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Alexis Creek comes with an airstrip

Derek Penner, Vancouver Sun, July 18, 2007

For someone who wants land, lots of land with starry skies above and doesn't want to be fenced in, the Alexis Creek Ranch may be just the property.

It will have to be a rich someone, however, with a $23.5-million US list price for a working ranch of 104,000 hectares (4,000 hectares deeded and 100,000 acres of range leases) that begins about 80 km west of Williams Lake.

Irv Ridd, CEO of the listing agency Cascadia Pacific Realty -- an exclusive affiliate of Christie's Great Estates -- described it as "one-of-a-kind" trophy property.

The listing, however, is a fraction of the granddaddy of B.C. ranch sales, the 2003 transaction that saw Denver sports magnate Stanley Kroenke buy the famed Douglas Lake Ranch for a reported $93 million.

The Alexis Creek Ranch was carved out of the Chilcotin plateau in 1887 and was once owned by the German Prince Richard Wittgenstein. The current owner, a Seattle-based electronics firm magnate, is in his early 70s and wants to retire from ranch life.

A key selling feature of the property is its 1,500-metre paved landing strip with heated hangar -- classified by the department of transportation as a Class-2 airport -- that the present owner uses to fly in every two weeks in his private jet.

Ridd said his staff jokes that "we're an airport that just happens to be surrounded by a ranch."

"But if you're profiling for [the ranch] you've got to think about the owner of the property being able to fly in and enjoy the whole ranching experience."

That said, he added that the current owner "doesn't play weekend cowboy." He bought it in 1993 from Wittgenstein and is the owner who built the private airport, its seven-bedroom main house with five-bedroom guest house, and irrigated 720 hectares for crop production.

Ridd said the owner has become healthier than he was when he first stepped onto the ranch 15 years ago, and suspects "there's quite a bit of remorse" in making the decision to sell, but wants to spend more time with his grandchildren.

The Alexis Creek Ranch still operates a 1,000-cow breeding herd with 50 purebred Black Angus bulls, but the advent of well-heeled buyers looking to live a rancher's lifestyle has changed the ranching business.

Rudy Nielsen, president of NIHO Land and Cattle Co., a long-time rural and recreational real-estate firm, said there is a market, albeit a small market, for ranches as big as the Alexis Creek property.

"But the guys that do want to buy it don't care about the price," he added, which changes the dynamic of the business from when land used to be priced by how many cow-calf pairs the range could sustain.

"It's very difficult to compete against the guy who doesn't care whether he gets an income [from the ranch] or not," he added.