2006: Red Rock becomes a Rapid success story

Rapid City, S.D.

In a region that thrives on its connection with the outdoors, there’s not much need here for a guard house or a gated community. The whole point of living in South Dakota’s Black Hills, after all, is to keep in touch with the land. And the good thing about the Estates at Red Rock is that the design and overall plan allow you to live that way, and at a reasonable price.

Rapid City, with 70,000 residents and a metro area of 125,000, is a big small town rather than a city. With Denver 400 miles to the southwest and Minneapolis 620 miles east, the culture here is self-contained, but also surprisingly prosperous, thanks to tourism, agriculture, ranching and the spillover from defense spending at Ellsworth Air Force Base west of town.

Seven years ago, Rapid City natives Kevin Buntrock and Don Ward set out to build something that this modestly burgeoning town didn’t have: a well-planned golf course community. They were playing in a U.S. Mid-Amateur qualifier at Powder Horn in “nearby” Sheridan, Wyo., only 250 miles to the west, liked what they saw, and figured a version of it might work back home. Buntrock, a certified public accountant and former financial officer with a publicly traded casino firm, teamed with Ward, a commercial real estate developer.

They located and optioned 400 acres of land, eight miles south of downtown, in the foothills of the Black Hills near the mouth of Red Rock Canyon. Then they hired two local designers: land planner Randy Fisher and golf course architect Ron Farris, a protégé of Pete Dye.

In the process of gaining approvals for the site plan, the developers also managed to get the land annexed into the municipality of Rapid City with all of its services, including schools, fire and police. Not that it comes for free, since the Red Rock development adds considerably to the local tax base.

The final land plan called for 130 acres to be devoted to golf, with part of that land designated for drainage and post-development run-off. The rest of the land, 270 acres total, accommodates access roads and 285 homesites. Parcels are modest in size, one-third to 11⁄2 acres each for the individual homes, with an average lot size of a half-acre.

The property, sitting at a base elevation of 3,800 feet above sea level, has up to 200 feet of elevation change – not easy foothills on which to route golf, but ideal for dramatic lookouts and attractive homesites. As it turns out, the golf worked out ideally, to the point where Red Rock, opened in late 2002, is now ranked by Golfweek as the state’s No. 1 public-access layout.

When the first 34 home lots were released in spring 2000, two years before the golf course, it was clear that Red Rock struck a chord with potential buyers. All told, 205 individual home lots have been out on the market. Only 20 remain unsold.

Until Red Rock came along, it was common procedure in Rapid City for developers to sell lots directly to builders, who in turn built model or spec homes that were finished and offered to potential clients. In an effort to cultivate a more discriminating clientele, however, Red Rock set aside 80 percent of its lots for direct sale to residents, who would in turn customize their homes. The shift, from supplier to customer, worked well. Customers could indulge their tastes, and the resulting styles were more of a pastiche than a cookie-cutter.

Architectural standards are not onerous. They include a minimum main floor size of 1,700 square feet, plus limits on elevation to preserve views from nearby homes. Brick and masonry fronts predominate, as do earthier tones for exteriors.

“We allow plenty of flexibility for individual creativity,” says Buntrock, “while assuring continuity and community values.”

The diversity of design reflects the demographic variety at Red Rock, where residents are split equally between empty-nest retirees and working parents with children. For residents looking for more modest accommodations and less land to tend, Red Rock has 60 townhomes. The townhomes have an 1,800-square-foot main floor and 1,400 square feet on a lower level, with the option of completion by the builder. Prices range from $235,000 to $375,000. Or did, anyway. Now the townhomes are sold out. But a healthy resale market of finished homes already has developed.

Red Rock’s combination of outdoor life and quality community at a reasonable price has not only drawn folks from town but also from afar. When Troy Nesbitt, an anesthesiologist from the Cleveland area, was looking to relocate to Rapid City, he scouted out the region with his wife, Collette, a former school teacher. They came away impressed, he says, “by the quality of life, the relative value of a home, and the strength of the school system for our two boys.” The Nesbitts ended up buying a 5,000-square-foot home on 1.2 acres at Red Rock on the resale market.

City slickers might sneer at life out here. But there’s a lot to be said for the Rapid City area, including fresh water canoeing and fishing, extensive hunting grounds, and thousands of miles of hiking trails through Badlands National Park and Black Hills National Forest. Two million visitors per year flock to Mount Rushmore National Memorial, just 15 miles to the south.

Two hundred years ago, there were thundering herds of buffalo in the area. Now, the only rumbling is caused by the 500,000 motorcyclists who converge on the town of Sturgis the second week of each August. It’s the only regional disturbance to an otherwise idyllic mid-American lifestyle.








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