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Bargain shopping with Anschutz

City Sage



The Broadmoor? Check. Gazette? Check. Pikes Peak Cog Railway? Check. Subsurface water rights to the Greenland Ranch? Check. Ute Trail River Ranch? Check. Norris-Penrose Event Center? Check.

What's next on Philip Anschutz's local shopping list?

Colorado's resident multi-billionaire is a man who dreams big dreams and makes them happen. He's patient and canny, willing to wait decades for a project to realize its full potential.

Consider the Power Company of Wyoming, a $6 billion wind energy project Anschutz launched in 2008. When done in 2020, it will consist of 1,000 wind turbines on 500 square miles of land in south-central Wyoming. Power from the turbines will be transmitted over a $3 billion high-voltage transmission line to Southern California. The vast array will generate 3,000 megawatts of electricity from the Wyoming winds, roughly equivalent to the output of 12 Martin Drake plants, enough to power 900,000 homes.

Anschutz will own it all: the land, the turbines and the transmission line.

The formula is simple. You find undervalued assets, acquire them, add value, and wait for the rest of the world to understand what you've done.

He expanded his family's oil and gas/ranching empire, and he discovered the giant Anschutz Ranch East field in 1979. In 1982, he sold a half interest in the play to Mobil for $500 million and moved on. He bought railroads when they were cheap, used their rights-of-way for a privately owned fiber-optic network, and eventually cashed out for many times his original investment. He acquired, piece by piece, the finest collection of historic Western art in the world when such works were scorned by most collectors. You can see them in their glory at Anschutz's American Museum of Western Art in Denver. The value of the collection? At least 20 times what he paid.

As Connie Bruck reported two years ago in the New Yorker, Anschutz also knows how to revitalize cities. In Los Angeles, he took "30 acres of flophouses, bars, strip clubs and empty lots, forlornly situated near the 10 and 110 freeways. Now [it contains] Staples Center, a 20,000-seat arena, and is home to L.A. Live, a bustling entertainment district, which is almost entirely owned by the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) ... there are dozens of restaurants, a J.W. Marriott/Ritz-Carlton Hotel, the Nokia Theatre, the Grammy Museum and a multiplex Regal Cinema. Staples Center is home to the Lakers (partly owned by Anschutz) and the L.A. Kings (majority-owned by his AEG)."

So what are Colorado Springs' undervalued assets?

Start with southwest downtown. Flophouses, bars and strip clubs would be a major upgrade to the present 100-acre urban wasteland. Coherent development might include a baseball stadium for the Sky Sox, the Olympic Museum, a science museum and lots of bars and restaurants as well as retail and residential uses. Such a transformation might rebrand Colorado Springs and revitalize the regional economy. It could accelerate development between the northern boundary of Colorado Springs and Castle Rock, creating demand for the water resources of the Greenland Ranch.

That's one undervalued asset. Pikes Peak is another.

Anschutz's Cog Railway transports more than 200,000 passengers annually to the summit of America's Mountain. They disembark and encounter a landscape featuring a mediocre souvenir shop, corrugated steel buildings and a muddy parking lot.

It's a mess — but one that can easily be fixed by Anschutz. In 2008 he acquired Xanterra, a huge national and state park concessionaire. The company manages iconic facilities in Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain national parks, among others. Aramark is now Pikes Peak's concessionaire, but that contract expires Dec. 31. If city leaders have any sense, they'll boot out Aramark and make a deal with Anschutz. Soon we'll see a new Summit House and a restored summit — a worthy destination for visitors and a fitting crown for America's Mountain.

We'll all benefit indirectly from a stronger local economy, and if Anschutz's plans work out, he'll benefit most of all. It's capitalism — put up the money, take the risk, and reap the benefits.

Rock on, Phil!

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