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Lyon Maneuvers on Familiar Ground With New Real Estate Acquisition

September 06, 1987|LESLIE BERKMAN | Times Staff Writer

It comes as no surprise to those who know him that Newport Beach builder William Lyon has struck a deal to pay $325 million for the far-ranging real estate enterprises of Pacific Lighting Corp.

At a time when many prepare for retirement, the 64-year-old Lyon--apparently restless after bowing out of AirCal, the airline that had taken much of his time and effort for the past few years--has been on the prowl for something to add to his already-formidable holdings.

Lyon, whose real estate ventures reportedly have been extremely profitable and who managed to turn a $15-million profit last year from what had been a money-losing regional airline, had both time and cash available for a new business foray. And, friends and competitors say, he is not a man who likes to sit on his laurels.

Real Estate a Challenge

Dick Randall, president of the Lyon Co., said that what propels Lyon into new ventures is "not an insatiable appetite for money but the challenge of doing it. "

More and more, he seems to be finding that challenge in real estate.

Peter Ochs, formerly president of Lyon Co. and now chairman of the Fieldstone building firm, said he believes it was "a timely move" for Lyon to sell AirCal to American Airlines. "The business he knows best and is most comfortable and experienced with is home building in California and the Southwest."

Real estate industry experts say that, while Lyon will be acquiring a valuable management team and well-known brand name in Pacific Lighting's Presley Cos. subsidiary, they believe he was mainly interested in the development potential of the thousands of acres of land the company owns.

According to Kenneth Leventhal & Co., an accounting firm that was the auditor for Pacific Lighting's real estate group, Presley has more than 50 development projects under way in California, New Mexico and Arizona.

Additionally, other Pacific Lighting real estate units that Lyon purchased through Senior Corp., a Miami-based real estate firm of which he is half-owner, have residential, commercial and industrial land and buildings in California and throughout Hawaii.

One reason Lyon was looking when Los Angeles-based Pacific Lighting announced it wanted to sell its real estate operations was that he had time on his hands.

Lyon had been AirCal's hands-on chairman since 1982, successfully guiding the airline through the financial turbulence caused by half a decade of fierce fare wars, the air traffic controllers strike and soaring fuel prices.

So, when he and fellow developer George Argyros sold the regional carrier, which they had purchased for just $61.5 million in 1981, it fetched a price of $225 million and earned each of the partners a $15-million profit.

That profit is just a small part of the fortune Lyon had available to pursue the Pacific Lighting real estate companies. In fact, Lyon insists he is not using the AirCal profits in this deal.

Sources close to Lyon say that business has been booming at Senior Corp., a commercial real estate development and management firm that Lyon and longtime friend James D. Harper Jr. bought in 1984. Booming so much, the sources said, that within a year of the acquisition, the two men had recouped the $141 million they paid for the company.

Nor is business slow on Lyon's home turf.

The Newport Beach-based William Lyon Co., of which Lyon owns more than 90%, reported sales of $692 million last year--making it the nation's eighth-largest home builder, according to a survey by Professional Builder Magazine.

Sales were boosted in part by the Lyon Co.'s acquisition last year of Golden West Homes, a Santa Ana-based manufacturer of mobile homes.

2,300 Homes Sold in 1986

Like most home builders, for the last several years Lyon has been riding high as falling mortgage rates boosted an already-strong consumer demand for housing--especially for the entry-level and mid-priced homes that have been the Lyon Co.'s trademark.

If the transaction with Pacific Lighting closes as expected, within a month Lyon will personally take ownership of the Irvine-based Presley Cos., a builder that sold about 2,300 homes with a sales value of about $250 million in 1986.

In addition, Senior Corp. will buy four other Pacific Lighting companies: Blackfield Hawaii Corp., a Honolulu-based developer of single-family homes, condominiums, office buildings and shopping centers, and three Santa Ana-based firms, Dunn Properties, a commercial-industrial developer, Fredricks Development Corp., which builds and sells apartment complexes, and Ankirk Co., a real estate management firm.

Pacific Lighting said that in 1986 its combined real estate companies earned $24 million.

Lyon's acquisition of the Presley Cos. will make him undisputedly the region's leading residential builder. But making money has never been Lyon's sole motivation for doing things.

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