5 Things You Need to Know About Real Estate's Richest Mogul
OC's own Donald Bren is the top of the heap when it comes to net worth among real estate moguls: $15.2B. But unlike a certain other Donald in the real estate business, the chairman of The Irvine Co doesn't go out of his way to publicize himself. Here are some facts about him and his company.
It's Always Been About Real Estate
Donald (snapped by our publisher in one of his rare public appearances in 2011) has spent his whole life in real estate, with his first project dating to the late 1950s, when he took out a $10k loan to build a house in Newport Beach. After a stint in the Marines, he took full advantage of the post-WWII residential construction boom, building scores of houses OC. He went on to develop the master plan for 10,000 acres that would become Mission Viejo.
The Irvine Co: Ancient by California Standards
What were once Rancho San Joaquin, Rancho Lomas de Santiago and a piece of Rancho Santiago Santa Ana in 1866, became the Irvine Ranch, a giant parcel of land that sold for about 50 cents an acre. James Irvine and his three partners stocked the Ranch with Merino sheep driven from St Louis, and the partners began the large-scale production of wool. Soon, James bought out his partners, and in the following century was one of SoCal's most prosperous ranches.
Donald and the Irvine Co
After picking up a 35% stake in Irvine Co in 1977, Donald spent nearly two decades not-so-slowly pushing out his partners. His move for control began when he borrowed $560M to start increasing the size of his slice. An epic legal battle ensued, concluding in 1996 with Donald forcing out the great-granddaughter of James Irvine. Here's a shot Bisnow took in 2011 of Donald holding a newly minted ULI “Vanguard Award” with LA mega-developer Rick Caruso and chairman of the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate Stan Ross, both friends and Irvine board members.
Growth Beyond OC
Donald has his eyes on Silicon Valley. Last year, his firm broke ground on Santa Clara Square, which upon delivery will include 1.2M SF of office. In January, he also bought an office park in Santa Clara. And it's not just the coasts, as Irvine Co picked up a 1.3M SF office tower in Chicago last year for a cool $850M. Now it's known that the Irvine Co owns a 97.3% stake in the MetLife Building in Manhattan (Donald's been quietly building the investment since '05). Here's a look at the history of the iconic building. Still, outside of the NYC asset and a couple other buildings in Chicago, Donald's fortune is all in California.
He Believes in Green Space
In 2010, fulfilling a long-standing promise to eventually turn over all of the company's preserved lands and open space to public ownership, the Irvine Co designated 20,000 acres it still owned to the County of Orange -- bringing its total contribution of permanently preserved land to more than 50,000 acres, representing more than half of the original 93,000-acre Irvine Ranch. Last year, the company established another 2,500 acres as open space in the county.