Oakwood ready for Banning Lewis home construction

Oakwood Homes of Colorado was expected to complete its purchase of 2,200 acres in Banning Lewis Ranch this week and is eager to let the building begin.

The section of land that Oakwood will develop is zoned and partially platted as a master-planned community, which includes residential and some commercial development. When completed, the area is expected to include up to 9,000 homes, Oakwood CEO Pat Hamill said.

The Denver-based builder and developer bought the land from KeyBank, one of 28 creditors listed as beneficiaries of a bankruptcy auction in June 2011. The bank loaned the former owners, the California-based Banning Lewis Management Company, $65 million. KeyBank acquired the 2,400 acres with a winning bid of $24.5 million.

Ultra Petroleum paid $20 million for remaining 18,000 acres where it plans to drill for oil and gas, if and when and if city lifts a moratorium on the practice.

The neighborhood is divided into seven “villages.” Village 1 is about half completed, with about 350 homes.

While a lot of infrastructure is already in place, especially for Village 1, development, Oakwood will have the freedom to rework some of the initial plans.

“We’ll make some changes,” Hamill said.

For one, he said Oakwood will redesign the community center to turn it into a full-fledged recreation center. There will also likely be some changes to lot sizes and the big-picture plan for the community, Hamill said.

He said Oakwood will begin its new ownership with some town hall meetings with residents and a long-range study of the schools

Securing builders

There were not a lot of builders constructing homes in Banning Lewis in recent years, but Classic Homes was one of them.

Classic CEO Doug Stimple said he was nervous about the Banning Lewis sale. He was hoping KeyBank would find a good local buyer and quickly.

“We’ve always envisioned Banning Lewis as a place where we needed to be,” Stimple said. “But as far as the future of Banning Lewis was concerned, we just didn’t know.”

KeyBank has been looking for offers on the property since September. While a spokeswoman from the bank said there was interest and while Stimple suspected there was ample interest in the property, the bank didn’t accept an offer until it got one from Oakwood.

And the sale is coming just in time, Stimple said.

This has been a good year for Classic Homes and the builder is down to just 10 lots in Banning Lewis.

“We have basically worked our way through all of our inventory,” Stimple said. “If the property hadn’t had a purchaser come along, we were planning on closing down our model in June.”

Stimple has already met with Hamill and hammered out a preliminary deal to buy 30 lots from the developer as soon as Oakwood closes. Stimple said he anticipates that construction on those lots will begin as early as July.

In addition to maintaining momentum with existing builders, Oakwood is reaching out to new ones.

Vantage Homes hasn’t been building in Banning Lewis, said Vantage president George Hess. But he has also been in preliminary negotiations with Hamill.

It always seemed to Hess like Vantage should be building at Banning Lewis. The company specializes in first- and second-time move-up homes in planned communities. But the builder’s products are a little more high-end and require bigger lots.

The small lot sizes the previous owners were offering in Banning Lewis was just one of the things that made the property a less than ideal fit for Vantage, Hess said.

“My understanding is that the lot sizes will be changing,” Hess said.

That and a perceived buy-in from Oakwood and Hamill have Hess interested.

“Pat’s what I would consider a local guy,” Hess said. “Even though he’s mostly up in Denver, I would call him a local guy. He’s a really community-minded person and a strong believer in good, quality schools.”

Local ownership

That local presence is what Hamill said Oakwood brings to the game that might have been lacking with the property’s previous owners.

“We are a Colorado company,” he said. “We work and build in Colorado Springs. I think it’s good finally that there’s a local company that understands the local marketplace, our values and traditions and what works.”

He said the previous owners came from California and were trying to build something here around what they knew there.

“Absentee ownership is hard,” Hamill said. “It means the people aren’t here to really know what’s going on.”

Hamill said the project is a big one for Oakwood to take on, but that it fits right in with the company’s portfolio and presents an opportunity to expand its footprint in Colorado Springs.

Oakwood is the largest privately-held developer and builder in Colorado, he said.

Stimple said he’s excited to see local ownership of the property as well.

“You’re biggest fear in something like this is that you’re going to end up with a buyer who views it as a flip and who wants to make a quick profit,” Stimple said. “We’re fortunate to have a buyer who knows what a community needs.”

He said the property has always seemed like an important development for the city and one where Classic wanted to be building.

“It’s a meaningful piece of property,” he said.