Colorado Springs native Ruth Banning and her husband, Raymond “Pinky” Lewis, spent their married life accumulating 38,000 acres of prairie east of Colorado Springs – acreage they called the “Banning Lewis Ranches.”
Their efforts resulted in the biggest Hereford cattle ranch in the United States, selling award-winning animals to John Wayne for his ranch in Arizona, and selling as far away as Hawaii and Mexico.
A year after Banning’s death in 1962, Lewis sold 23,670 acres of the ranch to Lawrence and Stegall Colorado Properties Inc., a development company based in Phoenix.
The sales price was undisclosed, but the purchase was financed by the U.S. Steel Corp. and the Carnegie Pension Trust Fund.
Less than two years later, Lawrence and Stegall Colorado Properties defaulted on its loan and deeded the land to Colorado Springs Land Holding Co., a New York-based company controlled by the Carnegie Pension Trust Fund.
In 1981, Mobil Land Development Corp., a subsidiary of Mobil Corp., bought the ranch for $22.56 million with the intention of developing it for residential, commercial and industrial uses.
Within three years, Mobil sold 1,562 acres for $18.71 million to three buyers. That acreage was eventually developed as Colorado Springs Ranch, Pheasant Run and a motel site.
By 1985, Arizona land developer Frank Aries had blown into town, flush with success from re-parceling the Howard Hughes estate in Tucson, Ariz., and ready to make his mark on history.
Aries drove a Rolls-Royce and lived in a $1.6 million Broadmoor mansion when he purchased 20,483 acres of the ranch for $92.05 million.
The smooth-talking, beefy and blustery Aries was bankrolled by a 10-year, $104 million non-recourse loan (he had no personal liability to repay it) from Western Savings and Loan of Phoenix, Arizona’s largest S&L.
A year later, Aries bought the 3,631-acre Colorado Centre development, adjacent to the ranch, from L-P Associates for $41.3 million.
The purchase was funded by a $33.3 million loan from Western Savings, which had already loaned out millions for casino projects in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.
Eventually, Aries’ loans were reported at $240 million total.
In Colorado Springs, his golden touch spread far and wide.
Aries convinced the Colorado Springs School, an exclusive prekindergarten through 12th grade private school on Broadmoor Avenue, to allow his son to attend without paying tuition on the promise that he would construct a new building for the school.
“A lot of people thought he was a great guy,” said long-time Colorado Springs resident John Daly. “When his son was to have his bar mitzvah, Aries held a big breakfast in the main dining room at the Broadmoor for business associates and all sorts of people. Then they all got aboard several buses and went to Denver for the bar mitzvah.”
Persuaded by Aries that a master plan and annexation would cause the value of Banning Lewis Ranch to skyrocket, Western Savings agreed to open a line of credit to finance the master plan.
The plan included 25,000 homes, golf courses, a new headquarters for the U.S. Space Foundation, a $3 million IMAX theater, a high-tech Olympic Hall of Fame; and a $35 million eight-lane thoroughfare, called the Banning-Lewis Parkway, running north and south through the property.
In 1988, Aries convinced the Colorado Springs City Council to annex his property. Mayor Robert Isaac was one of two who voted against annexation. The Council’s other seven members eagerly voted yes. It was the largest annexation in the state’s history.
If he couldn’t stop annexation fever, Isaac extracted a pound of flesh by requiring an annual $250,000 payment to the city for providing services to land that remained undeveloped until 2007.
“He (Aries) was a real showman, no question about it, and arrogant, too. He demanded the Council annex Banning Lewis Ranch,” Daly said.
Annexation was supposed to create a flock of eager developers wanting to buy parts of the ranch. They would propel the value of Banning Lewis Ranch to the moon. Aries would then be able to sell part of the ranch and pay off his loans.
Those developers never materialized, and Aries’ house of cards collapsed a year after annexation.
He defaulted on his loans and deeded the ranch back to Western Savings.
By that time, Western Savings had already been seized by federal regulators as part of the nationwide savings and loan scandal during the administration of George H. W. Bush.
The banking problems of the '80s and '90s came primarily, but not exclusively, from unsound real estate lending,” William Siedman, head of the Resolution Trust Corp., said in the aftermath.
The RTI was created in 1989 to liquidate assets held by insolvent financial institutions taken over by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
The S&L scandal is estimated to have cost taxpayers $160.1 billion.
When last sighted in 1990, the then 56-year-old Aries was aboard his 98-foot sailboat in Miami Beach, Fla. He eventually sold the Broadmoor mansion.
“I plan to retire but not until next fall,” he said. At the time, he had planned to return to Tucson, but some think he might be living in Denver.
The Colorado Springs School never received the building Aries had promised to them in exchange for his son’s tuition.
As chief executive officer of Western Savings, Gary Driggs provided Aries with the cash to invest in Colorado Springs real estate. Driggs survived the bankruptcy of Western Savings, thanks to a golden parachute.
The U.S. Space Foundation never received the home at Banning Lewis Ranch that Aries had envisioned. The foundation currently resides on 14th Street in Colorado Springs. In November, Mike Kazmierski, head of the Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp., said the EDC had been trying to get them a new building at no cost for the past three years. He said they were close to a deal.
Aries' idea for a Banning Lewis Parkway lives on. The county’s transportation map for 2015 shows the beginning of a Banning Lewis Parkway running east of Marksheffel Road. By 2030, it will connect Stapleton Road to Highway 24.
As for Banning Lewis Ranch, members of the al-Ibrahim family of Saudi Arabia formed the Banning Lewis Ranch Corp. and purchased most of the ranch for $18.5 million from the RTC in 1993.
The al-Ibrahim family sold the ranch to Capital Pacific Holdings Inc., of Newport Beach, Calif., for $55 million in 2001.
In 2004, Banning Lewis Ranch Co. LLC, a holding company capitalized and managed by Makar Properties, a spin-off of Capital Pacific Holdings, was formed to purchase the ranch for $94.2 million.
Residential construction at the ranch finally started in 2007, just as housing peaked, with the first homeowners moving into their homes in January 2008. About 200 homes have been built and an additional 50 lots were said to be ready for construction in November.
On Oct. 28, with slow sales and $242 million in debt, Banning Lewis Ranch Co. filed for protection from its creditors in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware.
(Click photo to enlarge)