As backyards go in the Pikes Peak region, Pat Hamill has one that’s bigger than most.
Hamill is the founder, president and CEO of Denver-based Oakwood Homes, which, along with a financial partner, purchased the 2,600-acre northern portion of the 21,500-acre Banning Lewis Ranch in May. The purchase followed the October 2010 bankruptcy of the ranch’s previous owner and a subsequent auction of the property.
The acquisition made Oakwood, which already was building homes in the Banning Lewis Ranch, a key player among real estate development companies in Colorado Springs.
About 300 homes already have been built on the northwest corner of the property, near Woodmen and Marksheffel roads. When Oakwood contracted to buy the northern portion of the ranch, Hamill said the land — which was to be developed as a series of a half-dozen villages, according to an original master-plan — would become home to 9,000 households and 35,000 residents over 15 to 20 years.
Hamill spoke with The Gazette about the property’s development and other housing-related topics:
Question: What appealed to you about the Banning Lewis Ranch? Why did you want to buy it?
Answer: It was a strong master-planned community, which is our specialty. It has a state-of-the-art school and rec center and other great amenities like parks, trails and playgrounds.
As a local homebuilder, we had the opportunity to listen to consumers in the area and adapt to the market.
Q: Now that you’ve owned the property for several months, what changes, if any, do you plan for the property?
A: We want to continue with the things our homeowners love and finish out more trails and parks. We also have plans to remodel the ranch house to make it more usable. We also are helping other builders determine the pricing and types of homes they’ll build so Banning Lewis Ranch can meet all lifestyles and budgets. We started planning Village 2 and expect to be building there by next summer.
Q: Colorado Springs is known for its boom-and-bust economy, with the military being a major influence. Do you worry about our ups and down as you develop the Banning Lewis Ranch?
A: No. Colorado Springs is a great place to live. Many people come back after they serve in the military because of the great community. The community also is very family oriented, and Banning Lewis Ranch is a great place for families to live and play.
Q: Ultra Resources, a Houston-based company that wants to drill for oil and gas on the 18,000-acre southern portion of the Banning Lewis Ranch, will be your neighbor. What effect, if any, will that have on your efforts to develop the northern portion of the property?
A: We’re in contact with the oil and gas company, and as they finalize their plans for drilling, we will be working hand in hand to ensure environmental safety. The northern portion of the Banning Lewis Ranch is miles from the drill site, and is on the city water supply, so contamination of the water should not be an issue.
Q: We’ve seen much better numbers the past few months when it comes to the pace of home construction in the Pikes Peak region. How would you characterize the current state of homebuilding in the Springs area?
A: We’re very optimistic. Values are up and inventories are down. We’ve seen numbers in Denver improving since January, and Colorado Springs consistently follows that market. Consumer confidence is up and now is the time to sell your home and buy a new one.
Q: Before the downturn five years ago, the Pikes Peak region’s homebuilding industry saw several years in which single-family building permits hovered around 4,000 and even topped 5,000 — big numbers for this market. Will we ever return to that level of activity? If so, how long will it take?
A: With aggressive job growth, it’s possible, but the new normal might be in the range of 3,500.
Q: What kinds of changes, if any, did Oakwood Homes have to make over the past few years when homebuilding slumped? What kind of effect did they have?
A: As a local builder, versus a builder from California, we had the opportunity to listen to the consumer and adapt. We listened to the market and came out quickly with new product. We’ve done lots of value engineering and our homes are designed with eat-in kitchen islands and spa-like bathrooms. We’re also going back to the basics and building out of equity rather than costly financing.
Q: Oakwood Homes is both a builder and land developer. Which is more challenging to you, and why?
A: Doing both gives us the opportunity to build the type of homes that shape the community and both come with exciting challenges. We know great communities come with great schools at all grade levels and that is one of the challenges we jump in and tackle first.
As a developer, determining when to invest in infrastructure is challenging. As a homebuilder, the challenge is figuring out the right products to bring to the market.
Questions and answers are edited for brevity and clarity.
Contact Rich Laden: 636-0228 Twitter @richladen
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