This story doesn’t easily fit into the mega-rich nefarious neighbor category, but you’ve got to hand it to fossil fuel magnate Bill Koch for putting a new spin on the classic land-grabbing NIMBY narrative.
Koch — yes, he’s the somewhat lesser known brother to Charles and David of Tea Party fame — is perhaps most famous for winning the America’s Cup back in the early 1990s, rallying against the Cape Wind project on Nantucket Sound and collecting oil paintings of boats and really old bottles of wine. Koch is valued at around $4 billion — and has emerged as a major supporter of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign.
Although his recent entry into the political scene has been garnering some headlines, it's Koch's real estate development that has been stirring up attention. Through a controversial public-to-private land swap dubbed the Bear Ranch Land Exchange, Koch is attempting to acquire roughly 1,800 acres of Bureau of Land Management-controlled land in Gunnison County, Colo., in exchange for several other parcels of land totaling 991 acres that he owns throughout the state and in Utah.
What does a nautical-minded oil tycoon with homes in Palm Beach and Cape Cod need with a bunch of undeveloped land outside of Aspen?
Koch is an avid collector of Western frontier memorabilia — he owns Jesse James’ gun, Wyatt Earp’s vest and a photo of Billy the Kid that he purchased at auction for last year for $2.3 million, among other Old West relics that most American history museums would clamor over. To house his massive collection, he’s in the process of erecting an entire ersatz frontier town in the middle of 6,400-acre Bear Ranch.
Composed of 50 or so faux frontier buildings, the town will include a jail, saloon, church, a train station and various other structures, some of which were plucked from Buckskin Joe, an honest-to-goodness Western theme park (formerly a movie set) that Koch purchased for $3.1 million in 2010. (That's a picture of a Buckskin Joe building pictured up top). Koch has also been given approval to construct a 21,000-square-foot mansion overlooking his Old West replica town.
Here’s the thing. Koch’s “True Grit” fantasyland won't be open to the public. The hoard-holding (Koch's wife even breaks out the "H" word when describing her husband's collection) compound was erected “simply for Koch's amusement and for that of his family and friends — and historians,” explains the Denver Post. The aforementioned 1,800-acre land swap would further shield the town — complete with “full-size buildings [that] come with polished brass and carved-mahogany details and are fronted with board sidewalks and underpinned by a water-treatment system” — from pesky looky-loos who can view the development from a public road that passes through the ranch and provides access to Gunnison National Forest.
The locals, although perhaps bemused by the eccentricity of the whole Western town thing, aren’t too thrilled about the land swap aspect, Ed Marston, a resident of nearby Paonia, tells Businessweek: “The arrogance of the man is quite startling. Land exchanges are supposed to be in the public interest, and there is no public interest here.” Koch’s team argues that the swap would only improve access to Gunnison National Park and Raggeds Wilderness Area through the creation of new trailheads, and that the land Koch will be parting with is equally as valuable as the land that he’s after.
This whole thing is rather curious on several levels. Any Colorado residents who have been following this ongoing story care to chime in?
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