Before the North American continent was born, many millions of years ago, the Intermountain West was a vast inland sea. Things changed when the area was uplifted as part of the Rocky Mountain orogeny and sediments were thrusted thousands of feet above sea level. The new comer is the Teton Range still growing after only 10 million years of mountain building. More recently glaciation shaped the majestic peaks and the valley called Pierre’s Hole, the Teton Valley.
During the Ice Age, when the seas were low, the first Americans migrated across the land bridge between Russia and Alaska and the North American continent became home to its first people. Several different bands of Native Americans used the Teton Valley for hunting and summer activities.
John Coulter, an explorer with the Lewis & Clark expedition of 1806, was probably the first white man to enter into the Teton Valley from Jackson Hole. He left little trace other than a carved stone unearthed by a farmer plowing a field near Tetonia in the north end of the Teton Valley.
Demand for beaver hats from the Far East and Europe led the fur trappers into the Teton Valley to trap in the many streams in the early 1800’s. They came from Astoria, Oregon in the west and from St. Louis, Missouri from the east in small groups, on horse, pulling supplies behind with mules.
However, their activities were transient. Each year they would travel back to St. Louis to sell the pelts and trade for the next year’s supplies. In the early 1830’s David Jackson, William Sublette, and Jedediah Smith developed a better idea. Why not form a company to bring supplies to the trappers and purchase the furs to be taken to St. Louis so the trapper could remain in the mountains?
The early Rendezvous were held in Bear Lake, Idaho, the Cache Valley, Utah and Green River, Wyoming; but the largest was held in Pierre’s Hole. In 1832 over a thousand mountain men along with friendly trading Indians were camped in various places around the Teton Valley with the largest encampment on Teton Creek probably on the present site of Creekside Meadows.
The fur trade died out in the early 1840’s as beaver hats fell out of style and it was not until 1871 that Hayden Survey party came to the area after the end of the Civil War to map the west. Westward migration began in droves as a result of the Homestead Act of 1862 that opened the west and enabled a settler to obtain 160 acres of free land if he lived, worked, and improved the land for a five-year period.
The first homesteaders came to the Teton Valley in 1885 from Rexburg to the north and over Pine Creek Pass in the south end of the valley. Edward W. Seymour homesteaded on Teton Creek, the site of Creekside Meadows in 1902. His occupancy was short lived and he sold the 160-acre property to Ernest Taylor in 1905. Upon is death in 1944 the property was distributed to his wife and his five children. In 1970 Kitchen Head, a local doctor became owner of the 80 acres of Creekside Meadows land with the intent of building his home there. He traded it to Richard Hokin in 1993, an investor from Connecticut, before it was purchased by Bruce Simon and partner in 1991.
The modern the story began in the late 1970’s when I began in the real estate business in Jackson Hole. It wasn’t long after I began to get familiar with the Teton Valley, driving every back road in both valleys looking for beautiful property.
Working in the real estate business in Jackson Hole and living on the Fall Creek Road I began to sell the Rivermeadows development, 5 miles south of Wilson. Bob Erickson was the land planner for Don Albrecht and I became friends with him. I remember I was so impressed with his design and forethought for the land.
In the early 1980’s I began my first development in the Teton Valley. I bought an elevated 80-acre parcel at the foot of the Big Hole Mountains in Twin Creek on the west side of Pierre’s Hole. This property overlooked the amazing agricultural beauty of the valley and seemed perfect for a large-lot (20-acre parcel) development. The property was divided into 4 parcels and development improvements included a county standard access road, fenced common area for horses, underground utilities, building envelops to protect view corridors and Protective Covenants.
In the mid-eighties I met a prominent real estate developer from California while sitting in a real estate office in Teton Village. I can still remember the day he walked into the office and sat down. He had a charisma about him and he loved to talk and I loved to listen and adsorb as much as possible. I became his agent on some large properties, he referred his friends to me, and we became friends. He was a true real estate junkie; he loved to talk real estate, developing, leasing, financing, and his business affairs. I learned so much by just listening.
In the early 90’s I partnered with PC Development, Mike Potter and Tom Clinton to form Prime Properties of Jackson Hole, which I operated for 27 years. They were very successful in developing in Jackson Hole, including Teton Pines, Willowbrook and the Tucker Ranch; all very high-end projects. I became the sales arm for their developments. In the mid 90’s I took them by some property 1 mile south of Victor and suggested golf course development. Five years later, when I saw the plans for Teton Springs on their desk, I knew that there would be a high-end development in the south end of the Teton Valley. This would be a game changer for the west side of the Tetons.
When I told my California developer friend about the future Teton Springs (he was a member of Teton Pines and an owner in Tucker Ranch, where he lived) he said let’s go to the Teton Valley and look around. I think we both realized that the only way to control a large parcel for development in Jackson Hole was to be a second or third generation land owner. However, with very limited opportunities in Jackson Hole, and a clear need for more regional housing, we were seeking an opportunity.
There was a “for sale” sign on an 80-acre parcel just to the south of the City of Driggs (future Creekside Meadows). He said “Let’s buy this property and I’ll put up 90% of the money and you put up 10% so I know you have “skin in the game” and you will do all the necessary work”. I guess he had confidence that I was a hard worker and had the necessary skills and follow-through to see such a large project to completion.
Keep in mind that I had been in the real estate business for 22 years at this time and had developed lots of experience with developments, building, marketing and selling.
The land for Creekside was close to Driggs but not a candidate for annexation since it was not contiguous to city limits; a requirement by state law. Therefore, I put together several different partnerships to buy 3 more parcels to the north to make the 90-acres contiguous for annexation.
A contract was arranged to purchase all 4 parcels; all conditioned upon the successful annexation which was a fairly long multiple meeting process. The Mayor of Driggs, Lou Christensen, was always supportive as was the City Council. They all wanted to see Driggs grow.
I hired David Michaelson from Fort Collins, Colorado to be my planner. Dave was one of my proteges from the 70’s when I was the tennis pro for the Ft. Collins Tennis Club and we had kept in touch for 30 years, without the aid of Facebook! Dave had become All-American tennis player at University of Northern Colorado, but more importantly he had a masters in Urban Planning from Cal-Poly.
With a total of 90 acres we were able to plan a Planned Urban Development (PUD) with different sorts of zoning including apartments, small and large lot single family homes, office buildings and commercial land for the future. Traditional Neighborhood Design (TND) was implemented with small clustered lots, narrow streets, 25% open space for wildlife along Teton Creek, design standards, use restrictions and front porches to encourage people to meet and interact.
It wasn’t very long after I got the annexation completed than my partner got quite ill and told me he should not be in this development for the long haul. He said “why don’t you buy me out and I’ll structure a deal to enable you to do so”. Startled at first, but then recognizing an opportunity, which I had done many times before, I agreed to a purchase that I thought could work well for me. A lot was on paper and dependent upon sales, which I was confident I could make.
After the approval of a seven-figure bank development loan from Bank of Jackson Hole, construction work began, including underground utilities (water, sewer, telephone), large landscaped areas, and streets to meet city standards as the City of Driggs would take them over after completion.
It wasn’t very long after breaking ground that someone got mad and said “It’s not fair, you Realtors always get the best property for yourself before the public gets a chance to purchase.” My response was “The property was listed for two years with a sign on the land and no one made an offer. I had a vision and I made it happen. You could have but you didn’t!” And I took plenty of risk too.
There were stumbling blocks too; the development game has its minefields. When initially digging a waterline on the north end of the property to connect to the end of the city utilities, I met a very hard worker by the name of Marshall McInnis. He was down in the ditch, looked up with his green eyes and said, “I want to be your construction manager.” He was a former Navy Seal with plenty of infrastructure experience, so he was hired.
I told Marshall if you see an arrow head or spear point while excavating, put it in your pocket and shut up! One day he called me and said, “I know what you said, but you better come look at the skeleton we unearthed.” I said “stop construction and I’ll be there in a half hour.” Sure enough there was half a skeleton on a dirt pile and the other half was still in-tact about three feet down in the trench. I secured a cardboard box from the nearby apartment construction site, padded it with fiberglass insulation, and carefully collected the bones. I thought I had a souvenir. After all it was my property and they were my bones!
I took them back to Wyoming for my collection and I shortly received a call from the Sheriff. He said “Bring those bones over to me right away.” I responded “No, they are my bones since they were dug up by me on my property.” He offered me two choices. The first was to bring them to his office right away and the second was that he would send a deputy over to arrest me for interfering with a crime scene. I told him they were the consistency of a Ritz cracker and he said he still had to investigate a crime. Of course, I chose the latter option and returned them to him for investigation.
The State Archeologist, Kenneth Reid, came to perform an excavation. Upon carefully screening of the topsoil he recovered 21 blue glass trade beads, possibly from Italy, a metal object, and three bone dice. I probably uncovered the grave of a 32-year old male native American who was possibly killed in the Battle of Pierre’s Hole in July 1832, when the Rendezvous broke up. An article was published in the Journal of Northwest Anthropology, Memoir 7:137-166 2012 entitled “ANOTHER ROLL OF THE DICE, THE CREEKSIDE MEADOWS ABORIGINAL BURIAL IN TETON VALLEY, EASTERN IDAHO.”
During the excavation I was able to continue installing the water line in a different area, therefore there were no serious delays. If this had happened in California it would have been an entire different story.
The second snafu was due to the Clean Water Act 404 Permit and regulation by the U. S. Army Corp of Engineers. I carefully obtained a permit to fill some wetlands in order to build a bridge over Teton Creek to access the rear 15 acres for the Estate lots. All of the permitted work was completed, inspected and approved by a government representative. A year later, out of the blue, I received a violation notice for the work I performed along the bank of Teton Creek. They said I placed too much rip rap on the banks to protect the bridge from erosion. A lengthy and costly legal situation occurred which was finally settled when I agreed to remove some of the rip rap and plant shrubs in the balance of the rocks. I supplemented nature as trees and shrubs naturally regrew along the areas that I disturbed.
Initially, I was trying to sell lots in the first phase which was the high-density area. Faced with the prospect of different builders designing homes to be built close together, I quickly realized that I had to design and build the high-density homes myself in order to create an architecturally pleasing and planned development. Furthermore, the larger, estate lots were in the rear and in order to sell them for decent prices I needed to create a pleasing housing development in the front.
At this point two very important things happened. Firstly, I happened to drive by some very attractive resort-type homes in Cook City, Montana; the design and architecture of which I thought could work well in Creekside Meadows. Secondly, a home was being installed in Wilson, Wyoming in two pieces, pre-built by Superior Modular Systems (SMS) in Pocatello, Idaho and shipped 100 miles!
Recognizing the difficulty and expense of building in a mountain community, I came up with the idea of designing and building homes at a plant in Pocatello, Idaho and shipping them 100 miles to Driggs to be installed in Creekside. I worked with a very experienced and forward-thinking plant owner and creative draftsman at SMS to figure out how to design and build homes that had no resemblance to manufactured homes, which were recognizable one-half mile away, as lower quality homes.
Our designs increased overhangs from 6” to 18”, we increased the size of the windows and we increased the roof pitches from 3/12 to 5/12. We used fiber cement siding in place of aluminum siding, we installed siding on-site to hide the seams, and we installed flooring on site after the pieces were “stitched” together. All these design criteria had to also fit certain length, height and width restrictions in order to be transported over the highway without excessive costs. We re-invented modular custom home building to the International Building Code standard. We even created a category in our Multiple Listing Service that now included “stick-built off site” construction to differentiate from FHA lower quality modular home construction. We designed and built 5 different floorplans for small homes ranging in size from 1,350 to 2,400 square feet and the models all bore the names of the fur trappers. We also designed and built a 5,000-square foot apartment building shipped in 16 pieces (Ashley Building). Individuality was obtained by varying design, use of colors, and front porch details.
Collins Graphics from Billings, Montana was hired to create a marketing package including letterhead, trendy presentation folders, and artist renderings of both the masterplan and the three initial homes. Jim Collins had worked for PC Development and they were a clear choice to enable me to pull of the initial sales of a project, that was just a vision in my mind at this time. No question that their aids were well designed to complete the vision. The first model home was pre-sold to a local investor who immediately demonstrated his belief in the project. I leased it back to use as a model home and sales office. Keep in mind that this house stood alone in a former farmer’s field in the beginning, with excavation occurring for streets, water and sewer lines, and landscape berms! The developer’s first sale is the hardest and I was very happy to sell a house.
Quickly, at a rapid pace, several more homes were sold as model homes to investors, some of which are still owned by the initial buyers demonstrating long-term satisfaction. From these models I quickly built and sold homes as fast as possible recognizing that recessions do periodically occur and I wanted to be as far along in the development process as possible. I knew from experiencing at least 3 prior real estate downturns, that another might be around the corner. I built 40 homes before the crash of 2007 and 9/11 event slowed things down to a standstill at which time I had 4 unsold homes in my inventory. Two were built for customers who did not close and I had two built for myself on speculation.
From 2008 until 2013 the 4 homes were rented to carry the $1 million outstanding revolving line of credit and things were very tight. At the time I owned 6 other companies and there was plenty of money juggling on a daily basis. However, never a ball was dropped. My banker often complimented me on my skills to keep all the balls in the air, when other developers were going under.
None the less I survived the recession unlike many other developers. Slowly the 4 homes in my inventory were sold during the period from 2011 to 2016 and new construction began again in 2017.
With the majority of the lots either built or sold in 2016, and no existing home inventory, it was time to look towards the future with the regional job growth causing a housing crisis. Planning occurred for a 29-lot subdivision in the front area of Creekside, an area previously designed for multifamily and office property. Local planner/architect Mori Bergmeyer was employed to help with the design of smaller homes on smaller lots that could also be pre-built and shipped down the highway. The City planners, the Mayor and City Council were very supportive with a, “bring-it-on, how-can-I-help-you-today” attitude. Certainly, the approval climate has swung the pendulum from being impossible in the end of the last subdivision boom (2007) to the present. The plan for Phase V always received 5-0 positive votes from the Planning Commission the City Council.
As of December 2017, there are 54 single family homes, 39 townhouses and 16 apartments built for a total of 109 “doors”. Still to come are another 100+ “doors” and commercial stores along the highway.
-Bruce Simon, Developer