Monday 26 February 2018

Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke forks out over €600m for the biggest fenced ranch in US

Aresnal majority owner Stan Kroenke (left) has shelled out more than €600m for a ranch in Texas
Aresnal majority owner Stan Kroenke (left) has shelled out more than €600m for a ranch in Texas

Bryan Gruley

Stan Kroenke, the billionaire owner of the NFL's Los Angeles Rams, has agreed to purchase the historic WT Waggoner Estate Ranch in Texas, representatives of the ranch said. Terms for the purchase of the more than 520,000-acre estate were not disclosed. The ranch had been listed with an asking price of $725m (€645m).

District Judge Dan Mike Bird in Vernon, Texas, allowed the family owners of the Waggoner Ranch to proceed in a private transaction with Kroenke, one of the wealthiest owners in professional sports and the owner of 11 ranches in Montana, Wyoming, Arizona, and British Columbia. The Waggoner went on the market in 2014 after Judge Bird ordered a sale to end more than 20 years of family litigation.

"This is an incredible opportunity and an even greater responsibility," Kroenke said in a statement released by the Waggoner family and its representatives. "We are honoured to assume ownership of the Waggoner-a true Texas and American landmark."

Kroenke recently decided to move his National Football League team from St. Louis to a privately financed $1.8bn stadium in Inglewood in Los Angeles. Along with the Rams, he also owns the National Basketball Association's Denver Nuggets, the National Hockey League's Colorado Avalanche, Major League Soccer's Colorado Rapids, and two-thirds of the English Premier League's Arsenal soccer club. Mr Kroenke's fortune is estimated to be worth about $6.2bn.

The Waggoner is the largest US ranch within one fence, marketed as measuring 520,527 acres (210,650 hectares), or 800 square miles (2,072 sq km). The sale to Kroenke will include additional acreage that brings the total to about 535,000. The King Ranch, based in South Texas, has more acreage spread over several parcels.

Located about 175 miles northwest of Dallas, the Waggoner sprawls over six counties and is bigger than Los Angeles and New York City combined. The asking price was more than four times the biggest publicly known sum fetched by a US ranch, $175m for a Colorado spread in 2007. With 6,800 head of cattle, the Waggoner is one of the 20 largest cattle ranches in the US and is known worldwide for its quarter horses, which number 500. The ranch also has 1,000 oil wells, 30,000 acres of cropland, and an abundance of deer, quail, feral hogs, waterfowl, and other wildlife.

The Waggoner has been owned by the same family almost as long as Texas has been a state. Judge Bird's 2014 order to sell the ranch ended litigation between opposing branches of the Waggoner family who couldn't agree on what to do with the property. Bradley Wharton, a representative of certain Waggoner heirs, said, "We never lost sight of what we wanted in a new owner: a keen sense of tradition, a love of the land, and loyalty to the people who work here."

Bernard Uechtritz of Briggs Freeman Sotheby's International Realty in Dallas and co-broker Sam Middleton of Chas S Middleton & Son in Lubbock, Texas, received about half a dozen serious offers, Uechtritz said. "This is not a plaything" for Kroenke, he said. "He's really in the serious business of ranching and he considers this the crown jewel of all ranching."

The ranch was developed by a cattle and horse man named WT Waggoner, son of Dan Waggoner, who started buying Texas acreage around 1850. By the 20th century, oil had been discovered on the ranch, and the Waggoner reverse-triple-D brand was a Texas icon. Trainloads of spectators came to watch President Teddy Roosevelt hunt wolves on the property. Will Rogers, the famous American humourist of the 1920s and early '30s, visited frequently, sometimes playing polo. (Bloomberg)

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