You might say Lennar's land acquisition big hitter Emile Haddad has had more than his fair share of white-knuckle time in the past 12 months. Still, if it's sympathy you feel for him, he'll have none of it. As his Blackberry signaled an incoming message on the evening of this past Oct. 25, Lennar's western region president hoped for the best, but braced for less. Five years of bargaining, planning, cajoling, dealing, and due diligence leading up to that night notwithstanding, he was keenly aware that the extreme urban makeover being defended that evening before the Anaheim City Council was far and away the most ambitious, complicated, and audacious proposal those city officials probably ever looked at.

“We had a good feeling going in,” recalls Haddad, who only nine months earlier had to endure yet another Orange County $1 billion nail-biter, leading the charge on Lennar's triumphant bid to buy the decommissioned 3,700-acre El Toro Marine base. “But you must always be prepared for the surprises.” Just as Lennar landed El Toro earlier this year, all stars aligned once again, as city officials voted unanimously in approval of Lennar's plan for A-Town, a vision for an urban master plan in the unsavory shadows of Angel Stadium's Platinum Triangle, which city leaders hope will bear an uncanny resemblance to San Diego's successful downtown renaissance.

Anaheim's approval in late October signified far more than a municipal blessing to begin demolition last month on a single project cobbled across 55 acres of blighted cityscape. Rather, for Lennar—and perhaps even for the company's mega-brethren among the nation's biggest builders—the green light to begin work on A-Town this year, and begin selling homes there in 2007, may go down as nothing less than a the-future-is-now moment of self-recognition.

A NEW ERA Greenfield home building may have been the ticket for big builders' Flying Tigers blitz on the Fortune 100 in the past 10 years, but it's not a model they can count on to keep them in the corporate pantheon forever. Everyone who's in the land game knows the land game as it's been known up to now is getting close to an end game.

Lennar's Jonathan Jaffe, COO, (left), and Emile Haddad, president of the western region, at the builder's western regional headquarters in Aliso Viejo, Calif. So guess what? Big builders know the master planned community business by heart, and if they run low on opportunities to do it on 1,000-acre tracts on the outskirts of town, they're going to have to learn to do it somewhere else, like on 40, 50, 60 acres, where there are warehouses, old mills, docks, garages, railroad beds, decrepit five-and-dimes, abandoned schools, and even churches. Welcome to a new home building era, where hardcore downtown resuscitation and cutthroat business opportunism meet like long-lost friends. In this new era, vertical downtown becomes the new concentric circle outside town.

Which brings us straight back to Lennar's notion to re-etch Anaheim's skyline in dramatic style. True to form for a man who always has his eye on the ball, upon receiving news of Anaheim's stamp of approval, Haddad didn't indulge in a lot of celebration. “We have calculated that as a company we are closing about 25 homes every hour. If you allow yourself that time in celebration, you're certainly missing something,” he laughs. So he mentally chalked A-Town up as a win, forwarded details of their success in an e-mail to COO Jonathan Jaffe, and then began looking forward to his next blockbuster, nerve-wracking deal.

Despite a business-as-usual demeanor, however, Haddad confesses a personal irony to the events of Oct. 25. It was 15 years ago, when, taking his family on their first trip to Disneyland, Anaheim's lack of community impressed itself on him. “We had moved to California,” recalls Haddad, who has lived on three continents in his 47 years “and, of course, my children wanted to see Disney. We decided to make the trip down, spend the day there, look around Anaheim, and have dinner in an area restaurant.”

BYE BYE BLIGHT: Anaheim's Platinum Triangle consists of an 870-acre parcel of land adjacent to Angel Stadium that has been rezoned for as many as 9,000 residences, 5 million square feet of office space, and 2 million square feet of commercial space. But his plans were thwarted. Upon reaching the theme park, Haddad realized the family would need to adjust their agenda. “There was nothing there,” he recalls. “It struck me as odd, that surrounding such a major attraction there was nothing else—no community at all.”

In land-starved Orange County, as attached new homes in the market have skyrocketed from 15 percent to 50 percent in less than five years, Lennar's land machine—under Haddad's direction—methodically assembled small, one-to-four-acre parcels in the aging industrial area, eventually totaling 55 acres of critical mass in what's now a revitalization zone adjacent to several of Orange County's people magnets.

“Anaheim already had the pond, Angel Stadium, the convention center, Disney, three surrounding freeways, and a transit system,” says Haddad. “Now, A-Town will really be able to connect the dots.”

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Los Angeles, CA.