for two years, and I backed out once. It was hard to do it, but I just felt like it was time now.
“I’m not getting any younger, and the market was just right to do it now. The camping industry has taken off. It just felt like the right time.”
Equity LifeStyle Properties’ website states that it is “the leading operator of Manufactured Home Communities, RV Resorts and Campgrounds in North America. We offer beautiful communities and parks in the most desirable locations, while offering various homes and camping options to meet a wide variety of our customers' needs."
Today, Equity LifeStyle Properties, Inc. owns or has controlling interest in more than 400 communities and resorts in 35 states and British Columbia (Canada) with more than 165,000 sites.
The oceanfront RV park is the home of countless memories for countless people who have lived, visited and worked in Emerald Isle and was one of the earliest large-scale developments in the town.
It’s hosted many political rallies and charitable events, as its owner has been a mover and shaker in local and state Republican politics for decades.
Many give Mr. Watson’s resort credit for putting Emerald Isle on the map, particularly after he and others started a beach music festival there in 1979. The festival brought thousands of people to Emerald Isle for the first time, and many of them no doubt wanted to move to the young town or visit again.
In an interview after he was awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine – North Carolina’s highest civilian honor in 2016 – Mr. Watson, a former two-year Emerald Isle town commissioner and eight-year mayor – recalled that starting the travel park/campground business in 1976 was a gamble.
“It was a big ordeal, and there were years we didn’t know if we’d make it,” he said. “You had to make all your money in three or four months, and it’s not like Emerald Isle was all that well known then. But the festival probably saved us.
“The real estate market was kind of so-so,” he recalled in that interview. “We needed an idea, and that’s what we came up with. And it worked.”
Thursday, Mr. Watson said he doesn’t believe anyone will have to move their RVs out of the park, and he expects the new owners will maintain the same high quality standards he and has family have strived to provide for nearly half a century. His grandson, Taylor Watt, will be involved in the management.
He said he doesn’t plan to move from Emerald Isle.
“I love Emerald Isle,” Mr. Watson said. “It’s been very good to me, and I’m not done. I want to stay involved politically and help the town in any way I can.”
Mr. Watson was 16 years old in 1960 when his father, Bobby O. Watson, packed up the family and moved from Durham County to a pretty – but very deserted, almost desolate – place called Emerald Isle.
“It wasn’t really a place where a teenager wanted to be,” he said in the 2016 interview. “There was nothing here, just the Bogue Inlet Fishing Pier, the Bogue Inlet Motel and the Bogue Inlet Store. You had to take the ferry to get here. And really the only people were fishermen.”
His father, who had been in the lumber business back home, had been one of those fishermen since 1958. In 1962, he built an eight-room motel for those fishermen, the Sandra Dee. The family was there to stay.
“My daughter, Tammy, was the first native-born child from Emerald Isle,” Mr. Watson said Thursday. “I love this place.”
Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email email@example.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.