Revealed: The magicians behind DU’s Magic Sky Ranch Mountain Campus
Last week, the University of Denver announced it had acquired the Magic Sky Ranch located in Larimer County, Colorado to create another academic campus
Last week, the University of Denver (DU) announced it had acquired the Magic Sky Ranch located in Larimer County, Colorado to create another academic campus. While large ranch purchases aren’t entirely uncommon in the West, for a university to pull off something like this, it 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 an amazing point – why not incorporate the benefits of Colorado’s outdoor recreational components and opportunities to provide a more enhanced student experience? The University plans to build a new freshman orientation program derived in part from Colorado Outward Bound, focusing on team building and leadership skills through rock climbing, ropes courses, hiking, and other outdoor activities. DU’s four-dimensional (4D) experience will be central to the curriculum being taught.
The property, which will now be known as the James C. Kennedy Mountain Campus, consists of 724 acres of land and almost 60,000 square feet of buildings. The price tag: a cool $11.25 million.
And while private universities, millions of dollars, hundreds of acres, and big names like James C. Kennedy make great headlines, there’s often something else hidden at work.
Enter the land magicians of Mirr Ranch Group (MRG).
This group specializes in representing sellers and buyers in unique, and oftentimes complicated, land transactions. You may recall seeing them in the news in recent years for their involvement in the sale of some exceptional Colorado ranches, such as Cielo Vista Ranch, home to the only private fourteener in North America; Sandstone Ranch, a landmark deal that sold to Douglas County Open Space; JE Canyon Ranch, an ecologically significant property that sold to The Nature Conservancy; and Caribou Ranch, the now peaceful refuge and historical site of the legendary recording studio.
ColoradoBiz sat down with Daniel Carter, MRG Senior Vice President and recent graduate from DU’s Executive MBA program, who helped broker the massive off-market Magic Sky transaction. Below is a synopsis of what we found most intriguing about the evolution of this story and this real estate deal.
ColoradoBiz: There are a lot of land brokerages in Colorado and the West. Why was MRG selected?
Daniel Carter: When the University began its process to identify a suitable property for the campus, they knew they could count on their alumni. A few years ago, they had contacted MRG’s founder, Ken Mirr, a DU Sturm College of Law graduate (‘86), to help sell a university-owned Wyoming property. MRG’s Wyoming specialist and fellow MRG Senior Vice President, Jared Souza, successfully sold the Laramie-area ranch. Building upon this successful relationship with Mirr, DU worked with MRG to represent the University’s unique real estate needs for this transaction.
CB: So, having some history helped? What did this process entail?
DC: Jared and I, alongside the University, performed advanced due diligence for 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 University moving forward. While most academic institutions are continuing to focus on remote and virtual learning environments, DU is doubling down on authentic and tangible connections to the natural environment and innovative outdoor programming. And as alumni, we felt honored to have played a small part in the first step of helping to realize that vision.
CB: Campus purchases aren’t all that common. How did you start?
DC: Most ranches do not lend themselves well to being built out into campuses, so there are limited possibilities to begin with, and in the currently volatile land market, we were up against an even greater challenge to deliver the right scenario. It became apparent throughout the journey that a property with existing infrastructure and commercial design would offer a greater value for DU. Given the conditions of the rural land real estate market across Colorado and the Rocky Mountain West, there was simply nothing publicly for sale that fit the bill. So that led us to pursue off-market properties.
Utilizing MRG’s deep network and market knowledge, we began our “canvas for campus” off-market possibilities and introduced the Magic Sky Ranch. The property was owned by the Girl Scouts of Colorado and had a significant build-out of existing infrastructure to support several hundred individuals that 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 had a $26 million gift as a part of its purchasing power. This allowed a very diverse range of choices and options and fully allowed us to do our work correctly.
It will be a joy to watch as the mountain campus vision continues to unfold. I know it will have a meaningful influence on DU’s future generations.
Jon Haubert is the publisher of ColoradoBiz magazine. Email him at email@example.com.