The old West tourist town would be replaced by a smaller public footprint, along with 20 custom homes
As kids and buddies, Joel Laub and Randall Jones fell in love with Red Rock Canyon, exploring it with youthful exuberance and unabated wonder.
Since then, Red Rock has been part of their family’s scrapbook and ethos across three generations. Now, they hope to make it part of their legacy.
If all the pieces fall in place, Laub, one of the valley’s most prominent developers, and Randall, recognized as one of Las Vegas’s most accomplished trial lawyers, will become the new owners of Bonnie Springs Ranch as early as this spring.
With that will come a new vision for this very special place, one that respects the past while setting it on a future path of economic and environmental viability.
The detailed plans Laub and Randall recently showed to the Friends of Red Rock Canyon belie just how rapidly they were developed after the Levinson family, who has owned it for more than a half-century, decided to sell. Laub and Randall had to move fast to overtake other competitors for the property.
The exquisitely hand-drawn renderings – all in desert pastels – reveal an historical motif that you could find in an old Spanish mission or a hillside village in Tuscany or Bordeaux, bordered by walls constructed of local stone. “We want it to feel like you’ve gone back in time 100 years or more,” said Laub, who hopes the development still will be called Bonnie Springs Ranch.
Entering via a circular driveway, passing under a stone archway, the new Bonnie Springs Ranch reveals a world that balances public space with private, custom residences.
Gone are vestiges of the Wild-West themed town – from its saloon to its railroad. Also missing are the stables. There’ll be no more horses at Bonnie Springs.
The current motel will be replaced by a far more intimate and desert-designed inn, along with a modest-sized event barn, a small amphitheater built so audiences can view the Red Rock escarpment. A new restaurant will feature farm-to-table cuisine, much of it grown on the premises – along with a pool and surrounding meadows hugging a pond behind it.
Laub envisions this not only as a major amenity to the residents, but also to visitors – including those coming for business conferences and especially weddings.
Adjoining this eight-to-10-acre public space will be approximately 20 custom-built homes, each on lots between 2.25 and 3.5 acres, all carefully landscaped with extensive open space between them to create a rural environment that melds into the spectacular and desert. Vegetation is being designed with a special eye toward propagating pollinators, especially butterflies, which are increasingly endangered by encroaching development.
They envision significant milkweed plantings to support migrating Monarchs, a project near and dear to Friends of Red Rock, which participated recently in a southern Nevada milkweed, mapping, seed production and planting project.
To avoid McMansions, residents will be restricted to a primary footprint no larger than 5,000 square feet, or no more than 10 percent of the individual property. At the same time, they will be encouraged to construct compatible other buildings such as casitas. Setbacks will be significant to further enhance a rural environment and to support vegetation.
All this means far less foot traffic. Estimates of people passing through its turnstiles reach above half a million annually.
The future Bonnie Springs Ranch will be a far cry from today’s, with its public hangings and gunfights in the village square, cowboys wandering down its dusty main street, kids congregating at the petting zoo or riding ponies.
“We know people are emotionally attached to Bonnie Springs,” said Randall. “We too grew up there and brought our kids to experience the same fun things we did.”
It’s why a petition campaign to save it has sprouted, with nearly 35,000 signatures. The petition was launched by Las Vegas resident Peter Hall after news broke that Bonnie Springs has been sold to a custom-home developer.
“The city tried to demolish the Huntridge theater years ago, and our community was able to preserve this historical building by signing a petition to make it a historical land mark. Let’s do the same for Bonnie Springs founded in 1843 with many historical buildings loaded with artifacts and memorabilia from the beginnings of our fine state,” the petition reads.
The reality, however, is that Bonnie Springs as the public has known it, is gone regardless of who purchases it. It’s no longer viable economically, and the Levinson family legally can sell it within the property’s current rural-use zoning.
In fact, the family almost did this more than a decade ago.
In mid-2005, the family had a 17-house neighborhood plan that would be developed by Randy Black Jr. on 34 acres, located a half mile from the current ranch. It had been approved by Clark County planners as well as the Red Rock Citizens Advisory Council. But it never did get off the ground.
Laub’s and Jones’ iteration is gaining momentum from many quarters, both within government and the public. It’s why the same group, Save Red Rock, that is fighting residential development of Blue Diamond is supporting the Bonnie Springs plan.
Laub, who is chairman of the Nevada Nature Conservancy – which is dedicated to protecting land and water, tackle climate change and promote sustainability – has recruited that organization and other environmental experts to help draw up plans for the new Bonnie Springs.
“A very important aspect of this project for us is to be environmentally sensitive,” emphasized Jones during a 90-minute presentation he and Laub provided the Friends’ board at their offices.
The public may not know this, noted Jones, but Bonnie Spring’s was grandfathered to permit construction of an actual casino on the property. “We were shocked to learn that ourselves,” he said. “That will never happen now.”
For the Levinson family, Bonnie Springs has always been a labor of love, especially for their matriarch, Bonnie, who died in 2016.
In listening to Laub and Jones, the words “labor of love” continually peppered their conversation as well. Both plan to have their own homes there. “We want them for our families for generations to come,” said Jones.
Because the property is fed by two or three springs and they will own all the water rights, Laub is very excited by the prospects of diverse and abundant vegetation across both public and private space – replacing bare ground especially around the corral and stables.
Residences will emphasize natural stone, with exteriors mandated within a highly controlled spectrum of color choices, he emphasized. Shades will range from buff to brown and include some grays, blacks, mute reds and greens.
“You won’t find stucco exterior walls. We will be relying on stone,” explained Laub. Roof lines will be designed limited gables to minimize height and maximize sight lines, he added.
“Right from the gateway, it will look like a Spanish mission that you could be visiting to experience the history of the place,” he emphasized. He envisions arbors and fountains, as well as walking paths between each residence that utilize decomposed granite throughout.
It’s like gravel, but finer and generally more stable – formed from natural weathering and erosion of the tough, hard igneous rock. It also is permeable and provides relatively good drainage, while creating a smooth transition between gardens, development and the surrounding nature, noted Laub.
He has recruited a globally recognized landscape architect firm to work on the project that will combine desert varietals that don’t shed their leaves with many deciduous ones that will reveal the four seasons. “We want to see the fall colors,” he said.
The overall design is aimed at minimizing water use, Laub emphasized.
One of the biggest outstanding issues is whether Clark County officials will let the partners steer away from concrete and asphalt for roads throughout Bonnie Springs. Not only will that steal from the rural motif, but also will cause the kind of run off and erosion they are trying to avoid with the decomposed granite.
The project also will eliminate perimeter walls so residents will not quite know by sight where their properties end and BLM’s begin, said Laub.
Who do Jones and Laub envision living at Bonnie Springs?
“Well, two of the 20 lots are already taken by Joel and I,” said Jones. “We’re not going anywhere. This is for our kids. Like us, we expect that other buyers will be local people who grew up right here in Red Rock. They will be buying them more for appreciation of the canyon than appreciation of the price.”
For the two partners, this has become a project to reflect their own values and love of the canyon. They say they’ll be very happy to just break even. “It’s about our own priorities,” said Jones.
It will be reflected throughout – from Laub’s love of historic European architecture to Jones’s preference that when he sits at the new inn’s bar, he won’t have to compete with poker machines.
“There will be no gaming up here. This will be a place where you can get away from all that.”