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Maclay Ranch

No sale at auction

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On July 30, auction day for the Maclay Ranch, a security guard and a representative from the real estate firm running the event weren't allowing anyone up the road to Tom Maclay's old home without a cashier's check or letter from the bank certifying sufficient funds to participate. Media were also turned back.

Broker Craig Janssen says the auction attracted enough interested buyers to create a standing-room-only crowd, with attendees from across the state, around the country and even some from China.

Still, it wasn't enough.

The ranch did not sell, and area residents remain in the dark regarding the future of the 2,669-acre property, a piece of land many residents of the Bitterroot Valley hope will stay intact.

The ranch, once envisioned as a ski resort by Tom Maclay, was purchased in 2013 by the investment company MetLife in an effort to recoup a loan they had given Maclay for the resort's development. MetLife originally listed the property for sale at $22.5 million. A year later the price was reduced to $17.5 million.

On Saturday, MetLife hoped to offload the property either as a whole or in parcels. Janssen, whose company Live Water Properties coordinated the event with auctioneering firm Albert Burney, previously described the auction as a surefire way to sell, noting the minimum bid required would be lower than the recent $17.5 million price tag.

"We were very confident we would reach the minimum. It didn't even come close," Janssen says. The energy and competitive bidding that could have led to a big sale simply wasn't there, he adds.

Conservation group Bitterrooters for Planning was concerned about the possibility of the property being broken up at auction and possibly subdivided for development by new owners. But Janssen says most of the potential buyers at the auction were interested in preserving the ranch as a whole, not developing it.

Dick King, co-chair of Western Montana Community Partners, counts his group among those pleased with the auction's outcome. King's group teamed up with Tom Maclay to file a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service, hoping to overturn the rejection of the ski-resort plan. The lawsuit was dismissed by Missoula District Court, and King's group is appealing. Western Montana Community Partners wrote a letter to MetLife in June asking them to delay auctioning off the property while the suit was being resolved.

If they win their lawsuit, King believes it could significantly affect the property's value. "Now, with no sale, we're hopeful maybe things will work out. We'll see," he says.

MetLife and their brokers will regroup, Janssen says, before deciding what to do next. He speculates the property could end up being off the market for a time.

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