WYOMING TOWN SCORES VICTORY OVER BILLIONAIRE'S PLANS FOR SWANKY RESORT

A billionaire's best laid plans to transform a sleepy valley in Wyoming into a destination resort for rich people will potentially be delayed for years.

Chicago Cubs owner Joe Ricketts has long had an appreciation for the American West, leading him to buy the 1,300 square foot Jackson Fork Ranch in Wyoming's Upper Hoback Valley in the late 1990s.

The TD Ameritrade founder, whose family has a net worth of $4.1 billion, has been buying more and more land in the area around the towns of Bondurant and Hoback, as he moves to build a swanky new 230,000-square-foot resort nearby.

Ricketts broke ground on the project this spring, much to the dismay of long-time residents, but Sublette County officials voted 3-2 last Tuesday in favor of adopting existing wildlife restrictions that will massively delay construction.

Ricketts' planned Upper Hoback Road luxury ski area could take as long as six years to build now that crews are prohibited from doing exterior work between November 15 and April 30, WyoFile reported.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department, a state conservation agency, requested these restrictions to protect the moose and elk populations in that area. 

Steve Christensen, who was representing Ricketts at the Sublette County meeting last week, proposed eliminating the seasonal restrictions with some concessions on his part.

These included limiting construction to daylight hours, enforcing a 25 mile per hour speed limit on Upper Hoback Road and instituting a 'wildlife friendly migration corridor' across the ranch where construction would be getting done.

Christensen told county commissioners that without the Game and Fish Department's restrictions, construction could get done in three years instead of six.

Ricketts has been fighting to overturn these seasonal construction restrictions since Sublette County approved his bid in 2022 to rezone the area where the 64-room retreat will eventually be constructed.

At the Tuesday meeting, Christensen's argument resonated with Brandon Scurlock, the Pinedale regional wildlife coordinator for the Game and Fish Department. 

'Our typical recommendation is that the best mitigation for wintering big game would be adherence to the seasonal stip[ulations],' Scurlock said. 

'But given all the mitigation the Jackson Fork Ranch is offering and the shorter duration of the disturbance — three years [compared] to six years — I think the overall net impact to wildlife would be reduced by the shorter duration.'

Bondurant and Pinedale residents present at the meeting were infuriated by Christensen's plot, with Dan Bailey calling it a 'used car salesman approach.'

'Does anybody in this room actually believe that after three years the construction is going to stop?' he said. 

'Just a few months ago, it was going to be done in three years … Now we’re saying, "Well, it’s going to be six years."' 

Scurlock's support for the plan didn't swing enough county commissioners in the end, which means Ricketts has until November 14 to conclude work on the resort for 2024.

Ricketts claims residency at his ranch in Bondurant, which he's been trying to rename Little Jackson Hole, an obvious attempt to steal ski town Jackson Hole's notoriety.

His argument is that if the name were changed to something more recognizable to avid skiers with deep pockets, Bondurant could get a big boost in tourism dollars.

He was so keen on the idea that he invited Bondurant residents in March to a seven course meal with goodie bags for everyone to convince them.

At first mention of the renaming though, most locals got up and left in protest.

'About 75% of the people all got up and left the dinner right then,' longtime resident Pat Burroughs said. 'They left the gift bags on the table and just walked out.' 

Even though the momentum of Ricketts' flashy ski resort has been slowed, locals are still concerned given the fact that he's snapped up more than 1,800 acres of land in the area.

Most recently, he quietly acquired the historic Haliburton Hotel, which locals suspect may be to bolster another recent purchase of the White Pine Ski Resort.  

Many believe that a similar kind of resort could help revive Bondurant, which has seen ever dwindling class sizes at the local school and a litany of hotel, store and restaurant closures.

If Ricketts' plans are successful, he will become possibly the second largest employer in the area offering work not tied to jobs in volatile sectors such as oil and gas.

He once described the forthcoming travel destination as a 'premium resort experience with a mission-driven focus on protecting, preserving, and enjoying the natural beauty of the Hoback region'.

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2024-06-24T15:39:36Z dg43tfdfdgfd