Live music was a must when the listing real estate firm for Marabou Ranch planned a picnic this summer. Country Western recording artist Clay Walker, with no fewer than five No. 1 hit singles to his credit, was booked for the party by DMB Real Estate of Scottsdale, Ariz.
At risk of over-dramatizing the significance of Mr. Walker's performance here July 8, the gig was emblematic of changes that are coming to the valley.
DMB was chosen to market the 55 multi-million dollar home sites at Marabou because of its track record as a developer and real estate firm, which has produced a loyal following of investors. Marabou will be built on 1,717 acres west of Steamboat Springs and north of U.S. Highway 40.
Booking big name entertainment for soft-sell marketing picnics where prospective buyers are hosted is one of the ways DMB sends a subtle message -- everything at Marabou will be first class.
Michael Richards of DMB's Marabou sales office in Steamboat Springs said engaging performing artists like Walker is an important piece of marketing the development.
"There's a whole strategy involved in establishing one of these projects, as we create awareness," Richards said. "It establishes value. It establishes credibility. It establishes substance."
Michelle Olson, a public relations executive working on the Marabou project, said the artists who perform at DMB parties are chosen with great deliberation.
"We choose the artist carefully for their personality, their values and what they believe in," Olson said.
The prospective buyers at Marabou are people who can go anywhere and do anything, she said. They might find themselves with backstage passes at a concert by a major performing artist, but that won't provide the experience they'll enjoy at an intimate DMB gathering, where the artist is apt to relax with a glass of wine and chat with the guests after the performance.
The DMB team is looking for artists who have demonstrated genuine personalities and a social ease that allows them to be comfortable mingling in small groups. Not every performer fits that bill.
At another DMB party in another state, it was soft rocker Kenny Loggins who entertained. In another circumstance, it was Washington Post journalist and author Bob Woodward who added a special note to a DMB event.
At Marabou, engaging performers such as Walker, and Mark Wills, who performed at an event at the Steamboat Yacht Club during the Winter Carnival, is part of defining the story that helps to sell "ranch preservation home sites" to buyers.
"You've got to tell a story," Richards said.
Filling a niche
Marabou Ranch is one of just three luxury home subdivisions at various stages of development within a 10-minute drive of the Steamboat Springs city limits.
If all are successful, they will combine to bring unprecedented wealth to the Yampa Valley. Along with Marabou, Alpine Mountain Ranch and Steamboat River Ranch represent up to 137 home sites. Conservatively they can be expected to sell for prices from $1.5 million to $4.5 million. Those prices would yield a combined gross of hundreds of millions of dollars. And that's before any houses are built.
Alpine Ranch, being developed by former Vail CEO and President Andy Daly with prolific Cincinnati developer Bill Butler, isn't going for the glitz of recording artists. However, the developers recently announced they would contribute $15,000 from the sale of each of 20 lots in their project, up to $300,000, into a fund to improve elk habitat along a six-mile stretch between their project and the foot of Rabbit Ears Pass.
Six miles up the valley, Saratoga, Calif., developer Robert Comes has expressed interest in creating Steamboat Valley Ranch, which would create 19 homes on 531 acres offering spectacular trophy trout fishing where the Yampa River pours clear and cold out of the base of Catamount dam.
All three developments were proposed under Routt County's Land Preservation Subdivision Ordinance.
The ordinance has proven itself as a tool to keep intact much of the large hay meadows on the floor of the Yampa Valley and the upland shrub habitat on the mountainsides.
Colorado law provides that anyone owning at least 35 acres of rural property may build a home on that parcel without going through the local county planning process. Thus, anyone with 350 acres of land could build roads and 10 houses, each on its own 35-acre parcel.
Essentially, Routt County's LPS process avoids this patchwork-quilt style of development that cuts a working landscape into parcels where agriculture is no longer practical and wildlife patterns are disrupted. It accomplishes this goal by rewarding developers who agree to cluster their home sites on say, 5-acre lots, at one end of a much larger parcel. The reward comes in the form of an expedited planning process and permission to create bonus lots above the number that could be squeezed onto every 35 acres.
The LPS ordinance was amended early in 2006 to allow another tool to be brought into play. Alpine Mountain Ranch represents the first attempt to transfer development rights from an unrelated parcel to a development parcel. If Daly and Butler succeed in purchasing a suitable piece of ground nearby on the valley floor, they will be able to separate its development rights and transfer them to their development, allowing 20 additional lots to be marketed.
Sensitivity to the landscape
Marabou developer Jeff Temple has been around the horse pasture once or twice already in this game.
He has been visiting Walton Creek with a fishing rod in his hands since he was a little boy. His grandfather took him out across the hay meadows in an old pickup, and together they would slip into the shade of the cottonwoods and coax speckled brook trout out of the pockets of water behind the boulders in the stream.
So, as certainly as brookies will bite on a grasshopper in August, it was clear from the beginning that Temple and his brother, Jamie, were going to develop Storm Mountain Ranch with sensitivity for the landscape.
Storm Mountain Ranch includes 1,063 acres just a couple of miles from the ski slopes at Mount Werner and just south of the city limits of Steamboat Springs. It has become the prime example of how Routt County's Land Preservation Subdivision Ordinance can allow the development of luxury homes to take place while conserving large parcels of intact hay meadows and natural habitat.
Storm Mountain Ranch, with its 17 home sites, won a "Smart Growth" award from Gov. Roy Romer in 1998.
In spite of, or perhaps thanks to, the deluxe vacation homes destined to be built at Marabou, ranches such as this one may represent the future of the beef industry in the valley. Temple, whose paternal grandparents ran Focus Guest Ranch on the Wyoming state line for many years, said Marabou would do more than pretend to be a working ranch.
"We're serious about the business. (Ranch foreman) Chad Bedell is a cowman. We have some very productive hay fields, and we'll also do some dry land rye on the fields up above," Temple said. "Cattle raised on the ranch will graze on grass exclusively with very few pesticides or herbicides used to control weeds. Instead, sheep and goats may be introduced to control weeds."
Marabou has frontage on the Elk River and is composed of four historic family ranches. Temple's partners are Mark Hall and Jeff Jepson.
Closer to Steamboat Springs, Daly and Butler obtained major permits from Routt County on June 15 to build Alpine Mountain Ranch. They were already in the process of taking reservations on the first 19 lots in Phase 1.
They are approved for 43 homes sites but could add 20 more if they are able to acquire the separate piece of land in the South Valley and transfer development rights to Alpine Mountain.
Daly is enthusiastic about the way Routt County has chosen to balance the demand for rural estate lots with the desire to preserve the open spaces of the valley. '