Billionaires in the air


“You’ve reached Bill Foley… Please leave your name and number and I’ll return your call. By the way, have a great day, just like every day is here in Montana.”

That’s the message you’ll get if you call business mogul and part-time Montanan William P. Foley. He didn’t call back.

Foley continues to exhibit his belief in Montana’s greatness with his pocketbook, having signed an agreement to purchase Flathead County’s 100,000-square-foot-plus Edwards Jet Center on July 13. The jet center provides hangar space and services for private aircraft, as well as fuel and maintenance for commercial aircraft, at Glacier Park International Airport. The deal is scheduled to close July 31.

This winter, Foley acquired the majority of shares in Winter Sports Inc., the corporation that operates the ski resort formerly known as Big Mountain, which, under Foley, has become Whitefish Mountain Resort.

He also formed, and is majority shareholder of, Glacier Restaurants Group LLC, which owns four Montana restaurant brands, including Mackenzie River Pizza.

Beyond Montana, Foley is founder and CEO of Fidelity National Financial, a Fortune 500 company.

Local skepticism has followed Foley’s rising profile.

Some locals have taken to referring to the town as “Foleyfish”; a graffiti artist recently altered the resort’s new sign to say “Welcome to Whitefish Mountain Resort—Fuck Big Mountain” (It should read “on Big Mountain”); and an urban legend has developed around T-shirts reading “X Foley 8 Whitefish,” although the Independent has failed to find an actual shirt.

Perhaps the most obvious effect of Foley’s power is Whitefish’s increasing company-town atmosphere. Locals voice concerns off the record, but most won’t raise them in public, afraid it might hurt their economic future in Whitefish.

Montana Rep. Mike Jopek, D-Whitefish, for one, is withholding judgment.

“I’ve met a couple of the other billionaires in Whitefish, and they seem to be generous folks who want to be community-minded,” Jopek says. “My hope is that Mr. Foley chooses that path.”

Only time will tell, he says, but he wonders if deep pockets like Foley’s will start influencing local elections, like Whitefish’s upcoming mayoral and city council races.

“That would be worrisome,” he says.

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