If you ask Utah real estate developer John Price when the total market capitalization of his company - equity plus debt - will hit $1 billion, he doesn't have to ponder the question.

"The year 2000," he answers immediately.Considering that the market cap of JP Realty Inc., of which Price is chairman and CEO, is already at $700 million and is currently negotiating to add another $100 million more this year alone, it would be foolish to bet against Price making his self-imposed deadline.

In fact, when you consider that Price started in business here in 1957 (as a building contractor) from what he terms "point zero," his track record to date indicates he can do just about anything he sets his mind to.

From point zero, JP Realty is now among the top commercial real estate developers in the Intermountain West, owning and managing 44 properties in Utah and nine surrounding states.

JP Realty's properties include a dozen enclosed shopping malls - including its Utah flagship, Cottonwood Mall - community shopping centers, commercial and industrial buildings. Altogether, it adds up to some 10 million square feet of commercial real estate.

Price chuckles at the thought that his company is now among the top developers in an area that has the strongest economy and the highest growth rate in the country. He remembers when the Intermountain Region was considered a sleepy backwater.

"People wondered what I was doing starting a business here," said Price, who moved to Utah from New York after emigrating to America from Germany as a child. "I had to wait 40 years, but now we are in the best place you can be."

But Price doesn't kid himself that Utah and the Mountain West will remain on the pinnacle forever. "Business moves in cycles, every three or four years," he notes.

Is a down cycle about to hit the state? Price doesn't know, but he finds troublesome the state's decision to make an all-out effort to renovate the I-15 freeway over the next four years.

"I think we have the best governor (Mike Leavitt) we've ever had, but I don't believe it's necessary to do the project this way," he says of the massive reconstruction project set to begin next month.

"It should be taken in sections. If it turns out well the way they're doing it, that's fine, but it's putting a lot on the line at one time."

For himself, Price anticipates no big problem commuting to his South Salt Lake offices from his home in the Avenues area of Salt Lake City. He'll be moving against the traffic flow. But for some of his more than 300 employees who live in Sandy, Draper and other south-valley areas, it could be problematic.

And proving once again that it's an ill wind that doesn't blow someone some good, Price believes that the freeway reconstruction project will significantly increase the value of homes in the Avenues and other areas close to downtown.

Also, suburban shopping centers, including Cottonwood Mall, should benefit.

Again, don't bet against him. If there were a real estate developer hall of fame, it's a safe bet that Price would have already been inducted. But could someone else emulate his feat? Are the glory days of real estate development in Utah already behind us?

Price gives that one a qualified yes.

"What I've done could be doable again; there's no patent on success. But the person would have to be very tenacious, and a lot of developers give up. It's tougher today, the banks are tougher, but it could be done. The thing is, you have to be patient. We've had properties that we've had to wait many years before we could develop them."

The argument can also be made that the Salt Lake market may be nearing capacity, at least for a while. "Candidly, we are over-built," Price says. "The question is whether the influx (of new residents) will come to a halt. If there's a downturn, we're in trouble."

While Price is first a business executive, he is also something of a renaissance man. An aficionado of antique automobiles, he once owned 37 rare and valuable marques that kept an entire crew of experts busy restoring them.

Today, his fleet has been reduced to two: a 1912 Hudson Mile-A-Minute that once competed in the Indianapolis 500 and a 1921 Paige-Detroit Daytona, also a former race car.

Then there is John Price the philanthropist. He and his wife, Marcia, recently pledged $7 million toward construction of a new Museum of Fine Arts at his alma mater, the University of Utah.

The decision to fund an art museum was not arbitrary. He is a serious collector of art, and JP Realty's headquarters are something of a museum themselves, housing one of the largest collections of Depression era lithographs in the country.

Then there's John Price the political animal. A visitor to JP Realty's offices is greeted by a wall of photographs showing Price with Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Bush. Others show him with Gov. Bill Clinton, former Sen. Bob Dole, former Vice President Dan Quayle and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, among others.

Price has long been one of the nation's most generous political donors and the biggest Utah donor to the national Republican Party. His donations of more than $100,000 per year have gained him membership in the party's exclusive "Team 100" and election to the Republican National Committee.

Price was a Democrat in his younger days and ran for city, country and state offices under that banner. Today, though, he is GOP all the way, and he makes sure that visitors know that the picture of him with Bill Clinton was taken when it was Governor Clinton, not President Clinton.

Besides gaining him access, Price says his political contributions also help him elect people he cares about. He notes that America has been good to him and he wants to give something back.

Price's Jewish family fled Nazi Germany just before World War II, escaping the Holocaust that devoured many of his family's friends and relatives. "Only four of us got out," he recalls.

In New York, at age 8, his first job was using a converted wagon to deliver groceries from local stores to neighborhood apartments. Predictably, he soon had two "employees" working two other wagons.

He came to Utah at age 18 and soon began using his en-tre-pre-neurial skills to carve out a career in construction and real estate. He counts Utah grocery retailers Maurice Warshaw and Dee Smith among his mentors.

JP Realty is an outgrowth of Price Development Co. and John Price Associates Inc., general contractors. In January 1994, the new company went public on the New York Stock Exchange. Since then, following two secondary offerings, the company has returned investors 23 percent on an annual basis with an approximate 50 percent increase in stock value. Some 20 million shares of JP stock are outstanding. Price remains the principal shareholder.

The company has paid out a 7 percent annual dividend every year, a rate not matched by many other dividend-paying companies.

"That's why REITs (real estate investment trusts) are back in vogue (as investments) now," says Price. "People are learning that they should diversify their portfolios with real estate."

Price credits much of his success to his employees, many of whom have been with him for more than 20 years. He singles out Marlene Luke, his administrative assistant; G. Rex Frazier, president and chief operating officer; vice presidents Paul Mendenhall, Martin Peterson, Greg Curtis and Tom Mulkey and in-house counsel Dave Sabey.

He has special gratitude for Warren "Pat" King, vice chairman of the board of JP Realty and his closest business adviser and friend. Other JP directors include James Anderson, Denver; Al Sussman, New York; Allen Martindale, Laguna Beach, Calif.; and Sam Souvall, Salt Lake City.