-By Charlotte Evans
When you ride with Rich MacDonald in his luxury SUV, it’s easy to forget for a moment that you’re traveling with an OG-level developer—an “original gangster” in Nevada real estate who has brought many in local government and business to their knees. His casual attire, cheerful attitude and down-to-earth way of relating are enough to relieve anyone of social awkwardness while winding through some of the most breathtaking (and coveted) acreage in southern Nevada.
It’s only when you ask him details about the street you’re on that things get a bit weird. That’s because…you’re winding up a jaw-droppingly beautiful hillside street that Rich MacDonald personally named, while passing many other opulent streets he also named…streets that traverse graceful neighborhoods he named, that are nestled against some mountain ridges he named…inside a sprawling, gated community (which, yes, he named) overlooking the Las Vegas Valley where his career can be seen in a vast patchwork of celebrated developments…developments he also named and/or built. (See the pattern?)
MacDonald’s motto is, “No matter what happens, fight on,” and he credits his prolific, decades-long career to that fighting spirit. For this profile, MacDonald and I first met at the restaurant in the club that he recently brought back and improved with stunning upgrades throughout. Our purpose: to discuss the future of DragonRidge Country Club and Golf Course—which he re-purchased about a year ago with the intention of upgrading to their fullest glory—and his preparations to build a new round of cliff-side castles, the likes of which have never been seen. And I mean that quite literally: Models are shrouded in secrecy to prevent any disruption in current new home sales, which are very strong.
Vegas Legal Magazine: Henderson is recognized as one of the best communities to live in, anywhere in the country. To what extent are you willing to take some credit for that, given your history as a developer in Henderson?
Rich MacDonald: Let’s put it this way….I’ve owned about five percent of the city’s available land, so from that perspective we’ve planned and accomplished a lot with these planned communities and I’m really proud of all of them, actually. Henderson benefited from having large land masses. That lent itself to investor-planned development, which is why Henderson is as nice as it is today.
VLM: Do you give kudos to early city planners?
RM: Yes. The early city fathers somehow arranged to get big chunks of land from the government and get them into private hands. The reality is I’ve had a very contentious history with people like that at the city [level]. One in particular [comes to mind.] I think the planners, once they found out what we were doing, really liked it and said that we offer the best example of how to do hillside development…which we perfected doing cliffside development in Hawaii. The bottom line is we outlasted [the detractors], and we always got three out of five votes from council.
VLM: How many hours of your life would you guess you have spent at Henderson city council meetings?
RM: City council meetings? Every single one, for at least 20 years. It’s funny: The whole process—when you look back on it—it’s been really, really rewarding. Everything we’ve been through. One of the benefits to that now is that nothing bothers me. I don’t get upset about anything, because I know I can deal with whatever comes up. I’ve been through it all. If it’s a legal issue, we’ll take care of it. If it’s a development issue we’ll take care of it.
VLM: What was it like early on, getting this going?
RM: Stephanie Road didn’t exist south of the 215. As a matter of fact, I put Stephanie Road in on a weekend (chuckles), without a permit I might add. I just hired a guy with a blade and a bulldozer and pushed it through.
VLM: Did anyone complain?
RM: Yeah. One guy called me up and said, ‘Hey: Somebody put a road through my property.’ I said, ‘Oh, is that the graded road that came down to 146? That would make it a section line, wouldn’t it? That could give you commercial potential I guess, huh?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ I said. ‘Yeah, I guess it will. Gee, that was pretty good, then?’ (momentary pause) He said, ‘Yeah, I guess that is good.’ (laughs)
VLM: How would you characterize the real estate market here right now?
RM: I see a renewal of activity, which is really exciting. Of course, I see mostly what’s going on here [at DragonRidge] and we are getting a lot of people moving in from out of state. A lot of them are what you might call tax refugees. We are thinking of sending a gift to [California] Governor Jerry Brown because he’s really earned it! (laughter) This community is getting to be really well liked and well known. The challenge is, we don’t have a lot of people who want to sell their [existing] houses and we have a lot of people coming in from California. We have people building “spec” houses. They’re really good houses. We’ve even had some sell right from the plans. With the new visuals, you can actually walk through the house [that has yet to be built] on a computer.
VLM: Looking around this outdoor cathedral that is now called DragonRidge, what dazzles you most?
RM: The ambiance. There’s something about it. When I first hiked up to this place back in 1976 [before it was developed] I was blown away by it! [Later after we bought it] we had a Feng Shui master who advises major strip hotels come [to check out the property] and the first thing he told us was, ‘You don’t have one dragon [on the ridge tops] you have three!’ And, he said, ‘You have a vortex on your property! If you draw a line from Red Rock Canyon and from Valley of Fire they meet right here on the property and this vortex is the energy center for the entire Las Vegas Valley.’ We put up a little platform [at the vortex.] If someone wants to hike up there and meditate they can do that.
VLM: Over the next several years you plan to sell some 200 lots. Are you prepared for whatever issues might come up in the economy?
RM: There are a lot of issues on the horizon…global and national issues. With Trump elected I see positivity. It’s refreshing to see government now moving through things like a business [would]. On a personal level, I have no debt in this company at all, and I have no personal debt. I’ve structured things so that if the world goes to hell in a hand basket, I’m probably going to be sitting under a palm tree in Hawaii.
VLM: Your wife, Claire, has been your wingman through all this, and at some point she even considered running for city council in support of your plan. She sounds like a force to be reckoned with.
RM: Oh, she’s a character. All the women in my family are like that. I had a grandmother who lived to be 96. My mother lived to be 92, and Claire is every bit as tough as they are. When I met Claire, she was a single mom with two little kids who had relocated to Hawaii after her divorce and she had her own business. I thought, ‘Well, this is a little different.’ There was a mutual respect there. Not just the normal window dressing. It’s worked out.
VLM: Who gave you the best advice to help you succeed?
RM: My father said, ‘The only time they can beat you is if you quit. You just keep going. We don’t quit. We get things done, fast.’ That was probably the best advice he ever gave me. I couldn’t sell like he did. I was a fairly decent salesperson, but not like him.
VLM: Do you have bucket list?
RM: I have a little project I’m working on. I did an endowment with the Archaeological Institute of America where I gave them the biggest endowment they’ve ever had. That surprised me, because it wasn’t that huge. I want to buy the property under the city of Troy in Turkey and keep it in a historical trust so that future generations can come in and do archaeological digs. It’s available for that. That’s a good thing, because right now a lot of it is in private hands and there are two concerns with Troy. There’s the Citadel, which is the fort everyone thought of as the original city, and there is a huge lowland city that was underneath where people lived down below. In times of siege, the people would all run up to the citadel but they lived down below. I’ve got a 501(c)(3) I’m going to use to do that.
VLM: People say, with your contacts in Hawaii, wouldn’t you rather live there?
RM: The answer is no. Like this club, I like the people in the club. I like the community. It’s almost like extended family. [This is] a nice place to be.
VLM: What is the most common question you get from folks here?
RM: I am often asked, ‘Did you really envision it this way?’…The answer is ‘yes.’