Man, 2016 is gearing up to be a watershed year for billionaires buying up trophy properties. We’ve got Andy Beal snapping up the Hicks estate and possibly more, and we’ve got Jordan Spieth moving on up to the Creeks of Preston Hollow. Now comes word that the owner of the L.A. Rams, Stan Kroenke, and his wife, billionaire Ann Walton Kroenke, a niece of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton and heir to the Walton family fortune, was approved by the courts to buy up the $725 million Waggoner Ranch, located northwest of Wichita Falls near the Red River.
Dating back to the wild west of 1849, it’s the biggest contiguous ranch property in the U.S. The King Ranch is about 825,000 acres across multiple parcels, while the 510,000 acre Waggoner ranch is spread over six counties and is almost 800 square miles.
It is quite possibly also the most expensive piece of dirt currently in the U.S. Local brokerage Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International Realty was the major broker involved in the historic transaction. Closing will take place in “a normal time for a deal like this,” says the Briggs Freeman agent who pulled off the deal: Bernard “Bernie” Uechtritz.
And what a deal: this is the first ever sale of the historic ranch.
“This shows that iconic ranches like this can be sold in today’s market with the right strategies and international exposure,” says Robbie Briggs, “We had potential buyers from all over the world. But it turns out the buyer has very strong Texas connections.”
Bernie’s office, of course, is on Fairmount at Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International Real Estate’s Ranch and Land office, but Robbie says he spent more spent more than half his time at the Waggoner Ranch headquarters in Vernon, where he put together an information data room, a veritable sales War Room that sure paid off.
“It was a series of rooms at Waggoner headquarters, tables and tables of folders and schedules, maps, anything you could think of relative to a complex operation like this,” says Bernie. “We created an intensive electronic data room one could only visit once they had been heavily pre-screened, and that was, of course, available virtually as well.”
Bernie told me there was also a “low level” data room for the hundreds who came by inquiring. When asked how many potential buyers were from foreign countries, Bernie said many. That man’s Rolodex should probably be stored at Fort Knox.
“We had a tremendous amount of international interest from South Korea, China, Russia, South America, really from everywhere,” said Bernie.
Robbie Briggs told me there are layers and layers of detail and strategies that go into making a sale like the Waggoner Ranch happen. Bernie Uechtritz says, in the end, it was a competitive bidding process and great team effort by more than 20 or 30 individuals and their teams.
“There were a half a dozen bidders in the final group (each of whom had to pony up a $15 million refundable deposit), out of whom we chose one,” he said. “The Judge approved the choice today.”
The property has more than 1,000 producing oil wells, with the new buyer inheriting roughly 42 percent of the entire mineral estate.
Mr. and Mrs. Kroenke were represented by Joel Leadletter, who works out of Bozeman, Montana with Hall & Hall. The Waggoner Ranch brokerage team pulled in the state’s top ranch marketing brains: Briggs’ Bernie Uechtritz and Sam Middleton of Chas. S. Middleton and Son in Lubbock.
“Sam Middleton is great broker,” said Bernie. “You don’t do deals like this unless you have great brokers. There were extraordinarily combined efforts, no one person outshone the other. And Joel Leadbetter is a consummate professional. He and I worked together shoulder by shoulder under the radar.”
The buyer is pro sports team owner and real estate developer Stan Kroenke. The Missouri-born businessman has investments in a number of sports franchises, including the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams, the NBA’s Denver Nuggets, the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche and the English Premier League’s Arsenal F.C. in London.
You may recognize his real estate company, the Kroenke Group. They are building out the new Preston Hollow Village complex over on North Central Expressway at Walnut Hill Lane in North Dallas in partnership with Provident Realty.
Kroenke is also a partner in the Midtown Park development on Meadow Road, and still owns the land under the old Sam’s Club on Park Lane east of Greenville, plus other properties in Uptown and downtown. He also has interests north of Dallas in Denton and the high growth area on Highway 380.
Kroenke has a farm and ranch subsidiary that is one of the largest ranch operators in the country.
“This is an incredible opportunity and an even greater responsibility,” said Kroenke, who is owner of Denver-based Kroenke Sports Enterprises, in the press release. “We are honored to assume ownership of the Waggoner — a true Texas and American landmark — and are deeply committed to continuing the proud legacy of W.T. ‘Tom’ Waggoner, his family and his descendants.”
“We will continue to preserve and protect this uniquely American treasure,” he added.
The 167-year-old ranch includes thousands of cattle, hundreds of horses and oil wells, and 30,000 acres of farmland. Waggoner Ranch was first put on the market in August of 2014, but Bernie Uechtritz says he really stepped up the marketing in January of 2015.
Like most families, the heirs of cattle and oil baron W.T. Waggoner argued over whether the ranch should be sold. Finally, a judge decided. Texas Monthly’s Gary Cartwright wrote one of the best stories on the decades-long family fight.
Apparently the Waggoner descendants — Bradley Wharton, Helen Biggs Willingham and Electra Biggs Moulder — were pleased with the deal struck with Kroenke and passing the Waggoner ranching legacy onto him and his wife, a niece of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton.
Waggoner Ranch will be folded into the operations of the U.S. division of Kroenke Ranches — an affiliated company of Kroenke’s Sports Enterprises — and the land will come first, said the group’s General Manager Sam Connolly.
“We are excited about integrating this second-to-none ranch with our ranch holdings in the United States and in Canada,” Connolly said. “This acquisition ties in perfectly with our cattle, wheat, horse and natural resource operations. We look forward to learning from and building on the remarkable heritage of this crown jewel of ranching.”
Kroenke has recently moved the Rams from St. Louis to Los Angeles and is building a new stadium in nearby Inglewood, California. Besides the sports interests, he is also one of the nation’s biggest landowners with ranches throughout the United States and Canada, including Montana and Wyoming and now, of course, Texas.