Revealed: The Magicians Behind DU’s Magic Sky Ranch Mountain Campus
Last week, the University of Denver (DU) announced that it had acquired theSky Magic Ranch located in Larimer County, Colorado to create another college campus. While pure grand ranchlawsuits are not entirely uncommon in the West, for a university to succeed something like this caught our attention.
The University’s plan for the new property is to develop a complementary mountain campus to its urban Denver campus. It’s kind of a puzzling point – why not incorporate the benefits of Colorado’s outdoor recreation components and opportunities to provide a more enhanced student experience? The University plans to create a new orientation program for first-year students derived in part from Out of Colorado, focusing on team building and leadership skills through rock climbing, high ropes courses, hiking and other outdoor activities. FROM four-dimensional (4D) experience will be at the heart of the taught program.
The property, which will henceforth be known as the James C. Kennedy Mountain Campus, consists of 724 acres of land and nearly 60,000 square feet of buildings. The price to pay: 11.25 million dollars.
And while private universities, millions of dollars, hundreds of acres, and big names like James C. Kennedy make big headlines, there’s often something else hidden at work.
Enter the land of magicians from Mirr Ranch Group (MRG).
This group specializes in representing sellers and buyers in unique and often complicated land transactions. You may remember seeing them in the news in recent years for their involvement in the sale of some outstanding ranches in Colorado, such as Cielo Vista Ranch, home to the only private fourteen in North America; Sandstone Ranch, a landmark deal sold to Douglas County Open Space; JE Canyon Ranch, an ecologically significant property sold to The Nature Conservancy; and Caribou Ranch, a now-peaceful hideaway and historic site of the legendary recording studio.
ColoradoBiz spoke with Daniel Carter, Senior Vice President of MRG and recent graduate of DU’s Executive MBA program, who helped broker Magic Sky’s massive off-market deal. Below is a summary of what we found most intriguing about the development of this story and this real estate transaction.
ColoradoBiz: There are many land brokers in Colorado and in the West. Why was MRG selected?
Daniel Carter: When the University began its process of identifying a suitable property for the campus, it knew it could count on its alumni. A few years ago, they approached MRG founder Ken Mirr, a DU Sturm College of Law graduate (’86), to help him sell a college property in Wyoming. MRG Wyoming Specialist and MRG Senior Vice President Jared Souza successfully sold the Laramie area ranch. Building on this successful relationship with Mirr, DU worked with MRG to represent the University’s unique real estate needs for this transaction.
CB: So having a bit of history helped? What did this process involve?
DC: Jared and I, alongside the University, performed advanced due diligence on over 20 properties before presenting the Magic Sky Ranch, an off-market property, as a
solution for the mountain campus.
The Chancellor’s vision will be a major differentiator for the future of the University. While most academic institutions continue to focus on distance and virtual learning environments, DU is doubling down on authentic, tangible connections to the natural environment and innovative outdoor programming. And as alumni, we felt honored to have played a small role in the first step in realizing that vision.
CB: Campus purchases are not that common. How did you start?
DC: Most ranches don’t lend themselves well to building campuses, so opportunities are limited to get started, and in the currently volatile land market, we faced an even greater challenge in coming up with the right scenario. It became apparent throughout the journey that a property with existing infrastructure and commercial design would provide greater value for AU. Given rural land real estate market conditions in Colorado and the western Rockies, there was simply nothing for sale publicly that fit the bill. So that led us to look for off-market properties.
Using MRG’s deep network and market knowledge, we launched our “campus canvas” of off-market opportunities and introduced the Magic Sky Ranch. The property belonged to Colorado Girl Scouts and had significant construction of existing infrastructure to support several hundred people who had been used as a summer camp and educational facility.
CB: What other factors were at play?
DC: It certainly didn’t hurt that the University received a $26 million donation as part of its purchasing power. This allowed for a very diverse range of choices and options and fully enabled us to do our job properly.
It will be a joy to see the vision of the mountain campus continue to unfold. I know this will have a significant influence on future generations of DU.
Jon Haubert is the editor of ColoradoBiz magazine. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.