WASHINGTON CITY, Washington County — The population of Washington County increased by 76 percent in the 1990s as more companies, families and retirees found the climate and lifestyle of Utah's Dixie to be to their liking.
An Arizona developer is gambling that trend will continue, in a big way, over the next 15 to 20 years.
Assuming it does, SunCor Development Corp. will be in a position to take advantage. And the cities of Washington City and Hurricane could benefit, too — from increased tax revenues and from having a tailor-made location where newcomers can find affordable homes and a well-planned living environment.
SunCor is developing Coral Canyon, a 3,000-plus home subdivision — or master-planned community as SunCor prefers to call it — on about 2,700 acres near the interchange of I-15 and U-9 north of St. George. About half of that land will remain as open space.
The bulk of the project is in Washington City but part of it, including a major commercial area that could eventually feature large retail stores such as Home Depot, is in Hurricane.
Coral Canyon's 18-hole golf course opened in 2000 and has been nominated for best new course of the year by Golf Digest. Only about two dozen homes have been built so far and much of the land remains untouched.
But what will unfold in the coming years will be like a city within a city, including a main street with a small-town feel, a 12-acre park with athletic fields, an elementary school and churches.
"It's a place where people will want to be," said Mike Gardner, SunCor's general manager of the project who has moved from Arizona and is building his own house in Coral Canyon.
"Our idea is if your parents live there, there's a good chance if you want to live in that area when you want to start your family, you can live there, too — like communities used to be."
Coral Canyon is one of five master-planned communities now being developed by SunCor. The Phoenix-based company also is creating communities near Santa Fe, N.M., Phoenix, Prescott, Ariz., and Sedona, Ariz.
One reason why SunCor was attracted to Washington County is that traditional retirement areas in Arizona are becoming too crowded and no longer affordable, Gardner said.
"With the quality of life there deteriorating because it's just huge now, I think people are looking for something like this," he said.
Home prices will start as low as $98,000 and reach half a million dollars, Gardner said. The typical production home SunCor is building starts at $224,00 but, with options, can approach $300,000.
Washington County's population increased from 48,560 in 1990 to 85,406 in 2000. Washington City grew from 4,149 to 7,108 during that time, and Hurricane ballooned from 4,014 to 7,540.
Officials from both cities believe the trend will continue, and believe developments such as Coral Canyon allow them to plan and prepare for additional growth.
But if all 3,000 homes are built and an average of 3.3 people live in each one, that's a population increase of nearly 10,000 from one development alone. Much of that growth would occur in Washington City.
"From all of our studies that we have done, the city can handle that," said Ralph McClure, city manager of Washington City.
"Like anything else, as you add more to the city then you have to find more water resources. Power is not a problem. Water, we're going to have to drill wells or find some other source."
McClure said it is important, too, that the development grow at a fairly consistent and controlled pace. Too much or too little home construction could disrupt the developer's carefully laid plans, he said.
"I think the community can be real accessible if it develops on a time line," McClure said. "The more homes you get out there, then all of the other things start to come into play and all of the sudden you need a small commercial center to provide them with the necessities of life."
A small shopping area is planned for the Washington City side. It could include doctors offices, a dry cleaners, a small grocery, a day-care and restaurants, Gardner said.
While the plans for a larger retail center on the Hurricane side may take some time to unfold, Hurricane officials are willing to wait.
"We think it might be a real nice commercial area that might be very beneficial to us. We always like sales tax," said Clark Fawcett, Hurricane's city manager. "We know things will come, we just don't know what will be there and how quickly it will come. It depends on how patient they want to be.
"A lot of times developers will sell out to convenience stores and motels, and there's nothing wrong with that but that kind of sets the tone for the development."
SunCor does not plan to do that, Gardner said.
"We don't have anything planned for it right now but we have some concepts," Gardner said of the Hurricane side of the development. "It'll have regional, bigger box stores."
Between Wal-Mart, Micron, DATS Trucking Inc. and several other new businesses, Fawcett figures about 1,200 jobs have been added to the immediate area over the past six or seven years.
Gardner notes efforts by the state to promote southern Utah as the next Silicon Valley, inviting high-tech companies to begin new operations there rather than in the San Jose, Calif. area.
Coral Canyon has set aside land for a city fire station and will transfer ownership of the 12-acre park and a planned trail system to the city when they are completed.
The developers had to extend a sewer line to hook up with the St. George treatment plant. They also enhanced the I-15/U-9 interchange with direct access to the development beneath U-9.