When Peter Kaplan winters in Arizona, he does it first class. Daily maid service. In-room massages. Chilled towels and fruit kabobs served poolside. Grocery service that stocks his favorite foods in the fridge before he even arrives.
Spending several weeks at Scottsdale’s Four Seasons Residence Club, which costs $23,000 a week on average, allows the consultant from Connecticut to get away from the snow and into the Arizona sun.
Kaplan may not be the typical Scottsdale winter visitor. But snowbirds who stay in the Valley’s most affluent city during the kind months are a different species compared with the stereotypical Winnebago-drivers who roost in east Mesa trailer parks.
Most Scottsdale snowbirds stay in condos or homes. Instead of RVs, they fly here and ship their cars. Some even take their own planes. Instead of group craft projects, they study under worldclass artists.
Scottsdale attracts between 15,000 and 20,000 winter visitors a year, many of whom rent or own second homes here, said David Roderique, the city’s economic vitality general manager.
Thirty-four percent of the homes north of Jomax Road are for seasonal or occasional use, meaning they are unoccupied for much of the year, said Harry Higgins, a senior planner for Scottsdale. Many of those homes are valued in the millions.
“These are people who have several homes around the country, around the world, and they like it up there for the weather and the golf,” Higgins said.
Kaplan said he didn’t want to own another property, and the Four Seasons — a five-star resort near Pinnacle Peak — gives him nice digs while he’s here and no worries while he’s gone.
“We take advantage of everything that’s out there,” he said. “It’s a great setup. It’s like having an extended vacation.”
While here, winter visitors like to take advantage of the amenities Scottsdale is known for, such as its nightlife and arts scene. But it’s difficult to gauge just how much money they bring to the area, said Steve Happel, an economics professor at Arizona State University who has studied winter visitors’ effect on the state.
“It probably has a very big impact on Scottsdale,” he said.
Most of Happel’s work is focused on Valley visitors who stay in trailer parks because they’re fairly easy to find. Scottsdale is different, with many of the visitors spread out in resorts and other lodgings.
However, the average downtown art gallery relies on tourists and winter visitors for 60 percent of its business during the winter season, the 2005 Scottsdale Downtown Retail Study reported.
“A lot of people come to Scottsdale looking for Southwestern or Western art. That’s what we’re known for,” said Kathy Duley, co-owner of Duley-Jones Gallery. “But some people are surprised by what they find here. It’s very cuttingedge contemporary.”
Ed and Suzanne Howe, from Milwaukee, stopped by the Legacy Gallery to look for pieces from their favorite artist.
They’ve decorated their cottage in Wisconsin with Southwestern art, but their home near the Arizona Biltmore Resort has a Tuscany style, Suzanne Howe said.
Ed Howe said he thinks Phoenix is like Milwaukee in a lot of ways, with its major league sports, theater, museums and restaurants.
“You can tell we like good restaurants,” he said, patting his belly.
Golf is another big draw for winter visitors.
“It’s a humbling game,” said Wayne Zwickey, 77, as he smacked a ball into the distance at McCormick Ranch Golf Club.
The retired geologist has been coming to Scottsdale for 10 years during the winter. He and his wife stay in a condo near Via Linda and Mountain View Road and use their time to play bridge, hike and golf.
They had their car shipped to Scottsdale after flying here commercially.
It didn’t cost much, he said, and it was worth it to avoid a long drive in potentially dangerous weather.
The area’s many golf courses made Scottsdale a prime destination for Carol Robertson Trembley and her husband when they first began wintering here in 1969. But she found her niche in art.
Trembley takes art classes every year at the Scottsdale Artists’ School, where classes begin at about $275 and weeklong workshops can cost up to $800.
Trembley, 82, tries to paint once a week, but usually waits for inspiration to strike.
“Monet did his best painting when he was 84, so I’m working on it,” she said.
The school is always busy between January and March, said Celeste Winters, the school’s executive director.
Though winter visitors come here to shop and play in warmer weather, some also take the opportunity to get involved in the community.
Trembley volunteers at the artists school in addition to taking classes. She was instrumental in organizing the school’s art library, Winters said.
Jim Norick, a former mayor of Oklahoma City, spends time as a volunteer at the Mayo Clinic’s information desk. He and his wife stay in a condo at McCormick Ranch.
Of the approximately 800 volunteers at Scottsdale Healthcare, about 100 are winter visitors, said Aona McDonald, director of the hospitals’ volunteer services. The winter months are really busy for the hospital, and the extra hands help with the work, she said.
The Scottsdale Cultural Council could not operate without its winter volunteers, who usher at plays and help with festivals, said Leslie Halmi, the council’s volunteer program liaison.
“They want to be part of the community even though they’re part time,” she said.
Roger Mohr, 71, lives near the Stagebrush Theatre and enjoys taking in the shows during his time away from Minnesota.
But one of his favorite things about Scottsdale, he said, is the hospitality of the natives.
“People have been so warm and welcoming and we appreciate that,” he said.