Sign In
A History of Success, A Future of Promise

Alumni Hall of Fame

Steven L. Craig

The Developer

There’s an iconic line in the 1989 Kevin Costner film, “Field of Dreams,” which tells the tale of an Iowa corn farmer with an outlandish vision to build a baseball field in the middle of nowhere .“If you build it, they will come.” No other phrase is likely to sum up the career of 1975 Santa Ana College alumni, Steven Craig.

For the past two decades, brick by brick, the Newport Beach-based real estate development and management company that bears his name, Craig Realty Group, has become a formidable force in the industry, currently holding and operating 13 outlet centers in seven states. Through hard work, persistence, and his easy going Midwestern mannerisms, Steven has built his company from the ground up, literally.

Back in 1973, and just three weeks after receiving his high school diploma in his hometown of St. Joseph, Missouri, Steve decided to ditch the cold and snowy midwest climate, and seek solace, and higher education, in sunny Southern California. His destination: the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. Upon his arrival in the City of Dreams, Steven’s college dreams were sunk after he discovered that UCLA did not offer a business program. With no intention of turning back, Steven needed to come up with a Plan B.

All hope was not lost. At the suggestion of the Los Angeles family Steven’s parents connected him with to help orient him to California, Steven visited the campus of Santa Ana College. After the tour, Plan B quickly became Steven’s best plan. He was sold, but there was one obstacle standing in his way: all the classes were filled. With the help of a SAC counselor, Steven was able to get most of the classes he wanted overridden. The plan was in motion.

In and out of the classroom, Steven soared at SAC, joining the tennis team, and student government. “When you go to college and you’re paying for it, you want to extract the most out of it you possibly can,” says Steven. “I showed up every day, participated, and asked questions. I think when you do those things, the professors react favorably.” It’s those professors says Steven, who helped him build a level of confidence to compete. “I felt I had a strong sense of place there.”

Paying his way through school as the first in his family in generations to seek higher education, the journey to commencement was paved with many macaroni and cheese meals, says Steven, but he persevered. He worked part-time at a drive-thru dairy store, rented a room to keep his expenses in line, and focused on his studies. In his sophomore year, some financial relief arrived in the form of a $2500 Bank of America scholarship.   

After receiving his SAC degree, Steven wasn’t sure what his next collegiate move would be. At first, he shied away from the idea of transferring to the University of Southern California due to finances, but his SAC counselors urged him to consider it, at least visit. He did—five times. He enrolled, even receiving partial scholarship, which he credits SAC for.

“From a value proposition standpoint, Santa Ana College was one heck of a deal,” says Steven. “I had a good college experience there. I enjoyed the instruction and can still remember many of the professors, for whom I had a keen appreciation for, especially when I transferred to the University of Southern California.”

Next came USC commencement, followed by a summer internship with real estate giant, Coldwell Banker, where Steven immersed himself in the business, learning from corporate executives at lunches.

Later, Steven joined Xerox Corporation’s training program, followed by a stint at Anchor West Development. “I wanted to learn the business from the ground up.” Following Anchor West Development, Steven moved to a larger real estate firm and then, in 1984, launched Craig Realty Group. “I think there’s something to creating a place that didn’t exist before that people all over the world visit,” says Steven, of his passion for building outlet shopping destinations.

At the heart of Steven’s driving influence, is a winning attitude and vision for what might seem impossible to everyone but him. Case in point: Cabazon Outlets. Bookended by Los Angeles and Palm Springs, CA, at the time considered to be some of the poorest land in California, and riddled with countless social, let alone development hurdles, including high unemployment, and no utility infrastructure. While others saw an unsurmountable development challenge, Steven saw potential. Today, after more than 200 banks refused to support the project, it’s been in business for decades, racking in nearly $1 billion in sales each year.

Another of Steven’s development feats include The Outlets at San Clemente, which took more than 18 years to open. In 2017, after becoming the fourth company to own and operate the Citadel Outlets in Los Angeles, the Craig Realty Group property became the second ranking outlet shopping center in the United States. Steven’s development magic has also travelled, with a successful outlet center in Milan, Italy.

In addition to the real estate business, Steven’s made philanthropy a big part of his portfolio. Since 2012, he’s served on the Board of Directors for KidWorks of Santa Ana, a nonprofit that provides low-income, at-risk children with education and life enrichment support services. Steve’s involvement with KidWorks has raised its profile, and his instrumental role in developing the organization’s golf tournament, has elevated fundraising revenue significantly.

In 1996, Steven returned home to cold he said farewell to decades before, to deliver the graduation address to the business department at Missouri Western University. While there, he learned the school was having a tough time becoming accredited. Not one to back away from a trial, Steven helped the school develop accreditation. For his hard work and generosity, the university renamed its business school the Craig School of Business.

Regardless of where Steven’s endeavors have transported him throughout his career, the real estate developer says he will always hold his beginnings at Santa Ana College in high regard. “I went into my experience at SAC with the best intentions and I feel like I got twice as much out of it. I am extremely pleased with the quality of education I received at Santa Ana College.”