On a Sunday afternoon in mid-May, Ben Rogers, his wife, and their three kids were hanging out on a beach.
Rogers, who co-hosts The Ben & Skin Show on 105.3 The Fan, had his feet in the sand while his kids splashed in the water. After soaking in the moment, he pulled out his phone and composed a text. “You have created paradise,” the text read, in part.
The message was to Tony Ruggeri and Jake Wagner, the developers of Rogers’ Celina neighborhood called Light Farms. Watching the sunset at the man-made beach in landlocked North Texas was, in Rogers’ words, “just another Sunday in our neighborhood.”
Ruggeri and Wagner head Republic Property Group, the residential developer responsible for several master-planned communities in North Texas, most notably Phillips Creek Ranch in Frisco, Walsh in Fort Worth, and the Villas at Legacy West in Plano.
In 2015 and 2016, Phillips Creek and Light Farms were two of the top 50 master-planned communities in the country, based on home sales and according to real estate advisory firm RCLCO. (Phillips Creek made the list again in 2017.) Also in 2015, Republic beat out about 40 competing firms—many larger and more tenured—to be named the development partner of the 7,200-acre ranch in west Fort Worth called Walsh.
Over its 51-year history, Republic has developed more than $7 billion in assets. Today, its 66 employees are focused on four major projects: Walsh, Light Farms, Phillips Creek Ranch, and the Villas at Legacy West. (In 2014, Republic sold its stake in Lantana to its capital partner Forestar Group.) Republic, which Wagner calls a “no-debt company,” looks for a patient, long-term capital partner for all its projects. Republic will master-plan the community and, in most instances, sell off the real estate to homebuilders developing single-family houses. Also under the Republic umbrella is a management company employing 25 people.
With all their shared history, Ruggeri and Wagner still have a remarkable amount in common. They’re both married and raising three kids, roughly the same ages. Their eldest children are in the same grade at Dallas’ Lamplighter School. But their personalities aren’t identical. Ruggeri talks with his hands and brings up philosophy in discussions about business. Wagnerspecificitiesore answering questions and speaks with a lot of specificity, rattling off statistics he’s committed to memory. They both use the pronoun we in a way that’s neither forced nor cavalier.
Steinhart says the co-CEOs have more similarities than differences. Chief among them: “They’re very innovative.” To refresh how master-planned communities are created, for example, Republic Property has pushed beyond the typical realm of residential development to build the likes of a restaurant, market, a telecom company, and a co-working space. At Light Farms, it owns and operates a restaurant called The Farm Stand Café & Market, and has doubled down on its commitment to nature and community with 13 miles of trails, a neighborhood farmers market, programmed events, and 240 acres of parks and open space. Light Farms is about half complete, with 1,100 homes closed and another 700 or 800 selling today, Wagner says.
Close to Home
“We both grew up in Dallas, so, at some point, we’d like to develop something here,” Ruggeri says. “There’s also this element of urban redevelopment that we have yet to get into. We’d like to cultivate that.”
Wagner says the firm gets frequent calls about other projects or parcels of land, but, with four major projects in various phases of completion, Republic is busy enough to be choosy. “We have the luxury of being selective,” Wagner says. “We’re not a fund that has to put out money. … The goal is to create the most engaging places imaginable, and that’s not always going to be greenfield residential real estate.”