On New Year’s Day, 1960, Del Webb Corp. opened the first Sun City community in the country, located in Phoenix, Ariz. The developer expected maybe 5,000 or 10,000 people to show up for the opening.
Estimates show that somewhere around 100,000 people were on hand for the event, and more than 250 homes sold that first weekend.
But even with that history, when Del Webb Corp. looked toward Las Vegas as a site for a new Sun City community, company executives felt they were taking a gamble. In 1988, Las Vegas was not yet the Mecca it is today for retirees across the country. Where today, 90 percent of future retirees have their eyes and hearts set on Las Vegas, in 1988 the feeling was that a community such as Sun City would be too quiet, too conservative to fit into Southern Nevada.
Jump ahead 10 years. In September of 1999, Del Webb sold out the last home in the last phase of the 7,800-home Sun City Summerlin community, a 10-year project brought to fruition and built out. Along the way, the community has encompassed three golf courses, four multi-million-dollar recreation centers and retail and commercial establishments. Every year the residents of Sun City Summerlin pump more than $180 million into the Las Vegas economy, and the direct and indirect economic impact from the construction is estimated at over $1 billion dollars.
With the success of Sun City Summerlin has come two more Del Webb communities in Las Vegas. Sun City Anthem and Sun City MacDonald Ranch are both already selling, and selling well. Sun City MacDonald Ranch is slated for 2,500 homes, while Del Webb’s newest active adult community, Sun City Anthem, will include 9,300 homes.
Part of the overall Summerlin master plan, Sun City was actually the impetus for bringing infrastructure to the area. Del Webb brought in roads, sewer and waterlines, and worked with The Hughes Corporation on the permanent infrastructures. Everything within the property was up to Del Webb, but The Hughes Corporation worked with the developer on bringing the facilities to the edge of the property.
As well, Del Webb Corp. had to confront the issue that impacts all builders in the desert: water. Some parts of Sun City Summerlin and Sun City Anthem rise 600 to 800 feet off the valley floor, giving residents spectacular views but also creating challenges in supplying them with water.
“The water district works with the community to open up new pressure zones as the elevations at which development is occurring in the valley increase,” says Frank Panlcratz, a senior vice president with Del Webb. “As development goes up toward the foothills and elevations increase, [delivering water] requires some extra booster pumps.”
Water wasn’t the only natural challenge that faced the Sun City Summerlin project. There were also desert tortoises. Although a builder can currently pay an environmental impact fee to Clark County and avoid the need to search and relocate desert tortoises, Del Webb contributed $1 million to establish a protective habitat for the tortoise and other desert animals. The developer continues to search for and relocate the animals during construction.
With every community it builds, Del Webb Corp. takes away more information for the next community. Upon developing a new community, the company surveys the residents for feedback, trying to find out what they like and what they don’tlike, what they want to see more of, less of, or just want changed.
“One area of more involvement is computers,” says Pankratz, “so computer clubs and computers will be a large component of our community here in Sun City Anthem.” Another trend they’ve discovered is the desire of residents to stay active. Walking is so popular that an indoor walking track was built in the Phoenix Sun City West, and one is slated for Anthem, although Summerlin was too far through construction to add a track to that location.
Del Webb officials were concerned when they made their initial forays into Nevada, uncertain how a retirement community would be received in the state. But with Nevada’s favorable business and economic climate, the availability of part-time work for those residents who want it, the absence of a state income tax and the favorable economic climate, they made the jump.
Retirees followed. Sometimes, they followed their own children. “A lot of our residents have followed children who have relocated to Las Vegas,” says Pankratz. Other draws include the climate and the entertainment available in-house, in-town, or in the nearby national parks. “A lot of our residents are involved in hiking, sightseeing, ski clubs, camping and so on,” says Pankratz, or they’re from Southern California and like the easy access to cultural events and friends and relatives left behind.
At the end of a 10-year gamble, Del Webb has sold out the last home in the last phase of Sun City Summerlin and launched two more imminently successful communities in the area. Pankratz recently read a report stating the Las Vegas valley is listed as the number one retirement spot in the country; according to a National Homebuilder’s Association survey, the city is expected to remain number one through the year 2006.
Del Webb’s 10-year gamble has paid off — in spades.