A New Day
Developer Bill Bone serves up the amenities that second- and vacation-home buyers demand.
William Bone is on the move again. He has sold his Palm Desert residence in anticipation of relocating to a brand-new home in Indian Wells’ exclusive Toscana Country Club, a switch he has planned for a long time. However, Bone has no complaints about life at Indian Ridge. Why should he? As founder and CEO of Sunrise Co., he built the place, along with several other luxurious desert communities. But for nearly 20 years, one of Bone’s key holdings sat vacant. Last fall, construction finally began on the 630-acre parcel north of the intersection of Fred Waring Drive and El Dorado Drive. The result will be worth the wait, according to Indian Wells City Manager Greg Johnson.
“It’s beautiful,” Johnson says. “It fits perfectly with the type of development we like to see in Indian Wells — a high-end, upscale, golf-course community that perfectly complements the rest of the residential communities that we have here. Bill Bone has always produced superior products, and he has a great reputation. We’re thrilled that he’s chosen to develop this piece of property, and we know it’s going to be the crown jewel of his most recent work.”
Focus and foresight
Bone started on his current career path early in life. His father owned a small hardware store and lumberyard. “I learned how to read plans for bidding on construction materials with contractors,” Bone recalls. “I used to drive the delivery truck out to job sites, and I became fascinated with construction.” That gave him an advantage over many of his business-school classmates.
“I was one of the few guys in my class that knew what he wanted to do and went out and did it when I got out,” Bone says. “Most people went there to figure out what they wanted to do, and when they got out, they changed jobs three or four or six times before they really found out. I was very focused. I knew I wanted to be a real estate developer.”
Bone worked on a variety of projects, including office buildings and shopping centers. “I got into the residential side sort of reluctantly,” he says. “It wasn’t something strategically I intended to do, but I had a couple of interesting opportunities and it grew from there.”
While building Sunrise Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Bone decided to specialize in golf-course communities. “I realized this was a niche that very few people understood,” he says. “It’s very complicated and very capital intensive. But if you can master all of the variables, it’s a good business. We have a very narrow focus, and I think that’s allowed us to become the best there is at what we do.”
Bone says his customers usually buy houses as second homes or vacation getaways and then make them their primary residences after retirement. Their needs and expectations differ from those of typical homebuyers, and the communities have to reflect that in the facilities and amenities they offer.
“Our goal is to figure out what these people want and give it to them,” Bone says. “We’ve done tremendous amounts of consumer research. To be successful in business, you need to learn to think like the customer.”
After Sunrise Country Club came Rancho Las Palmas Country Club in Rancho Mirage and Monterey Country Club in Palm Desert, and Bone set out to find sites for future development.
“People in 1981 were anxious to sell,” he says. “Interest rates were high and people were nervous about the economy, but I had complete confidence in the future of the Coachella Valley. I had lots of cash and I was buying land like crazy, because I knew the economy would return to normal. Over a period of three or four years, we acquired 2,300 contiguous acres of land.”
The Lakes Country Club and Palm Valley Country Club in Palm Desert took shape in the 1980s, and Sunrise worked with Landmark Land Co. in planning and developing PGA West in La Quinta. Marriott Corp. also partnered with Sunrise to build Marriott’s Desert Springs Resort and Spa. Not all of Bone’s plans came to fruition, however.
Change in the Weather
“We were going to develop another major hotel project, called Sunterra,” Bone says. “We had a deal to build three major hotels, several golf courses, a resort village, a health spa, and all of that. It became very controversial and people who were opposed to it sued us. Indian Wells approved it and they put it on the ballot, and the people voted to approve the project. We had the financing all arranged. But by the time we won all of the battles and the disputes, the international economy softened and the banking crisis in the United States was in full bloom.”
Out of the ashes of the resort project, a country-club community emerged — almost.
“When we abandoned the hotel plans in 1990, we designed Toscana and were starting the approval process,” Bone says. “But we could see the storm clouds on the economic horizon. We postponed our plans and held the property through the ’90s. Every time I see Baron Hilton he says, ‘Maybe we should have built that; it would have been very successful.’ But we didn’t. It was just a political football.”
The ’90s did bring Indian Ridge Country Club to Palm Desert, but much of Sunrise’s activity during this time took place outside the Coachella Valley, beginning with East Lake Country Club in Chula Vista, Calif.
The company formed a partnership with Los Angeles-based Colony Capital to acquire and develop master-planned residential golf communities nationwide. In 1998, construction began on Red Rock Country Club and Siena, an active senior community, both in the Las Vegas area. The following year saw construction begin on the Royal Oaks Country Club in Houston, Texas. Bone had many opportunities during the decade to think about his very large, very valuable property here in the valley. It became the last large parcel of land available for development in Indian Wells.
“There were times when I wished I had my money out of that so I could go do something else, but I would not have thought to sell it,” Bone says. “I knew it was a great parcel and that someday the market would be good and we’d be able to use it. I was very patient and just waited until it was ripe.”
Living the Dream
That patience has borne fruit in the form of Toscana Country Club, which Bone describes as a significant improvement over previous clubs.
“I call it an evolution of excellence,” Bone says. “With each of our communities, from when we started in the ’70s, we’ve gotten better. We’ve improved the housing product, as well as the golf and club facilities, and everything has improved in response to the desires and needs of the members and homebuyers. The market continues to go more and more upscale, and this is a part of that trend.”
The gated community will include 626 luxury homes surrounding two Jack Nicklaus-designed golf courses. The 75,000-square-foot club complex will feature Tuscany-inspired architecture, mountain views, spa facilities, a swimming pool, and seven lighted tennis courts. Homes range from 2,790 square feet to more than 5,000 square feet with asking prices ranging from the low $800,000s to more than $1.8 million.
If that sounds like a dream world, that’s what Bone had in mind.
“We’re in the fantasy-fulfillment business,” he says. “No one needs what we sell. A second home in a place like this is strictly a discretionary item. People have a dream of escaping into this haven. Homeowners tell me when they drive out on Interstate 10 and start down into the valley, they feel this psychological release.”
Bone can relate. He plans to spend a lot more time in the valley than he has in recent years and hopes to lighten his load a bit.
“When we started projects in Las Vegas and Houston, I was there every other week for three or four years, for three days or so at a time,” he says.
The hassles of air travel and the hard work of forging relationships with business people and government agencies in each new location convinced him there’s no place like home.
“In the Coachella Valley, we sort of know everybody and they know us,” Bone says. “It’s a lot easier for us to start a new project here than somewhere else. Our Siena project in Las Vegas has been an outstanding project, and I think there’s a place for it here. We’d also like to do a follow-up to Indian Ridge. It’s not as expensive as Toscana, and I think there’s a need for more of that type of product.”
Bone lists a few essential steps for success in community development: identify unfulfilled demand, avoid excessive debt, stick to your schedule and your budget, and maintain quality control.
“That’s the essence of what’s kept us out in front of the competition,” he says, expressing a sunny outlook on the potential for future growth in the valley.