Lake of the Limelight: The Lake of the Ozarks Prevails
by Christy Wagner, Editor
33rd Annual Official Lake of the Ozarks Shootout Program Guide
If you have skimmed through national headlines or happen to be one of Netflix’s 200 million paid subscribers, then you’ve likely heard of the Lake of the Ozarks at some point within the past year — local status not necessary. Since Ozark: Season 1 first aired in 2017, the Lake has experienced its share of fame and notoriety across the world. Between COVID-19 era backlash, political scandals, murder-for-hire plots and gang-related shooting incidents at our popular tourist locations, many of us have recently found ourselves wondering if we are, indeed, Netflix’s Ozark. While big name actors and actresses receive Emmy Awards and nominations for a fictitious show based on a real place, our real place, we locals know one thing to be most certainly true: regardless of it all, the Lake of the Ozarks prevails.
In comparison with 2019’s pre-COVID tourism statistics, 2020’s Lake Area municipalities’ lodging and sales tax was up by 4%, even with several main convention centers and hotels losing business due to nationwide, corporate travel restrictions. According to the Lake of the Ozarks Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB), the Lake would typically see a significant drop during off-season. This was not the case for Labor Day of 2020 through Memorial Day of 2021, and the Lake of the Ozarks has begun seeing more leisurely travel than we ever have before.
“2021 is looking like another great year for the Lake of the Ozarks,” said Heather Brown, Executive Director for the CVB. “Our events are having record numbers for attendance so far, with many of the lodging businesses being fully booked out through the summer since the spring. Most of our lodging properties have said that they have had more bookings so far in 2021 than they did in 2020, which was a really good year for them. I am very excited to see how the numbers will continue to work out for the Lake Area.”
As far as the entirety of the Lake of the Ozarks goes, each individual community’s needs are different, Heather explained.
“MoDOT has made great improvements to make sure our roadways are equipped to handle future tourism to, from, and around the Lake of the Ozarks, including the removal of the major stoplight along US-Highway 54 at the eastern edge of Lake Ozark,” Heather continued. “Each individual municipality has had different levels of focus which they have worked on to ensure that their own community can sustain more visitor traffic, such as having the right businesses in place to service the needs of their visitors (restaurants, grocery stores, and etc.).”
In conjunction with record-breaking tourism numbers, local real estate sales have continued to climb. As compared to 2019, 2020’s sales volume for waterfront residential properties (including townhomes and villas) was up by 27%; reaching a staggering 140% increase in quarter one of 2021 as compared to last year’s numbers. The sales volume of homes listed over $1,000,000.00 saw an increase of 265% in 2020 as compared to 2019, and as of quarter one of 2021, the increase was an astonishing 909% as compared to last year. Across all categories of real estate for the Lake of the Ozarks, the overall sales volume for quarter one of 2021 was up by 1.4 million as compared to 2020.
“Many people across the Lake seem to think that we are living in a bubble that will eventually burst, but there are no signs that this progression is going to stop for years to come,” said Justin Farrell, Broker/Officer with John Farrell Real Estate and former President of the Bagnell Dam Association of Realtors (2019).
However, record-breaking numbers don’t always come without cost. In what was once an affordable buyer’s market less than five years ago has swiftly become a trending status of elite homeownership in a seller’s monopoly, where the opportunities for many have drastically diminished.
“Conversely,” Justin continued, “the unfortunate situation of what’s going on right now with the prices the way that they are is that we might miss out on a lot of people who used to have the capability to buy a home here, but no longer will. This can also be seen in the water toy industry. Many years ago, I think back to a time where my father and his buddies were my age. People had 19 to 21-foot boats which could be taken out every weekend, but now we are getting to where you have to have a minimum of a 27-foot boat or longer to even enjoy the water, which will drive more middle-to-lower class families away from the Lake of the Ozarks.”
Aligning with increased market valuations, the current cost of new construction is also at an all-time high.
“In January of 2020, we were quoting houses at roughly $125.00 to $140.00 a square foot,” said Matt Ancell, Owner of Ancell Construction. “In January of 2021, we were quoting houses at roughly $150.00 to $165.00 a square foot. At present-day (mid-summer of 2021), we are quoting houses at roughly $180.00 to $195.00 a square foot. This drastic increase is due to rising material costs, as well as a shortage of labor that has driven the labor prices up due to demand.”
Comparatively, business owners (especially restaurants and marinas) have experienced their share of trouble in securing summer help, in large part due to a lack of housing options. What was once a fun location for college-aged kids to spend their summer months in affordable rental accommodations while working locally has become a dog-eat-dog market with little to nothing available to rent. In a community where our numbers climb significantly between Memorial and Labor Day of each year, our area depends on these individuals to keep our businesses running smoothly – causing many establishments to post an endless stream of help wanted ads.
Ever a tourist-driven/fueled economy, however, we have truly been blessed. The Lake of the Ozarks Shootout saw its very best year yet in 2020, with $400,000.00 raised for 38 Lake Area fire departments and local charities that would have otherwise been left by the wayside had we fully shutdown. With these funds being used to protect abused women and children, the homeless, handicapped and hungry, we have a lot to be thankful for with our Lake communities’ local and state leadership.
“In the public relations world, there is no such thing as bad PR,” Heather said, in closing. “Although we would prefer to see more flattering headlines, overall, all that the recent publicity has done is help our businesses by bringing in more visitors to the area. The Netflix series, Ozark, has helped tourism in this area and it will continue to do so for many years to come. Even though it is a fictional representation of the area, it is still based in the area and has brought national recognition to our community that we may not have otherwise accomplished.”