Water, traffic and visitors: How a $2 billion mega-resort in southern Utah plans to fit in

Situated on 630 acres straddling Ivins and Santa Clara, Black Desert is nearly four times the original size of Disneyland.

(Black Desert Resort) Construction of resort space underway at Black Desert Resort in Ivins.

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

Big. Really big!

Sizewise, Black Desert dwarfs all other resorts in the region and stacks up favorably to some of the most famous national entertainment brands. Situated on 630 acres straddling Ivins and Santa Clara, Black Desert is nearly four times the original size of Disneyland, which opened on 160 acres in Anaheim, California, in 1955, and still eclipses that resort’s 500 acres today.

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Black Desert’s size is equally impressive number-wise. Its proposed 3,330 living spaces — rooms and condos — is more than four times the 775 rooms offered by Salt Lake City’s Grand America Hotel.

Upon buildout, the mega-resort being developed by Reef Capital Partners will include hotels and condominiums, a resort pool, a 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 on-site trails.

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

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

Affordable luxury, golfing bliss

It will also be chock-full of other amenities, many of which Manning pointed out during a recent tour of the property. For starters, it will have Desert Boardwalk, a 3,000-foot, pedestrian-only promenade of 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 vary from fun fare to fine dining but won’t include fast-food franchises. Likewise, he explained, the shops will be upscale but not overpriced. In explaining his affordable luxury philosophy, Manning often recites the resort motto: “Remarkable within reach and luxury without pretense.”

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

Other amenities in the works or on the drawing boards include the Family Village replete with a lazy river and waterfalls, zip lines and rope bridges, surf simulators and a climbing rock, among other things. The Golf Village west of Desert Boardwalk will feature a 36-hole putting course and driving range, virtual golf simulators that are playable day or 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 condos. The resort’s north and south villages, which will be situated at opposite ends of the resort, will be reserved for single-family homes.

One of Black Desert’s marquee attractions is its 19-hole championship golf course designed by late-golfing great Tom Weiskopf. Its lush greens, lava fields and nearby redrock cliffs prompted prominent golf architect Phil Smith to liken the course, which opened in May, to Hawaii and Arizona all rolled into one.

One course rater for Golfweek magazine called the course the total package. “Black Desert blew me away. … The black lava rock is so unique, I’ve never seen it anywhere else on the mainland,” he said. You also have beautiful sweeping vistas of the red canyons visible from every hole.”

Such accolades have resulted in Black Desert Resort being chosen to host the first PGA Tour events in Utah in six decades. The Black Desert Championship, which is slated for the fall of 2024, is expected to generate as much as $75 million in economic impact to the Greater Zion area, according to resort officials. The resort also will host the world’s best women golfers at an LPGA event slated for the spring of 2025.

As prestigious as that is, Manning still wants to step up the resort’s game. 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 dubbed “Club 73.”

Elsewhere, the resort will feature the Oasis, a rooftop restaurant where diners have a 360-degree view of the area’s scenic surroundings. The eatery will be encircled by 200 never-to-be-developed acres, which are being put in a conservation easement and donated to the city of Ivins, along with seven miles of trail the resort will 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, on the south end of the property, which will wrap around 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.

Manning envisions the Utah Jazz coming down, practicing and mingling with fans. He also is courting the NFL, having met with the Las Vegas Raiders several weeks ago to discuss the possibility of the team practicing at Black Desert. Manning said team officials expressed interest.

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

While the hotels, condos, pools, golf courses and other resort amenities are for owners or paying guests, the public will be able to browse the shops and walk the trails free of charge.

Water and traffic are fluid concerns

Reaction to Black Desert Resort has been largely favorable. Still, the resort’s large developmental footprint has sparked some concerns. Ivins resident Paul Kay, an avid golfer, is excited about the upcoming PGA events but said retirees living on fixed incomes in the area can’t afford to pay $250 to play the resort’s championship course. He also worries about water.

“We live in a desert, so water is a very valuable commodity,” the retiree said. “I don’t know if we can sustain the kind of growth we’ve been experiencing here without running out of water. Building golf courses in the desert that won’t be utilized by people in the community is probably not the best idea.”

Given the American Southwest’s heat and persistent drought, water remains a hot-button issue — not just for Black Desert but for all development in the St. George area. The Washington County Water Conservancy District, water and municipal officials attest, is nearly tapped out when it comes to the availability of water to supply new growth.

Manning said the development team shares those concerns, which is why they have employed 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 typically be used on a resort like this if we didn’t take those measures,” he said.

Black Desert has a property right to some water as a result of a deal worked out between St. George and the land’s previous owner. Under the arrangement, St. George will supply the resort with 450-acre feet of secondary and reuse water annually that will be used to water the golf course.

Ivins, according to that city’s public works director, Chuck Gillette, will supply the resort with 461 acre-feet of culinary water per year. Santa Clara’s yearly contribution is much more fluid, especially since most of the development at the resort is currently taking place on the Ivins portion of the property. Based on his discussions with the developer, Santa Clara Mayor Rick Rosenberg estimates his city’s annual contribution would be less than a combined 600 acre-feet of culinary and secondary water.

That amounts to as much as 1,511 acre-feet of water — over 492 million gallons — a year going to the resort. Using the water district’s formula, that total would meet the annual water demands of more than 2,500 homes.

Traffic is another worry, especially given the estimated 600,000 visitors the resort will attract each year. Manning said traffic will be mitigated to a large extent because guests will have everything they need at the resort and will have little reason to venture out and clog nearby streets and communities.

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

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

“We don’t expect any major traffic impacts initially,” St. George spokesperson David Cordero said. “For larger events at the venue, there could be impacts which we will monitor and address when necessary.”

St. George’s master plan calls for the potential expansion of Snow Canyon Parkway from four to seven lanes between 2000 North and Bluff Street, which would help ease traffic. Cordero, however, said there is no certainty when or if that expansion will take place.

Black Desert team gets high marks

Despite such concerns, most city officials and many area residents give Manning and members of his development team high marks for being transparent and willing to engage with members of the community and listen to their concerns.

Officials in nearby cities are also excited about the resort’s impact on municipal coffers and the area’s economy. According to Black Desert officials’ numbers, the resort is expected to generate $57 million in transient room taxes and $33 million in sales tax during its first 40 years of operation. The resort will also employ roughly 2,500 people.

Hart is pleased Black Desert is using the Ivins municipal brand in all its advertising, which he said will help raise awareness about the small city.

“Ivins is now going to be seen and the name recognized over time by people from all over the world,” the mayor said.

Utah Office of Tourism managing director Vicki Varela also praises the resort and developers.

“Black Desert Resort is a spectacular addition to southwestern Utah’s accommodations and recreation offerings,” she said. “They are doing this right from the start, protecting 67 percent of the land as view sheds for local residents and visitors alike. The luxury accommodations and recreational offerings document that Utah is a highly sought-after exquisite destination that is worth the investment.”

Construction on Black Desert’s resort center and part of the golf village is expected to be completed by the fall of 2024. The remainder of the resort will be finished within the next several years.