Donald Bren retains rank as nation’s richest developer with $18B

Owner of the Irvine Company loses $200M in the last year, according to estimate

The Irvine Company's Donald Bren and Fashion Island at 401 Newport Center Drive in Newport Beach (Photograph by D Ramey Logan, CC BY-SA 3.0 - via Wikimedia Commons, Getty, Donald Bren)

The Irvine Company’s Donald Bren and Fashion Island at 401 Newport Center Drive in Newport Beach (Photograph by D Ramey Logan, CC BY-SA 3.0 – via Wikimedia Commons, Getty, Donald Bren)

Donald Bren, owner of the Irvine Company, has held his throne as the nation’s richest real estate developer, valued at an estimated $18 billion.

The 91-year-old chairman of the Newport Beach-based firm was ranked No. 1 among Orange County’s wealthiest residents, according to the latest survey by the Orange County Business Journal.

Bren also topped a recent Forbes’ list of U.S. real estate moguls, whose 10-figure wealth has taken a hit from higher interest rates, a rocky stock market and commercial fallout from the pandemic. Forbes pegged Bren’s worth at $17.4 billion.

But while Forbes says Bren’s fortune rose $1.2 billion from a year ago, the Business Journal says he lost $200 million, or 1 percent, due to challenges faced by all owners of commercial real estate.

His privately owned Irvine Company, whose 159-year-old roots trace back to a 93,000-acre ranch formed by three Mexican land grants, has become a real estate kingpin from California to New York.

The firm owns 129 million square feet, including what may be the largest portfolio of offices and apartments in the Golden State. 

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Its portfolio includes more than 590 office buildings, 125 apartment complexes with 65,000 units, 40 shopping centers, five marinas, three golf courses and a coastal resort, according to the Irvine Company.

Some 65 percent of its holdings are in OC, from Newport Center and Fashion Island in Newport Beach to half the 185-acre UCI Research Park in Irvine to the Resort at Pelican Hill and much of the 5,000-acre Irvine Spectrum.

Outside of OC, the Irvine Company owns properties in Silicon Valley, West Los Angeles and San Diego. Holdings include 20th Century Studios Plaza in Century City and the Metlife Building in New York. 

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Clockwise from left: Sam Zell, Donald Bren, Leonard Stern, Stephen Ross, Adam Neumann, Jeff Sutton and Donald Trump
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Irvine Company's Donald Bren; empty lot at the intersection of Pacifica and Gateway in Irvine where the Irvine Company announced that it will build apartments. (Irvine Company, Google Maps, Getty)
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Bren, who began building homes in 1958, was among a group that acquired the Irvine Company from its founding family in 1977, then bought out his partners to become sole owner by 1996. 

The former Marine oversaw the Irvine Ranch Master Plan, designing the cities of Irvine, Mission Viejo and the Newport Coast enclave of Newport Beach. He also has committed more than 57,000 acres, or half the ranch, to parks and open space.

— Dana Bartholomew

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