A decade ago, Mike Ingram, founder and chairman of El Dorado Holdings in Phoenix, gave this optimistic interview to the CNN Money website when it took on the future of sprawl. The interview was given at the height of the Southwest's real estate boom, before land prices started crashing and the mortgage boom immolated in a wave of foreclosures and broken fortunes.
Today, El Dorado Holdings is pushing a 28,000-home development in Benson, but this article discussed the developer's Douglas Ranch project in Buckeye, a suburb west of Phoenix that at the time seemed to have a limitless future.
An excerpt from the CNN piece paints this glowing outlook for what was described as the Phoenix-Tucson megapolitan area, one of 10 such multi-megapolopises in the country. The architect of the megapolitan concept was Robert Lang, then an urban planning professor at Virginia Tech University.
"Step Into the Path of Sprawl
"Lang's 10 megapolitans are already home to more than two-thirds of Americans, and according to census projections, their aggregate population will grow by more than 25 percent during the next 25 years. By 2040 the regions will account for 75 percent of all money spent in the United States on private real estate (about $10 trillion) and create 64 million new jobs.
"Every megapolitan has its own Buckeyes--raw land destined for bulldozers and homebuilders--but few possess the kind of economic perfect storm for growth and profit that Arizona boasts. No other region offers such great volumes of buildable land at such low prices. An acre of dirt can still be had for as little as $25,000, compared with $1 million on the outer fringes of Chicago. Land tagged for development will drive a near doubling of the Phoenix/Tucson region's population, and unlike Los Angeles, the area has enough water--from underground rivers, aqueducts, and nearby mountains--to support all the new residents."
Ingram comes across as upbeat but not foolhardy in this article. Described as "one of the Sun Belt's most prescient speculators," Ingram is portrayed as someone whose real estate investments dating back two decades "helped ignite a suburban building boom that hasn't let up."
"But the real payoff, Ingram says, lies ahead. Among other deals in the works, Ingram is spearheading a development called Douglas Ranch--covering 34,000 acres, more than twice the size of Manhattan--near the small town of Buckeye, 45 minutes west of Phoenix. Plans for more than a dozen adjacent communities are already in the making. At the moment, Buckeye is essentially a dusty crossroads on Interstate 10, home to 15,000 farmers and longtime residents. But within two decades, brokers say, it will be transformed into a giant suburban metropolis nearly as large as Phoenix itself."
Ten years later, that transformation hasn't happened yet, by a long shot. This November 2014 Arizona Republic article, for instance, describes Douglas Ranch as a planned community of the future.
But the 2005 CNN-Money article also noted that Ingram didn't have to go into debt for Douglas Ranch or his other land holdings, making him smarter than a lot of other developers of the time.
"But if his real estate ambitions go sour, or if projections about megapolitan growth are off the mark, Ingram has an ace up his sleeve. Having watched his own overleveraged bank and 60 others collapse along with oil prices in the early 1980s, he and Ortman decided long ago to always pay cash for land. Should the boom go bust, they won't owe anyone a dime. "It's been a wonderful run, and it's a wonderful market," Ingram says, "but you don't count your money when you're still at the table."
Here is how Douglas Ranch was described in 2012, seven years later, by a website calling itself the Glendale Daily Planet. This article dealt with a West Valley economic summit, held in LItchfield Park, and portrayed a development still to come:
"The finished project could have 83,000 homes and 250,000 residents, said the article. The planed community would be divided into 27 separate planning areas, including 2,000 commercial acres and 947 acres for employment. Twelve high schools and 25 elementary schools are planned. there will be 22 percent of the land in Douglas Ranch will be left open for trails and parks, and there are plans for 22 golf courses. Prices and styles for homes will include the entry-level to the custom built."
The West Valley is set for an economic boom. With regional cooperation, it could be magical, but if that cooperation breaks down, just the opposite happens, the article said.
"Transportation is a key in bringing this "magic" to the West Valley. The Loop 303 and the various sports facilities are key components to the area's success. The area is getting noticed by companies like Sub-Zero, Amazon, Dick's and Solar First. Each of these new business have huge footprints (very large facilities) in the West Valley.
"The West Valley needs to compete and stay competitive nationally and internationally. China has money and the Chinese are looking at West Valley properties. Florida and Texas are tough competitors. Key factors in their success are the intensives these states offer businesses. Businesses can be like free agents in sports. They will be looking for who can give them what they are looking for.
"These are new times. Cities need to be ready and organized to deliver quickly. An example is a quicker turnaround is for permits. The process needs to be an online process as well and available 24/7."