Stan Kroenke, 57, is one of the 400 richest people in the world according to Forbes. He began with a real estate development company that builds shopping malls. He married Ann Walton who is an heiress to the Wal-Mart fortune. Although Kroenke denies that any kind of special agreement exists, Wal-Mart tends to be a tenant in his malls. One reason may be that Kroenke tends to split the tax incentives with the store. For instance, of the $117 Million in tax write-offs given by local governments to build ten malls between 1994 and 2006, $54 M went to Wal-Mart. And of course, Wal-Mart has paid a great deal in rent to Kroenke’s malls. One hand washes the other and, by the way, Wal-Mart’s good fortune is also Kroenke’s since he holds more than $3 Billion in Wal-Mart stock.
But Stan has other interests. He has a couple of premium Napa Valley wineries, for example, but his big interest is sports. Kroenke owns the NHL Colorado Avalanche, the NFL St. Louis Rams,the MLS Colorado Rapids, the NBA Denver Nuggets, and a host of minor-league teams playing everything from indoor soccer to lacrosse. He has a controlling interest in the Arsenal (UK) football team and has a bid in to buy the bankrupt Los Angeles Dodgers. He owns stadiums including the Pepsi Center in Denver and has a fledgling cable sports network that will showcase his teams.
Stan enjoys playing with his sports franchises. He is supposed to be very involved in even small personnel changes. He plans on bringing the Rams and another NFL team to Wembley Stadium and introduce the English to American football. That should be fun.
Another sport that appeals to Kroenke is fishing. Some years ago he bought the Douglas Lake Ranch in British Columbia. The ranch had belonged to billionaire Bernie Ebbers of Worldcom who went bust in the biggest personal bankruptcy ever — $11 Billion of debt. Kroenke bought the ranch at a distress sale in 2003 for $68 Million which is far less than Ebbers paid for it. The ranch includes a timber mill, a townsite, houses for twenty-five employees, four heavy duty equipment dealerships, and of course, cattle, twenty thousand or so head. It also contains an 8000 square foot stone mansion that Ebbers built and Kroenke now enjoys.
Kroenke owns at least four very large ranches including one in Wyoming and two in Montana. The Douglas Lake Ranch sits on a half milion acres of land. Some of this land, including a couple of lakes, is public or Crown property. In B.C. you can’t buy or sell a lake; it belongs to the people. What you apparently can do though, is fence off all the access to the lake so that no one else can use it even if that means closing public roads which is also not legal in B.C.
So little Minnie Lake, a prime fishing hole, is located on the Douglas Ranch and Kroenke has shut down the road that locals used to drive down to go fishing. Also, Kroenke has flooded a great deal of land, enlarging the lake — does that mean that the new lake area belongs to Kroenke as he claims leaving only a tiny bit of Crown property in the middle which can only be reached by trespass? Or is it still Crown property? (I kind of think that he should have been stopped from changing the lake but that’s a matter for the Ministry of the Environment which has very little presence in the current B.C. government.)
Kroenke has stocked Minnie Lake with trout and he has said that the locals who fish there are thieves, stealing his fish. They could, if they wished to be honest, pay $550 a night to stay at the lodge Kroenke has built on the lake. The locals say that they have fished there for generations, that they have proof that the access road is public, and are scraping together the cost of a legal battle they expect to fight very soon.
The province did acknowledge that the road to Minnie Lake was public up until a few years ago. But lately they have told locals that Kroenke is in the right. Now you shouldn’t leap to the conclusion that Kroenke has bribed anyone, at least not with big bucks; all it takes is a little schmoozing. More politicians have been bought with a steak dinner and a ticket to tonight’s game than with barrels of cash. Anyway, one way or another, the current government is on Kroenke’s side, which is the way with these one-percenters.
The Minnie Lake business has a medieval ring to it, like being forbidden to hunt the King’s deer in Sherwood Forest. But Kroenke has a lot more force on his side than the Sheriff of Nottingham and, unless the locals can find a crackerjack lawyer, they are going to be shut out of the public lands of B.C. by one of our new feudal lords, Stan Kroenke.