For more than four decades the name Rancon has been synonymous with real estate sales and development in Southwest Riverside County. In fact, the history of Rancon parallels that of development in this most dynamic area of Southern California.
When Dan Stephenson first came to the Temecula Valley in 1968, there were few houses, fewer businesses, and no traffic signals. State Highway 395 meandered from San Diego through Rainbow Canyon spilling down into a spacious valley that was once dominated by the 97,000 acre Vail Ranch.
Stephenson was impressed by the area. There was a freeway (Interstate 15) planned for the valley and one of the nation's largest developers (Kaiser) had purchased the old Vail Ranch. He also knew that someday the metropolitan centers of Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego would grow together. The Temecula Valley was inevitably in the path of growth.
Master Planning for Success
Stephenson returned to the valley frequently over the next few years keeping an eye development and on a new concept called "master planning" that was being applied to the community they christened Rancho California. The master plan mapped out areas for commercial growth, industrial uses, a variety of residential options, parks, roads, trails and an abundance of designated open space. Stephenson thought both the area and the master plan were destined for success.
In 1971, Dan Stephenson founded Rancho Consultants, a general brokerage firm specializing in properties located in “Rancho California.” Stephenson began with a tight-knit group of knowledgeable professionals who helped him buy and sell properties in the valley. They started in a re-locatable trailer near the intersection of Rancho California and Ynez Roads. In 1973, Stephenson put some partners together and built one of the area's first office buildings, which became the Rancho Consultants headquarters.
Residential development was occurring east of Highway 395. Rancho California Road became the artery of the growing community. Front Street, the historic main street of Temecula was still the heart of town. It featured the area's only restaurants, service stations and grocery store. The new Rancho Consultants building was located on Jefferson, which was an extension of Front Street north of Rancho California Road. It was the only business between Rancho California Road and Winchester Road, a now thriving commercial corridor and major thoroughfare.
Investing in the Future
Stephenson organized a group of investors and started buying up land. He started by acquiring land in the hills above Temecula, and then later along the not-so-main thoroughfare of Jefferson Avenue. His first partnerships focused on avocado groves, a cash crop that could help sustain a parcel until higher use came along. As the valley matured and more people moved in, Stephenson migrated to land and estate sales. One of the first major developments was a subdivision above Murrieta called La Cresta, a 10,000 acre estate ranch community. Stephenson’s group master-planned La Cresta to include estate properties linked by riding and walking trails. The venture was a success and set the tone for future area development. La Cresta’s success was followed by La Cresta Highlands, a 1,500 acre estate ranch community. Other projects followed including Santa Rosa West, a 700 acre estate-ranch community. Today these mature communities are considered the premier ranch estate properties in the Temecula Valley.
Acquired 10,000 acres in two transactions in concluding in 1971
Acquired at $800 per acre
Sold between $2,000 and $4,000 an acre
Rancho Consultants sold new homes, estate ranches, grove properties and commercial real estate to people moving to the area. In the latter part of the 1970s, a national sales campaign was launched for Rancho California. Businesses started moving to the area's Rancho California Business Park. Hudson Oxygen and Borg Warner opened plants in the area. Still, the real boom was years away.
When 1980 rolled around, the once sleepy town of Temecula was about to wake up. Grading for the new six-lane interstate was underway. New subdivisions and condominium projects were popping up all over. New business was moving to town. The Californian, a local weekly newspaper was introduced. Rancho Consultants was growing as a real estate brokerage and expanding as a development company through private syndications. About this time, Dan Stephenson decided to shorten the company's name from Rancho Consultants to Rancon.
He built Rancon Plaza in Old Town Temecula and established it as the new Rancon Headquarters. The newly-named company became the largest real estate brokerage and developer of commercial centers in the Temecula Valley. The Rancon horse logo became the most well know sign in town. To maximize his efforts, Stephenson started forming land and development syndications with a few close friends.
In the 1980s Rancon syndications grew in size and eventually evolved into large publically-traded limited partnerships. These partnerships built one of Temecula's first shopping centers, Winchester Square, plus numerous business and office buildings along Jefferson Avenue. Rancon funds also financed a major industrial park in Temecula and developed Alta Murrieta, the area's first master-planned community.
Acquired 570 acres in 1982 for $15,000
Entitled and Master Planned for 2,000 lots
Sold in 1987 for $54,000 an acre
In 1986, a privately held partnership built Temecula's first Class A Office building, Rancon Corporate Center. This four-story building became the new headquarters for Rancon, and the pride of Temecula's growing business community.
As Temecula, and Southwest Riverside County began to grow, the larger area, known as The Inland Empire started to boom with office and industrial complexes fueled by the I-10 and I-60 transportation corridors. Stephenson and his associates monitored that growth and decided to get into that market using some large limited partnerships, known as the Rancon Realty Funds.
The Rancon Realty Funds helped build major business centers in Ontario and San Bernardino, including Tri-City Corporate Centre, one of the Inland Empire's largest and most prestigious business parks.
In the early 1990s, the real estate market took a sharp downturn. The recession caused a well-documented crisis in the nation's savings and loan industry. The federal government formed the Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC) to help liquidate many assets, including large property portfolios, of failed S&Ls. Stephenson saw the opportunity and formed several small partnerships to bid on some Southern California portfolios. One of the portfolios acquired, contained a 600 acre residential property in Murrieta. The result of that acquisition was a highly successful project known as Copper Canyon.
Resolution Trust Corporation
1994 Acquired 29 large land assets from RTC for $12,000,000
Master planed several residential communities
Sold in 1996 for $120,000,000
The acquisition of properties below market level allowed Rancon to once again expand. Stephenson assembled his group of professionals to help acquire, develop, market and sell properties. He also formed two independent companies: Chardonnay Escrow and Preferred Lenders. These professionals and the two companies would become known as The Rancon Group. During the latter half of the 1990s, Stephenson formed several small private limited liability companies to acquire and develop properties such as Sycamore Creek, Madison Center, two monumental projects that set the bar for a series of successful private syndications.
As the new century began, Rancon partnerships developed Village Walk and Murrieta Corporate Center. Partnerships were also formed to acquire and develop more than 1,000 acres in Winchester. Rancon's marketing arm branded the area "Winchester Ranch," and recommended the entire specific plan be developed with a common theme.
Winchester Ranch is comprised of no-less than 15 projects under development by the Rancon Group. In additional major homebuilders such as Lennar, DR Horton, and Centex Homes made significant investment in projects there.
In 2004, the Rancon Group relocated its corporate offices to a new building at Village Walk Square in Murrieta. During the first half of the decade, The Rancon Group focused on entitling property with tentative tract maps and then selling "maps" to merchant builders. With the completion of Village Walk Square, and Village Walk, the Rancon development team decided to add more “vertical” development projects to the mix of offerings.
Several mid-size LLPs were formed to acquire property in Temecula Wine Country, which is the premier wine country in Southern California and one of the best in the State. The partnerships acquired 330 acres in a prime location at the entrance to Wine Country. The acreage was part of the historic Callaway vineyards, which had been neglected by the then owners. The distressed property was acquired at an exceptionally low price, in several acquisitions.
The Rancon Group went to work and entitled 290 acres for estate residential, and the other 40 acres for retail/commercial/hospitality. The adjacent projects became known as Europa Vineyard Estates and Europa Village.
The Europa Vision
The Europa vision features three components. The first will be Europa Village, a beautifully designed wine-country attraction consisting of three European-style wineries, and a 60-unit destination resort with world class spa facilities. The second component is Europa Vineyard Estates, which will be a private-gated luxury estate community overlooking the Village and other wine country properties. The third component is a 10-unit bed-and breakfast style country inn (acquired in 2011) located adjacent to the Village.
The Rancon Group began planting premium grapes in 2006, and had a cash crop of premium grapes in 2008. In the following two years several varietals were bottled and sold under the Europa winery labels.
In 2011, the Prelude to Europa was opened. Prelude is a 3,000 square-foot tasting-room, bistro and event facility located on the French portion of the village.
During the severe economic downturn that started in 2008, the Rancon Group slimmed down operations, but remained active on the land acquisition and entitlement fronts. In addition, the Development team made significant strides in getting Europa Vineyard Estates and Europa Village closer to final development.
Acquired in 2006
Master-planned for three wineries, a resort & spa, and a country inn bed & breakfast
On-going development in process
As the market remains flat, the Rancon Group is actively seeking joint venture partnerships with land owners and making all cash purchases of selected properties in Wine Country and throughout Southwest Riverside County.
Today, driving over and through the Rainbow Gap from San Diego County to the Temecula Valley is a much different experience than from the days when Dan Stephenson first came to town. Interstate-15 cuts through the center of the valley providing convenient access to the thriving cities that comprise Temecula and Murrieta. The population of the valley has gone from less than 20,000 in 1970 to more than 200,000 in 2011. Rancon has grown from a real estate brokerage located in a trailer in a soon-to-be retail center, to the area's most successful real estate company and the Inland Empire's leading developer. The Rancon Group continues to build relationships, build communities, and build a legacy in Southern California's dynamic real estate market.