The vision for SunRiver St. George began when some of Las Vegas stockbroker Darcy Stewart’s clients invited him to a play at Sun City Nevada. He noticed the people at Sun City were having fun and actually enjoying retirement. “There was a stark difference between how happy Sun City residents were compared to other retirees.”
Seeing happy retired seniors sparked in Darcy a dream of an active adult golf course community his father would enjoy living in. Similar to what he had seen in Sun City, but better, and even more alive. Instead of putting his community in a metropolitan area of millions as the Del Webb model did, he envisioned placing it in a rural setting without the problems inherent in big cities. He envisioned putting his development in a small city with all the amenities residents would want within reach and no traffic congestion.
A small city like St. George, Utah.
Fast forward to 1996: Darcy was introduced to Grant Marsh, who wanted to build a golf course community and provided the necessary resources to make it happen. With their shared vision, a small group of investors and a lot of passion, 690 acres of inaccessible dusty desert just south of Bloomington has become a beautiful community–SunRiver St. George.
In fall of 1997, SunRiver St. George broke ground in grand style to create a community on a scale that St. George had never experienced. With a D8 CAT as a backdrop and mounds of white dirt, a shotgun was fired–a fitting start to a golf course community–to signal the start of earth-moving. From humble beginnings, the infrastructure and planning began to take shape.
Six months later, within a building timeframe that would be unachievable today, SunRiver participated in the first of 21 continuous years of Parade of Homes entries with a beautiful model home, and due to special access on a dirt road for the first week of the event, SunRiver was officially on display.
Shortly after, seven more model homes were completed along with a beautiful sales center and design center. The new sales center provided a perfect vista for prospective buyers to survey the mostly dirt that would grow to become SunRiver. The sales staff would stand and point to a 22-foot red flag nearly three blocks away that marked the future site of the new Community Center, then to a patch of dirt and explain, “That is where the 10th tee box will be located.” Tenacity, perseverance, belief and hope in the vision have been present from those early days.
Darlene and Gary Odenwalder were the first pioneers of SunRiver, believing in the vision and becoming the first home purchased in June of 1998. “We started with a handful of brave residents who had enough faith in this glorious vision to risk it all and actually buy a home here,” said Joan Langston, Community Fitness Director. “The golf course wasn’t here; there wasn’t a roof over the indoor pool, and no outdoor pool, ballroom, library, game room or multi-purpose room.” It is so gratifying that the Odenwalders are still part of the community, as are many of our early founding residents.
In the fall of 1998, SunRiver became the first-time host and long-time sponsor of the Huntsman World Senior Games. That first year, the staff joined together under a tent in the parking lot to serve hamburgers in the pouring rain to the Huntsman participants.
How things have changed! Nowadays, scores of willing SunRiver residents and staff coordinate multiple events throughout the two-week Games every summer. Many of our residents are also participants and tough competitors in the Huntsman events.
The year 1999 marked the grand opening of the Community Center. SunRiver now had 100 homes, but with limited finances, there was no landscape crew to maintain the community. Darcy sent out word for employees, their families and any residents who were willing: “come to a weed-pulling party to clean up SunRiver.” Not only did they come to help, they made it into a community outing. Some say that was the start of the closeness and feeling of family that residents and visitors feel in SunRiver.
In 2001, the first Discovery Villas opened. Visitors and prospective residents could now stay at SunRiver and experience a taste of resort-style living.
The second New Model and Sales Center opened and now there was more than dirt and flags for future residents to look at from the windows. Advertising included the provocative question, “Retirement lasts more than 7,000 days. What are you going to do on day 1,261?” Retirees responded, and SunRiver continued to evolve.
By 2002, the golf course grass had grown in and the course opened for play. As any event in SunRiver, the opening of the course was a celebration.
“Only 20 percent of the people that live in a golf course community play golf, but they all want to live in a golf course community,” said Darcy.
The first church in SunRiver was dedicated in 2003. What made the dedication unique was that it was for SunRiver residents, not just a church placed in the community to serve the surrounding neighborhoods. Filling out the SunRiver vision of an active lively 55+ lifestyle, Darcy had the first four tennis courts built at the Community Center.
The management team moved its offices from downtown St. George to SunRiver in 2004. In 2005, the ballroom, outside pool, library, game and multi-purpose rooms were added to the Community Center. Just when it seemed as though things were getting easier for SunRiver, severe rainstorms swelled the Virgin River and flooded eleven holes of the golf course turning the now-maturing grass into crevices, sand and sludge. The course had to be closed until the holes, greens and fairways could be rebuilt and opened again in December of the same year.
The Reflections gated community is opened in 2006, the same year SunRiver sells its 1000th home to Craig and Deanna Hall. Four sports courts are added on to the Community Center, combining a pickleball court at each end of tennis courts.
SunRiver now has fourteen pickleball courts, and a growing pickleball club thanks largely to the efforts of Don Odle, an immigrant from northern California.
The golf course clubhouse and restaurant move from their trailer to a permanent building in 2007, and in 2009 the Southern Parkway exit, #2 from I-15 opens.
Since the beginning, access to SunRiver has improved from a dirt road that meandered through neighboring communities to direct access from the interstate via its own exit. The City of St. George even extended its trail system out to SunRiver, linking miles of paved and maintained city trails to the community’s back door.
Lawn bowling, a sport that can trace its origins back to the Roman Empire, became part of SunRiver in 2011 with the opening of the lawn bowl courts adjacent to the Community Center.
Anniversaries are an excellent excuse to celebrate, and at SunRiver, celebrations are lively and exciting. The year 2013 marked SunRiver’s 15th anniversary with a performance by The Lettermen, car shows and a week-long festival including power parachutes, the Taiko Project, a Roaring 20s themed dance and special performance by Rok Dox–a band made up of local doctors and a perennial SunRiver favorite.
Recognizing that partying was part of the SunRiver essence, management built the outdoor performance stage at the golf course in 2015, and also added a putting green. In the same year, the first phase of the Adventure Storage/Mancaves was completed and offered for sale.
The open house gala included live music, tours of the units and free food.
In 2016, a new phase of the vision comes to life as construction on the SunRiver Villas infrastructure begins. The last of the lots in the Reflections gated community are sold in 2017, completing that part of the SunRiver vision.
The first hotel on SunRiver property, the Hampton Inn and Suites, is completed and holds its grand opening in 2018. The first two units in the Villas open, introducing luxury twin homes to the community complete with access to the golf course and The Riverwalk Grill, as well as the Villas’ own clubhouse and activities.
The year ahead will most likely see the total sell-out of new homes at SunRiver, with the complete build out to follow in 2019. City officials have said that this size of active-adult golf course community will never be repeated in St. George–a rare moment in time and execution of a dream has resulted in this thriving, resort lifestyle community. SunRiver’s mission has never been about merely building homes, it’s about enriching lives as Darcy envisioned all those years ago. Lisa McCloud, SunRiver’s Lifestyle Director, described the lifestyle here by saying, “SunRiver St. George is the Disneyland of retirement communities!”
Thanks for these 20 years of fun!