In the wide open fields between Billings and Laurel, Lynn and Steve Tucker have found the right rustic backdrop for the area’s newest wedding and events venue.
The Tuckers are launching Camelot Ranch on 20 acres past the end of King Avenue West near 88th Street this summer. It’s on a gravel road heading up a hill, surrounded by pasture land, a pond, rural homes and a broad view of sandstone cliffs to the north.
“It's so pretty up here when the trees are full and the grass is in,” Lynn Tucker said last week during a tour.
The couple have invested between $2.5 million and $3 million since purchasing the property three years ago, with the idea of creating a modern venue in the country setting.
The biggest investment has been a new 7,000-square-foot main building, which can accommodate up to 300 guests. It will have a space for a bar, an upstairs loft for the wedding party and reception space.
“Everyone wants to get married in a barn, but no one wants cobwebs in the corner. We'll have the sophisticated look and feel to get the country rustic charm,” Steve Tucker said.
The Tuckers bought the property at 8736 Camelot Lane about three years ago, but construction started in earnest last year. Workers from Hardy Construction are working on the main building and a pavilion near the pond.
A grand opening is scheduled June 28, and Camelot Ranch is booking for July and August. Weddings will be the core business, but the Tuckers say they also hope to attract corporate retreats and other groups.
The project is financed in part by the Montana Idaho Community Development Corp., a Missoula-based nonprofit that helps finance start-ups. The Tuckers also took loans through Stockman Bank.
The wedding industry is growing in Montana, where open rural space is attractive for outdoor nuptials. In Billings, places like The Billings Depot and the Billings Petroleum Club atop the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel are popular for indoor events.
Couples in Montana spent an average of $22,100 on their weddings last year, according to The Wedding Report, a Tucson, Ariz.-based industry research firm. That’s up about 9 percent over the past four years.
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In Yellowstone County, clerks issued 1,156 marriage licenses in 2016, down slightly from the previous year, according Deputy County Clerk Ted Robey. The last three years have been ahead of the 2013 pace, according to the clerk’s office.
Steve Tucker said he researched Yellowstone County marriage licenses before deciding to invest in the new venture.
Camelot Ranch charges $5,000 daily for Friday and Saturday in the peak season from May through October. Sunday is $2,500.
Off-season prices are $3,000 per day on weekends and $1,500 for Sunday. The venue is also available other weekdays for $250 per hour.
Camelot Ranch has also partnered with the Hampton Inn and Homewood Suites in Billings, which will reserve blocks of rooms for out-of-town guests, the Tuckers said.
The next phase for Camelot Ranch is building on-site lodging for guests, the Tuckers say, adding that they have no timeline yet. A three-bedroom, two-bathroom guest house is available on site for the wedding party.
The Tuckers are experienced entrepreneurs but are new to the wedding industry. Steve Tucker previously owned a mortgage company and now works at Rocky Mountain Bank. Lynn Tucker owns The Brooklyn Spa in Billings.
Both plan to keep their day jobs.
This spring, the site has been filled with construction workers, vehicles and equipment — hardly the image of a destination wedding.
But when the pavilion and pond dock are completed, the vision will start to take shape, Lynn Tucker said. A water wheel will also be installed to spin the irrigation water, and a corral is on site for grazing horses.
“It's very close to Billings and Laurel, but it gives you that Montana country feel,” Steve Tucker said.