I dunno about you, but I am HELLA curious to learn who's behind Ultra Resources (the company that recently bought Banning Lewis Ranch from Capital Pacific Holdings); considering Ultra hasn't yet had an opportunity to do any type of exploration on the ranch, what has already made them so certain they want to drill for oil there?
If I could ask Mr. Gruen a few questions, it would be these:
Did Mobil Land Development already know, back in the late 1970's and early 1980's, about oil deposits on Banning Lewis Ranch?
Les Gruen is president of Urban Strategies, Inc., founded in 1999 to provide development and advisory services to owners of real estate. Gruen’s proven expertise in acquisitions, development, dispositions, entitlements, strategic planning and property tax protest work translates into value enhancement opportunities for clients. Mr. Gruen served as Hearing Officer for the City of Colorado Springs, responsible for ruling on minor land use matters, between September 1999 and when the position was eliminated in January 2003. Gruen was also managing partner of Belvedere Enterprises, LLC, developer of a 108-unit downtown Colorado Springs apartment/condominium conversion that was sold in March 2002. Prior to forming Urban Strategies, Gruen provided wide-ranging real estate expertise to Griffis/Blessing Inc. for over three years as Vice President of Planning and Development. He was involved with Griffis/Blessing development projects, corporate identity issues, economic and demographic analysis, strategic planning, tax protests, business development and asset management activities. Mr. Gruen also served as Vice President of Campus Housing Solutions, a Griffis/Blessing company that develops and manages student housing. Before joining Griffis/Blessing, Mr. Gruen was Vice President, Director of Research and Director of Marketing for Palmer McAllister, a full-service commercial real estate brokerage firm. During his five years at Palmer McAllister, he played a central role in business development activities, supervised a team of research and marketing professionals, authored and produced the company’s annualColorado Springs Economic Review and Outlook and INSIGHT, a quarterly real estate review. Mr. Gruen was also responsible for developing and implementing the company’s marketing and public relations strategies.
Mr. Gruen moved to Colorado Springs in 1984 to assume the position of Marketing Manager of the Banning Lewis Ranch for Mobil Land Development Corporation and later, became Manager of Mobil Land’s Colorado Springs office. During his tenure with Mobil Land, he was instrumental in the acquisition of the Banning Lewis Ranch in 1981, and in developing business plans and disposition strategies pertaining to the Ranch as well as other significant properties across the country. He has directed numerous feasibility studies and economic analyses and is a respected expert in this field. During his nearly ten-year tenure with Mobil Land, Mr. Gruen held several other key positions, including Project Coordinator of the 1,600 acre Stonegate development in Douglas County, Colorado and Assistant to the Chairman of the Board. Mr. Gruen received his B.A. from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington in Political Science and Geology. He was a Rhodes Scholar nominee in 1974. Mr. Gruen also attended the University of British Columbia’s graduate program in Urban Land Economics.
As a Colorado Springs businessman, Les Gruen has plenty of things to do. But four years ago, he agreed to give up between three and five days out of each month to work on the state Transportation Commission. And now, he’s been asked to stay on for at least another four years. Gov. John Hickenlooper announced five nominees to the commission on Tuesday, and Gruen’s name was among them.
Another two of Hickenlooper’s five appointments are also current board members.
According to Hickenlooper’s office, the commission “formulates general policy for the Colorado Department of Transportation with respect to the management, construction and maintenance of public highways and other transportation systems in the state. The commission also works to assure that the preservation and enhancement of Colorado’s environment, safety, mobility and economics is considered in the planning of all transportation projects.”
Gruen and the others must be confirmed by the state Senate.
Colo. Springs mulls development's failure
Slow growth inside city limits precedes Banning Lewis bankruptcy.Posted: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 12:00 am
By ANDREW WINEKE and RICH LADEN | McCLATCHY-TRIBUNE | 1 comment
COLORADO SPRINGS — In 1977, Les Gruen's boss walked into his office and threw a map of Colorado Springs on his desk with the city's eastern flank circled in yellow.
"He said, 'Go check it out,'" Gruen recalled recently.
Gruen was working for Mobil Land Development Corp. in San Francisco, and that fact-finding mission brought him to Colorado Springs and introduced him to the long, troubled history of Banning Lewis Ranch.
When the property's current owners, Banning Lewis Ranch Co. LLC, declared bankruptcy on Thursday, it was only the latest chapter in the ranch's star-crossed history. The huge, 21,400-acre ranch has seen more than 40 years of stops and starts, and its most numerous residents are still cows and antelope.
Despite it all, to many people the ranch remains the key to Colorado Springs' future. And today, for the cows, antelope and the few hundred people who call Banning Lewis home, life goes on just as it did before the bankruptcy.
It's not that the land is cursed, exactly. Several of its long line of owners came out ahead, notably Mobil, which in four years of ownership sold off enough bits of the land to recoup its initial investment and then made a killing selling the bulk of the property to developer Frank Aries for $92 million, Gruen said.
"People were paying phenomenal amounts of money for land out in the middle of nowhere," he said.
Gruen and his colleagues at Mobil used to argue how long it would take to develop the ranch, which made up a third of the city's size after it was annexed in 1988.
"There was a debate among the people I was working with as to whether it was going to take 100 years or 200 years to develop that parcel," he said.
Mobil's successors had much shorter timelines in mind, but Banning Lewis seems to move according to its own clock.
Aries couldn't make the payments on his loans and in 1989 handed the property back to the bank — which was itself embroiled in the savings and loan fiasco. Banning Lewis ended up in the Resolution Trust Corp.'s hands, where it languished until a company controlled by Saudi billionaires bought it for $18.5 million in 1993. As the local economy recovered, though, Banning Lewis sat. And sat.
In 2001, Capital Pacific Holdings of California bought it from the Saudis for $55 million. The timing couldn't have been better. The local housing market was red hot and homes were popping up everywhere in the Pikes Peak region.
But instead of building like crazy, Capital Pacific's Banning Lewis Ranch Management Co. wound up in court with a group of minor property owners over who should pay for what pieces of the development and got tangled up working out water and wastewater deals with Colorado Springs Utilities. The management company's strategy of hand-picking builders and a very deliberate roll-out of communities might have also worked against it.
It was 2007 when the bulldozers finally rolled in and January 2008 when the first moving van arrived.
And now, the ranch's ownership is in bankruptcy.
A different roll of the dice and Banning Lewis might be teeming with subdivisions by now, Gruen said.
If Banning Lewis had gotten an earlier jump on development, it's possible the thousands of homes in unincorporated Falcon and surrounding developments that bypassed the ranch might never have been built.
What happens to the ranch's development after bankruptcy is difficult to predict. Will the current owners still have possession of the property? Will a different development team be in place? Will the property be sold?
"This is the first day in what will be a very complicated and extensive process," said veteran Colorado Springs developer Steve Schuck, who almost purchased the property before Capital Pacific stepped in.
"I suspect Banning Lewis will end up being developed by the current team, because nobody understands the property better than they do," Schuck said. "What would be the benefit of changing riders? It doesn't make any sense. The horse has to be ridden and these guys know how to ride it better than anybody."
Schuck is sure of one thing: There's "zero chance" anybody would buy the entire 21,400 acres after bankruptcy, if it were put up for sale. There's little money available to borrow, and less likelihood that a buyer these days would have the patience to wait 25 to 50 years to complete the development.
Even as bankruptcy gives owners time to sort out their problems, it could create a sense of doubt on the part of builders, buyers and real estate agents, Schuck said.
Real estate agent Hank Poburka of The Platinum Group said the bankruptcy could create an image problem for Banning Lewis if it drags on.
"I think the impact is going to be minimal if it's (the bankruptcy) done quick, and it's going to be major if it takes a long time," Poburka said.
Ultimately, time is on Banning Lewis' side, said City Councilman Randy Purvis, who also served on the City Council that agreed to annex the ranch in 1988. Colorado Springs really only has one direction to grow in, he said, and Banning Lewis will be there when the city is ready for it.
"The land's going to stay there," Purvis said. "I think the advantages that Colorado Springs has over the other parts of the country remain solid. As we go forward, the city will continue to grow."
Time. It's always been a matter of timing for Banning Lewis, Gruen said.
"Here you had this beautiful piece of property that's had these fits and starts over all these decades," he said. "Timing is so important in real estate. A lot of people say, 'Location, location, location,' but timing has a tremendous amount to do with how things evolve."
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