After a nine-month review and evaluation odyssey that included several of land development heavyweights, BHP Copper Inc. entered into exclusive negotiations with Lowe Enterprises to joint venture on a master planned development for 19,600 acres on the outskirts of Tucson, Ariz.

Some 45 miles northeast of the city on the slopes of the Catalina Mountain Range, the tract is in Pinal County, near the small town of San Manuel, population 4,375. BHP Copper operated a mining and processing facility at the site. The company, a subsidiary of BHP Billiton, one of the world's largest natural resources conglomerates, has owned the property since the early 1950s.

Los Angeles-based Lowe is a national real estate investment, development, and management firm that has developed, acquired, or operated more than $8 billion in real estate assets in 34-years of doing business. Lowe claims expertise in commercial, multi-family, and resort development as well as several master planned projects on its list of credits.

Rick Newman, president of Lowe's western region real estate group, says it is “premature at this point” to discuss the master plan for the Tucson community in any detail. “There's still a lot of work to be done. We have only a general concept right now, and while it includes just about every type of use imaginable, we still are doing our due diligence and talking to consultants.”

On Newman's to-do list is an initiative to coordinate the partners' plans with the desires of local community. But already, Pinal County Supervisor Lionel Ruiz says he is “ecstatic” over the possibilities. “It will bring great benefits to our community and to the surrounding area,” he says. “It will provide jobs and result in many local improvements for our citizens.”

While Newman expects to spend “the remainder of the year” completing a master plan for the comprehensive project, he speculates that the partners would move forward quickly after that. There is no projection at this stage on when actual ground-breaking will occur, or how long it would take to build out a property of this size. “Some people have said 10 years, some people have said 20, but it all depends on the market and the eventual mix,” says Newman.

“There will lots of opportunities for home builders,” he says. “We have plenty of property.” Newman predicts that while the project will have a mix of resort and primary residences, the emphasis would be on primary homes.

The company is working on other master planned developments, including the 2,043-acre Macanta project south of Denver, which also includes a mix of primary and second homes. Two other big Lowe developments, which focus more on second and vacation properties, include the 6,000-acre Suncadia near Roslyn, Wash., and the 1,040-acre Grizzly Ranch in Portola, Calif.

The BHP Copper property in Tucson is nearly four times as large as the 5,485-acre parcel in northwest Phoenix that Toll Brothers, Meritage Homes and the Simon Property Group recently acquired in a joint venture from DaimlerChrysler.

BHP Cooper would not reveal which other development firms it was considering before choosing Lowe Enterprises, and Newman said he doesn't know, either. “They kept that confidential, even to us,” he said.

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