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Changes in Vacation Homes

Imagine: a time-share for rock stars. At the new Setai Resort & Residences on South Beach, Lenny Kravitz is laying down tracks in his recording studio on the seventh floor. Sheryl Crow and her cycling sweetheart Lance Armstrong are sunning next to the infinity pool. Down at the spa, Janet Jackson's bathrobe malfunction is causing a ruckus. This is definitely not your grandmother's time-share on Myrtle Beach.

The Setai, a landmark Art Deco property with an adjacent 40-story tower managed by Amanresorts founder Adrian Zecha, has been transformed into a combination condo-hotel. It's one of the biggest trends in the travel business. When unoccupied, 50 tower residences (which went for $1 million to $12 million and were decorated by Jean-Michel Gathy, who created the looks for Amanwana and Aman-i-Khas) will be turned over to management for its high-end rental pool. Beyond that, private club membership will provide VIP access to Aman properties worldwide. It's no wonder that every apartment in this Modernist Miami-meets-Shanghai palace was sold out to celebrities (and mere millionaires) before the doors even opened last December.

Back in the sixties, when some genius first decided to sell blocks of time rather than bricks and mortar, fractional vacation ownership had some cheesy undertones, with promotional bus trips and sales pitches involving Ginsu knife sets and steam-tray buffets. Lately, however, the concept has morphed into a broader spectrum, with condo hotels, resort residences, fractional real estate properties, and vacation-ownership clubs—all of which evoke a very different image. And in a mind-boggling process of segmentation, new variations on the theme are cropping up everywhere from Palm Beach to Palo Alto to Telluride.

Even before breaking ground, the MGM Grand sold all 576 furnished apartments (with price tags of up to $1.5 million) in the first of three projected condo-hotel towers on its 116-acre Las Vegas campus. Gated-community developers are partnering with Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton on projects in resort destinations. By 2006, Canyon Ranch and Miraval will expand their wellness empires with holistic-living communities in Miami Beach and Maui, respectively. Ian Schrager is getting in on the act at his latest New York hotel, the Gramercy Park, with a connected residential component of 23 apartments designed by London-based architect John Pawson. And AOL cofounder Steve Case has just acquired a majority stake in Exclusive Resorts, a members-only vacation-home company.

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