How the Black Desert Resort in Ivins will transform southern Utah and St. George

Ivin’s • Of all the adjectives used to describe Black Desert Resort, the $2 billion golf, dining and hospitality mecca under construction in Ivins, 8 miles northwest of downtown St. George , perhaps a three-letter adjective sums it up best.

Large. Very large!

Black Desert dwarfs all other resorts in the region in size and rivals some of the best known national entertainment brands. Sitting on 630 acres between Ivins and Santa Clara, Black Desert is nearly four times the size of Disneyland, which opened in 1955 on 160 acres in Anaheim, California and still dwarfs the resort’s 500 acres today.

The size of Black Desert is also impressive numerically. The proposed 3,330 living spaces — rooms and condos — are more than quadruple the 775 rooms offered by the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City.

When completed, the mega-resort developed by Reef Capital Partners will include hotels and condominiums, a resort pool, conference center and wellness spa, 75 single-family homes, 80,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, 214,000 square feet of commercial space, underground parking and miles of walking trails on site.

“It will be the largest resort in the state by far,” said Patrick Manning, managing partner of Black Desert Resort.

(Mark Eddington | The Salt Lake Tribune) Patrick Manning, left, and Joe Platt go through the map of the 630-acre Black Desert Resort in Ivins, Thursday, August 3, 2023.

Affordable luxury, golf bliss

In addition, it will offer numerous other amenities that Manning pointed out during a recent tour of the property. First up will be the Desert Boardwalk, a 900-meter pedestrian-only boardwalk lined with restaurants, boutiques and galleries that will be open to the general public.

Manning said the restaurants — more than two dozen scattered throughout the resort — will range from fun fare to fine dining, but will not include fast-food franchises. Likewise, he explained, the stores will be upscale but not overpriced. To explain his philosophy of affordable luxury, Manning often cites the resort’s motto: “Remarkable in reach and luxury without pretense.”

“I never imagined a Louis Vuitton [store] or something like that,” he said.

Other amenities that are in the works or on the drawing boards include the Family Village with a lazy river and waterfalls, zip lines and rope bridges, surfing simulators, and a climbing rock. The Golf Village west of the Desert Boardwalk will feature a 36-hole putting and driving range, virtual golf simulators playable day and night, hot tubs, common areas for card games, and a sports bar with big-screen TVs and a rooftop deck.

Desert Boardwalk and the Family and Golf Villages will also have condominiums. The resort’s north and south villages, which are at opposite ends of the resort, are reserved for single-family homes.

One of Black Desert’s main attractions is the 19-hole championship golf course designed by late golfer Tom Weiskopf. Its lush greens, lava fields and nearby red rock cliffs prompted noted golf architect Phil Smith to compare the course, which opened in May, to Hawaii and Arizona rolled into one.

A course reviewer from Golfweek magazine described the course as the total package. “Black Desert blew my mind. … The black lava rock is so unique that I haven’t seen it anywhere else on the mainland,” he said. Plus, you get a beautiful, expansive view of the red canyons from every hole.”

These awards led to Black Desert Resort being selected to host Utah’s first PGA Tour events in six decades. The Black Desert Championship, slated for fall 2024, is expected to have up to $75 million in economic impact on Greater Zion, according to resort officials. The resort will also host the world’s top female golfers at an LPGA event planned for spring 2025.

As prestigious as that is, Manning still wants to expand the resort. Black Desert’s course was the 73rd and final course designed by Weiskopf, and the developers want to honor his legacy by building an open-air restaurant that will be called Club 73.

Elsewhere, the resort will feature the Oasis, a rooftop restaurant where guests will have 360-degree views of the area’s scenic surroundings. The venue will be surrounded by 200 hectares of land that will never be developed. These will be listed and donated to the town of Ivins. In addition, seven miles of hiking trails will be created for the resort to develop and maintain.

Music, Utah Jazz and Las Vegas Raiders

Black Desert’s master plan also calls for the construction of another hotel near Santa Clara at the south end of the property, which will include a 1,000-plus seat arena with a retractable roof for music concerts that hotel guests can watch from their balconies . By removing the seats, the arena can become a basketball court.

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Manning imagines the Utah Jazz coming, practicing, and mingling with the fans. He’s also courting the NFL, having met with the Las Vegas Raiders a few weeks ago to discuss the possibility of the team training in Black Desert. Manning said team officials have expressed interest.

“We believe Black Desert will become a world-class golf destination, a world-class music and arts venue, and a world-class dining destination,” said Manning, adding that the resort will also become a meeting point for locals.

While the resort’s hotels, condos, pools, golf courses, and other amenities are available to owners or paying guests, the public can browse the shops and stroll the trails for free.

Water and traffic are fluid problems

The reactions to the Black Desert Resort were mostly positive. Still, the resort’s large construction footprint has raised some concerns. Ivins resident Paul Kay, an avid golfer, is excited about the upcoming PGA events but said retirees who have a steady income in the area can’t afford to shell out $250 to play payable to the resort’s championship course. He’s also worried about water.

“We live in a desert, so water is a very valuable commodity,” said the retiree. “I don’t know if we can sustain the growth we’re seeing here without running out of water. Building golf courses in the desert that aren’t being used by people in the community is probably not the best idea.”

With the heat and ongoing drought in the US Southwest, water remains a sensitive issue — not just for Black Desert, but for all development in the St. George region. Water and local government officials confirm that the Washington County Water Conservancy District is near exhaustion when it comes to the availability of water for new growth.

Manning said the development team shared these concerns, so they used the latest technology to conserve water.

(Black Desert Resort) The 9th hole at Black Desert Resort in Ivins.

“We’re only using about a third of the water that would normally be used at a resort like this if we didn’t take these measures,” he said.

Black Desert has title to some water through a treaty negotiated between St. George and the previous owner of the land. As part of the agreement, St. George will provide the resort with 450 hectares of secondary and reuse water annually, which will be used to irrigate the golf course.

According to Chuck Gillette, that city’s director of public works, Ivins will provide the resort with 461 acre-feet (461 acres) of feed water per year. Santa Clara’s annual contribution is much more flexible, especially with the bulk of the resort’s development currently taking place on the Ivins portion of the property. Based on his discussions with the developer, Santa Clara Mayor Rick Rosenberg estimates that his city’s annual contribution would be less than 600 acre-feet of feed and secondary water.

That’s up to 1,511 acre-feet of water — over 492 million gallons — flowing into the resort each year. According to the Water District’s formula, this total would meet the annual water needs of more than 2,500 homes.

Traffic is another concern, especially given the estimated 600,000 visitors the resort will attract each year. Manning said traffic will be largely reduced because guests have everything they need at the resort and little reason to venture out and clog the surrounding streets and communities.

Ivins Mayor Chris Hart said the resort’s location in east Ivins will mean that traffic will not flow through the more western parts of town and the main part of the city. He said most visitors access the resort via the Snow Canyon Parkway and other major roads that are well-equipped to handle the heavier traffic.

For their part, St George’s officials don’t seem too concerned.

“We don’t anticipate any major traffic impact initially,” said David Cordero, spokesman for St. George. “There could be an impact for larger events at the venue, which we will monitor and rectify as necessary.”

St. George’s master plan includes a potential expansion of the Snow Canyon Parkway from four to seven lanes between 2000 North and Bluff Streets, which would help reduce traffic congestion. However, Cordero said there is no certainty as to when and if that expansion will happen.

The Black Desert team gets high marks

Despite these concerns, most city officials and many local residents commend Manning and members of his development team for their transparency and willingness to reach out to community members and listen to their concerns.

Officials in surrounding towns are also excited about the resort’s impact on the community treasury and the region’s economy. According to Black Desert figures, the resort is expected to generate $57 million in temporary room taxes and $33 million in sales taxes over its first 40 years of operation. The resort will also employ around 2,500 people.

Hart is pleased that Black Desert is using the urban brand Ivins throughout its advertising, which he says will help raise awareness for the small town.

“Ivins is now being seen by people around the world and the name will be recognized over time,” the mayor said.

Vicki Varela, executive director of the Utah Office of Tourism, also commends the resort and developers.

“The Black Desert Resort is a spectacular addition to southwest Utah’s lodging and leisure offering,” she said. “They are doing this from the start, protecting 67 percent of the land as lookout points for residents and visitors alike. The luxurious accommodations and amenities demonstrate that Utah is a highly desirable, exquisite destination that is well worth the investment.”

Construction of the Black Desert resort center and part of the golf village is expected to be completed in fall 2024. The rest of the resort will be completed over the next few years.

Justin Scaccy

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