In 2001, Richard Kessler, a hotelier, developer, and co-founder of Days Inn, found himself facing his toughest business deal yet. It wasn’t for a commercial acquisition— instead, Kessler was trying and, for a time, failing to buy a 10,000-acre plot of land in western Colorado. His opponent? “A big bull of a fella who’d been a cowboy rancher all his life,” recalled Kessler. “He turned out to be the best negotiator I’ve ever negotiated against, but he was smiling the whole time.” It was, Kessler said, “a kind of cowboy negotiation,” which resulted in them writing up the sales contract on a yellow legal pad. “He wouldn’t sign anything else,” said Kessler. The purchase price was “less than $10 million,” he said, and, after buying another adjacent 4,000 acres, Kessler had the foundations for his ranch.
Now, 15 years after developing it, buying up the mineral rights (a separate series of negotiations), and consulting with environmental and civil engineers to return the property to its pristine natural state, Kessler has placed the ranch on the market for $32.5 million.
He describes the property as “a beautiful green valley between two mesas.”
Located in Garfield County, the ranch is about an hour’s drive from Grand Junction, a town of 60,000 and a little bit longer than that to the Aspen and Vail ski areas. The ranch has four lakes, a 100-year-old orchard, and large wildlife populations comprising turkeys, quail, pheasants, elk, deer, bears, and mountain lions. There’s also ample trout fishing in each of the lakes.
“When I bought it, I thought it was going to be a personal place,” Kessler said. But after a tour of the property in a four-wheeler took him more than a single day, “I realized I had to share it with others,” he said.
So, after building an initial structure (the only thing on the property when he bought it was a wood cabin without insulation), Kessler began to develop the ranch in earnest.
He built a 26,000-square-foot main house (“The Homestead”) which has a dining room that will seat 40 people, an executive board room, commercial kitchens, reception areas, a living room, bar, locked gun vault, and wraparound porches with views of the lake. That’s on the first floor.
The second, Kessler said, has eight bedrooms, each with en-suite bathrooms, and the floor above has a private owner’s apartment, where Kessler stays when he visits the ranch— it has its own kitchen, living room, dining room, and bathroom, and has 360-degree wraparound windows.
Nearby is a 10,000-sq.-ft. building they call the Guest House, which has another five bedrooms, each with its own bathroom. On the ground floor is what Kessler calls a museum, boasting stuffed animals and artifacts, along with a pool table, mudroom, and of course, spectacular views of the surrounding landscape.
Everything in the buildings, from the furniture to the decoration, Kessler said, was handmade by Colorado craftspeople. “There are hammered copper bowl sinks; even the mirrors have handmade wood frames,” he said.
There are four other utility buildings, a bunkhouse in the wilderness, and the initial cabin that Kessler built—in total, the ranch sleeps 30 people. When it’s full, Kessler says it can be serviced by 15 staff people, including cleaners, managers, cooks, and waiters. “But you can carve that number down to five, if you want,” he said.
Kessler rented the ranch out for between $250 and $500 a night per room, with an additional $250 for food and drink. Additional income would come from the oil, shale, and natural gas wells drilled discreetly around the property; the current price of the ranch includes rights to 50 percent of those wells, Kessler said. “They have real value, but it’s hard to determine how much, because it’s hard to determine what energy is going to cost in the future,” he said. “So what’s the value of that: $5 million? $10 million? Who knows, but it’s a big number.”
Kessler decided to sell, he said, to develop another ranch. “I enjoyed doing it; this ranch is beautiful, it’s gorgeous,” he said. “But now that I know how to do one ... I’d do a smaller one, probably.”