Scott Cooney, the local real estate developer, wants to set the record straight. He takes issue with how the Independent and the Missoulian reported on his chapter 11 bankruptcy filing last month. So we chat over turkey sandwiches at a picnic table in Missoula's Bonner Park, an ironic location, he says, because it's "exactly what I'd like to see the community of Bonner built around—a park like this."
Cooney still hopes the former timber town of Bonner, which he's invested millions in, can be transformed into a vibrant riverside community, even though one of his companies, Blackfoot Land and Water, and he himself are having trouble paying their creditors. Recent reporting on the bankruptcies, Cooney says, "makes it look like there's a cemetery out there, and that's not the case at all."
But it certainly is the case, Cooney acknowledges, that he's facing financial hardship—relatively speaking, at least: his assets, according to the July 12 voluntary chapter 11 petition, are worth between $10 and $50 million. Cooney says "cash-flow is king" and he doesn't have much cash right now. He points to the unexpected costs associated with ensuring that the 26 homes his company owns in Bonner comply with its recent designation as a national historic district. "And obviously the largest economic downturn next to the Great Depression doesn't help either."
What appears to hurt the most, though, is Cooney's "never ending" divorce that he says has dragged on for nearly a decade. A bankruptcy trustee has accused Cooney of hiding about $560,000 from his ex-wife. Cooney says a judge gave her a writ of execution to tap his bank accounts, which threatened the viability of his businesses, so he moved some money around. He whips out a stack of paper that he says vindicates him. It shows that his ex-wife now owes him child support because he overpaid. "We're not hiding funds," he says, "We didn't practice business the way we normally like to, but it's all accounted for."
"We" refers to Cooney's three or four business partners, whom he doesn't name. "Whether they take over and I unwind the mess that we've got going—maybe that's what I need to do," he says.
In any case, Cooney seems confident he can come up with an exit strategy that will satisfy his creditors. And that shouldn't be a problem, he says: selling just one of his more valuable properties should do it.