The purchase of the Padres Thursday is the latest in a string of major deals put together by Newport Beach developer George Argyros during the past three decades.
In November, Argyros, 50, and his partner, William Lyon, agreed to sell their 70% interest in AirCal to American Airlines in a deal valued at $250 million.
Argyros and Lyon acquired control of AirCal in 1981, when they won a bidding war with now-defunct Air Florida and bought the last major piece of San Diego financier C. Arnholt Smith's collapsed empire.
The two investors reportedly shared a $30-million profit on the deal--doubling their initial investment in the airline, according to a Newport Beach accountant familiar with the transaction.
Just a few months before taking over AirCal, Argyros acquired the Seattle Mariners for a reported $13 million.
However, it was a series of successful real estate developments in Orange County that bankrolled Argyros' entry into the airline industry and professional baseball.
The full extent of Argyros' real estate holdings is difficult to ascertain because his closely held Arnel Development Co. and Affiliates, a real estate development company based in Costa Mesa, does not report earnings or revenue.
Arnel has developed nearly 5,000 apartment units and nearly 700,000 square feet of commercial office space, mainly in Orange County, according to Ted Konopisos, who worked with Argyros for 14 years before leaving in November to start his own development company.
Additionally, Arnel is developing Metro Pointe, a 53-acre tract in Costa Mesa near South Coast Plaza that "has the potential to be an extremely viable development," according to Konopisos. The first phase of that development included 90,000 square feet of commercial office space and 296 apartments. The balance is expected to include hotels, mid-rise office buildings and specialty retailing.
The developer's associates suggested that his acquisition of the Padres and proposed sale of the Mariners are motivated by a desire to be closer to his increased real estate holdings in Southern California.
Konopisos said Argyros will be more comfortable dealing with a team that is ". . . just a 20-minute flight" from Orange County.
Argyros' success in the competitive Orange County real estate market has been "a real Horatio Alger story," said Tom Fuentes, chairman of the Orange County Republican Party.
Argyros is ". . . a strong-willed conservative and aggressive man, very much the entrepreneurial businessman," Fuentes said.
"He started out with a $1,200 loan in 1962 when he one day realized that he didn't want to work for anyone else," said G.T. (Buck) Smith, president of Chapman College, Argyros' alma mater.
Argyros hasn't forgotten his alma mater, according to an associate who credited him with "single-handedly rescuing that college from financial bankruptcy."