SPEARFISH | Owners of the Frawley Ranch bordering two miles of Interstate 90 near Spearfish have embraced a master plan for the 5,000-acre property they say will encourage commercial and residential development while retaining the ranch’s historic character.
Denver developer Daryll Propp and his partner, Mike Kreke, head of the German retail giant Douglas Holdings, purchased the property in 1998. The property included the Frawley Ranch, the Anderson Dairy Farm and some of the most scenic, accessible and buildable land in western South Dakota.
After investing $30 million in its purchase, the men have begun developing home sites and commercial plots near Interstate 90’s Exit 17.
In coming months, the city of Spearfish will consider voluntary annexation of 160 acres of the Frawley Ranch bordering Colorado Boulevard, allowing commercial development to proceed along I-90’s frontage road leading from Highway 85 into the Queen City.
“We brought all the water and sewer from Exit 14 to Exit 17 at our cost,” Propp said. “Everything is ready for development.”
The $3 million in infrastructure improvements will allow a mix of commercial and residential development along Colorado Boulevard, said Propp, who was in the Black Hills last week to meet with prospective commercial clients for the property.
“We’ll develop commercial along the frontage road, then explore affordable housing, senior living, a service station, store and restaurant complex at the southwest corner of the interchange,” he said. “This will improve the tax base for Spearfish. That’s what it’s all about — getting some rooftops.”
The commitment of Propp and his partner hasn't gone unnoticed at Spearfish City Hall. Last week, City Administrator Joe Neeb described the relationship between Propp and his investors and the city as a “true partnership.”
“Mr. Propp has been a very good partner with the city and he’s followed through with everything he’s said,” Neeb said. “I believe we’ve done the same with him. What we’ve appreciated most out of Daryll and his partners is that they believe Spearfish is important to what they’re doing. They treat it as home.”
In 2009, the Regional Health Network, parent of Rapid City Regional Hospital, purchased 70 acres near the I-90 Exit 17 interchange for approximately $5.5 million. At the time, then-CEO Richard Giesel said Regional Health officials wanted to lock in property along the fast-growing I-90 corridor.
Although residential development has commenced and commercial development is imminent, a spokesman for the health care company said last week, “Regional Health currently has no plans to develop the land it owns at Exit 17 off I-90.”
Nonetheless, Regional Health’s investment in property at the Elkhorn Ridge at Frawley Ranches has led to calls from potential developers, Propp said.
“We’ve had numerous inquiries about a hotel in that location because, with a hospital complex, families need some place to stay,” Propp said. “Our property here is so conveniently located to the highway system and the access to homes isn’t on a hill, which can be problematic in winter. People like Spearfish and they like to live here.”
They also like to stay in Centennial Valley.
Propp and his partners poured $15 million into the Elkhorn Ridge RV Resort before it opened seven years ago with 36 cabins, 190 full-hookup sites, Wifi, swimming pool, hot tubs, tennis courts, an event center and store.
Their attention to detail, including the life-size bronze sculptures of wildlife scattered throughout the resort, earned them a place on AAA’s and Good Sam’s list of the top 100 RV resorts in the U.S.
The Elkhorn Ridge partners also pumped nearly $6 million into the Elkhorn Ridge Golf Club, and they plan to add a back nine through a scenic limestone canyon by 2015, at a cost of another $3 million.
At the southeastern edge of the ranch property, a planned unit development known as Frawley Estates is approved for 72 homes and more than 15 have already been built, some with price tags exceeding $2 million.
“We’re real pleased and we’re back on track after the latest housing bubble,” Propp said while touring the development.
A second housing development, Elkhorn Ridge Golf Estates, is offering moderately priced lots, all with frontage on the golf course, he noted.
“The biggest thing for us is we owe no debt on anything up here,” Propp said. “We don’t want people to think that we might pull the plug some day. Who would we pull it on? Ourselves? We have no debt.”
Pat Wyss of Wyss Associates, the Rapid City-based landscape architecture planning firm responsible for developing the Elkhorn Ridge master plan, said in his 33 years in business he seldom has had the opportunity to work with a project encompassing so many components with such an exceptional backdrop.
“The land is spectacular,” said Wyss, who has been working on Elkhorn Ridge for a dozen years. “It’s a classic niche property with Black Hills character, limestone canyons and centennial prairie all within 5,000 acres. It really captures a slice of the beautiful landscapes of the northern Black Hills, of which 2,800 acres is set aside as a conservation easement in perpetuity.”
Wyss said “tens of thousands of man-hours” already had been committed to the planning process by consultants in engineering, transportation and architecture.
“In the planning process, we came to the conclusion that there will be development on the ranch and we should keep it centered on Exit 17, because highways already have disturbed that area,” Wyss explained. “If we concentrated development around the interchange, it would allow us to leave the vast majority of the ranch undisturbed.”
Wyss, who has designed projects as diverse as a camping resort in Virginia to alpine trails in California, as well as golf courses in a half-dozen states, said his fondest hope is that his work and his client’s commitment preserve the rural nature and beauty of the Frawley Ranch even in the midst of development.
“When this project is complete I hope, and believe it’s intentional, that it retains its historic character while allowing modern uses and conveniences,” he said. “When it’s done, our vision is this becomes western South Dakota’s Dakota Dunes.”