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Jack Ma Buys Brandon Park

The Chinese billionaire has conservation plans for the 28,100-acre property. Jack Ma, the Chinese billionaire and cofounder of e-commerce giant Alibaba, has quietly made a new acquisition: a 28,100-acre property boasting trout streams, woodlands and a maple syrup operation in

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The Chinese billionaire has conservation plans for the 28,100-acre property.

Jack Ma, the Chinese billionaire and cofounder of e-commerce giant Alibaba, has quietly made a new acquisition: a 28,100-acre property boasting trout streams, woodlands and a maple syrup operation in New York’s Adirondacks.

Mr. Ma paid $23 million for the sprawling upstate New York property, which he bought principally for conservation purposes, but also plans to use as an occasional personal retreat, according to a spokesman.

The estate, known as Brandon Park, includes more than nine miles of the St. Regis River, as well as lakes, streams, ponds, forests, and a 1940s log camp behind its gated entrance. There are two homes on the property, as well as lean-tos and a horse barn.

The land was originally part of neighboring Bay Pond, a private nature preserve created around the turn of the last century by William A. Rockefeller Jr., a cofounder of Standard Oil.

1939, Brandon was acquired by the family of Wilhelmina du Pont Ross. The Ross family transferred the property into Brandon LLC in 1999, according to public records. Brandon was first listed for sale in 2012 with an asking price of $28 million. In 2014, the asking price was lowered to $22.5 million.

Mr. Ma bought the property in May through an entity called New Brandon LLC. LandVest, the real-estate firm that listed the property, declined to comment. Efforts to reach members of the Ross family were unsuccessful.

Mr. Ma plans to form a nonprofit entity to manage Brandon Park, said Jim Wilkinson, a spokesman for Mr. Ma. The land, which is a white-tailed deer habitat, according to marketing materials, is Mr. Ma’s first investment in conservation land outside of China, where he is a prominent supporter of conservation efforts.

Alibaba Group Executive CHairman Jack Ma addresses the Economic Club of New York in June 2015.

Alibaba Group Executive CHairman Jack Ma addresses the Economic Club of New York in June 2015.

Mr. Ma was drawn to the Adirondacks partly because of the area’s history of overcoming environmental threats, Mr. Wilkinson said. By the late 1800s, the Adirondack forests had been depleted by the logging, mining, charcoal, and paper industries, which in turn affected the topsoil, waterways, and wildlife. To protect the timber and water resources, New York created the 6 million-acre Adirondack Park in 1892. Brandon Park is part of this wilderness, of which 2.6 million acres belong to the state and 3.4 million acres are privately held.

“Protecting the environment in China will always be Jack’s first and foremost priority, and he will continue his strong efforts here,” said Mr. Wilkinson. “This international land purchase reflects Jack’s belief that we all inhabit the same planet, and we all breathe the same air, so we are dependent on each other for our collective future.”

Mr. Ma has been the chairman of the China board of the Nature Conservancy, an international conservation organization, since 2013, and sits on its global board. He is also a founding member of the Sichuan Nature Conservation Foundation, a Chinese private nongovernmental organization started in 2011 to protect land in western Sichuan and throughout China. He helped create the Laohegou Nature Reserve in Sichuan, the first nature reserve in China managed by a nongovernmental organization, according to the Nature Conservancy.

Laohegou covers more than 27,000 acres in an area that is a giant panda habitat. The Nature Conservancy in China now manages five land-trust reserves there and plans to add more.

Mr. Ma’s charitable trust, established in 2014 in the months leading up to Alibaba’s record-setting $25 billion IPO, has an endowment of approximately $3 billion, making it one of the largest in Asia. It focuses on the environment, health care, and education. By way of comparison, the Rockefeller Foundation, which was founded in 1913, had assets of $4.2 billion as of 2014.

The Alibaba Group, where Mr. Ma remains executive chairman, has directed 0.3% of its annual operating revenue to a foundation for environmental protection since 2010. The company has also launched a campaign to clean up the water in Zhejiang Province, where Mr. Ma grew up and where Alibaba is based.

As for his new land acquisition in the Adirondacks, Mr. Wilkinson said that Mr. Ma’s first move as the new owner was to stop an existing logging operation on the property. Mr. Ma has visited the property twice, Mr. Wilkinson said. LandVest’s marketing materials for the land note that the property has a brook-trout fishery, a hatchery that produces a heritage strain of brook trout, and a private-label maple syrup operation.

The Nature Conservancy introduced Mr. Ma to the Adirondacks, an area it considers a priority because of the temperate forest, 3,000 lakes, 30,000 miles of rivers and streams, and 247 rare species, according to the organization’s president and CEO, Mark Tercek. “Jack travels to see how conservation happens and to be inspired back home,” Mr. Tercek said.

Mr. Ma will be one of a number of business magnates and philanthropists in the area. A hundred years ago, many American industrialists summered in the Adirondacks, drawn by the cool mountain air and wilderness. Wealthy families built rustic summer getaways, Tudor Revival mansions, and Great Camps here. Marylou Whitney, age 89, inherited Whitney Park, then an Adirondack camp of about 51,000 acres, from her late husband, Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney in 1992.

The Whitneys consider themselves stewards of the land, employing specialists to manage the trees, fish, and wildlife. “It’s extremely important that we keep this as pristine as possible. We owe it to history,” said John Hendrickson, Mrs. Whitney’s husband, noting that the family has owned the land since 1898.

In 1997, Mrs. Whitney sold 14,700 acres of the estate to New York state for $17.1 million to create the William C. Whitney Wilderness Area. “We gave the state an extreme discount because they agreed to preserve it as a wilderness,” said Mr. Hendrickson. Mrs. Whitney still owns 36,000 acres of the estate.

Newer names in the neighborhood include YouTube cofounder Chad Hurley and his business partner Stephen Gordon, the founder of Restoration Hardware, and more recently Guideboat Company, who owns an interest in a camp that dates back to 1882.

Mike Raymaley, an agent at Merrill L. Thomas Inc., who was not involved in the deal, said he wasn’t surprised by the high sale price commanded by Brandon Park.

“Brandon is the largest privately owned wilderness that has sold in 30 years” in the Adirondacks, he said.

— Sarah Tilton
Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal. Copyright © 2015 Dow Jones & Company Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. License number 3666641495411.

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Posted in Conservation, Feature, New York, News Desk, Northeast, Public Land

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