One man was mysteriously absent from the roll call at a sunbathed celebration in April 2000 when the 21,000-acre Greenland Ranch was forever …
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One man was mysteriously absent from the roll call at a
sunbathed celebration in April 2000 when the 21,000-acre Greenland
Ranch was forever preserved as open space between Larkspur and
Gov. Bill Owens, land-conservation leaders, ranchers, local
officials and the media were there. They gathered on undeveloped
ranch land east of Larkspur and breathed the fresh summer morning
air. The officials congratulated each other for working together to
preserve the 12-mile, high-plains landscape along Interstate 25,
thereby guaranteeing development would not glom together the entire
130-mile, fast-growing metropolitan corridor between Fort Collins
and Colorado Springs.
The fact that the complex, land-conservation deal was finally
done outweighed the details that day. In particular, an anonymous
donor had contributed $50 million of the $70 million deal. Who was
this secret benefactor behind the scenes, and where in the world
did he come from?
Residents of Douglas County, meet John Malone, a neighbor since
the early 1970s, before many of the 210,000 people living here
arrived during the past decade. Like some of the newer residents,
he, too, was an unlikely transplant from the East Coast. He and his
wife, Leslie, whose children are now grown and living back East,
have since moved several miles farther east to neighboring Elbert
The story of how the Malones got here, and how the "cable
cowboy" developed a love of the land, gallops right through local
and national history into millions of living rooms and offices
around the world.
Just after the News-Press arranged an interview last month with
the cable magnate, once known as "Darth Vader" and still often
compared to Andrew Carnegie or J.P. Morgan, a book about him hit
the stands mid-November. The Wall Street Journal reporter/editor
Mark Robichaux spent more than five years researching "Cable
Cowboy: John Malone and the Rise of the Modern Cable Business."
Although the book is not authorized by Malone, the cable baron said
he read a draft last year.
"[The book] is Mr. Robichaux's view. He's done a scholarly job.
I know he's interviewed a lot of people over the past five years,"
The book initially sold out at Denver metro book stores after
excerpts were printed in the Rocky Mountain News.
"A lot of it is about why Denver was the center for cable, who
were the personalities that made it what it was," Malone
"Cable Cowboy" tells "a terrific saga of American enterprise -
how lonely wires on windswept hillsides were stretched and spun
into the Information Superhighway - as seen through the remarkable
career of cable television's greatest entrepreneur [John Malone],"
said David Von Drehle, book reviewer and author. The story traces
the wild and improbable rise of cable, from its start in the rural
and outlying metro areas to the presently developing panoply of
high-speed Internet and digital television.
Beginning in the 1950s, small businesses formed in rural areas
across the nation to sell to country folk access to the television
programming that the cities received. One of those small providers
was Tele-Communications, Inc. of south metro Denver.
TCI, led by the late rancher and cable operator Bob Magness,
began buying up many of the small providers. Magness recruited "the
smartest sonofabitch [he could] find," says Robichaux. That man
turned out to be the son of an East Coast engineer from the ranks
of the Ivy League. Malone moved here to work at TCI in 1971. He was
31 years old.
Malone quickly adapted to the unhurried Colorado pace of life.
Magness often invited Malone and others to the ranch. It was during
these times with the part-time rancher Magness that Malone
developed a love of the land.
But the perception of TCI from the outside was far more cynical
than the clever, cowboy posse saw it. Bankers back East used to
call them the cable cowboys, Robichaux said. As in, the type who
would shoot form the hip and take justice into their own hands to
get a deal done.
Beating out telephone technology, cable lines soon would build
one of the largest technology markets in the world. Although
anti-trust stalwart Al Gore and the Federal Trade Commission might
agree with the robber-baron image of the cable industry and its
billion-dollar deals, there's a little more to the story,
particularly at the Douglas County level.
And the story is far from over, as satellite technology competes
For now, Denver is no longer the cable capitol of the world
because of numerous corporate buyouts, mergers, relocations and
downsizes. But Malone's Liberty Media Corp. owns shares in many
media companies, and Robichaux said DirectTV and the French Vivindi
should be watched, as well as Comcast.
In the spirit of his Libertarian leanings, Malone said corporate
media should be somewhat regulated but by only one agency, not at
the local, state and national levels.
A visit to the new gray slate, two-story ornate Liberty Media
building on the north side of E-470 in northern Douglas County is
proof that Malone believes in planning 1,000 years into the future.
From his open-door office overlooking the Rocky Mountain Range and
a large metal eagle sculpture in front of the building given to him
by his wife, he said Colorado and Elbert County in particular need
to plan well for the inevitable growth of what used to be the quiet
That growth won't touch every area, though. Thanks to Malone,
Douglas County taxpayers and The Conservation Fund, generations of
hikers seeking refuge from the city (as Malone did years ago) will
be able to venture through parts of the 21,000-acre Greenland
Ranch, several miles south of Castle Rock. The Douglas County Open
Space and Natural Resources Division recently opened the Columbine
Trail on the property east of I-25, south of the Bell Mountain
The cost of stripping most development rights from the entire
21,000 acres was $70 million. Malone bought 17,000 acres (and most
of the water rights), where only six houses can be built instead of
1,000. A 1994, voter-initiated county open-space sales tax and bond
money funded a $10.2 million contribution from the county. Douglas
County kept 3,700 acres. Colorado Lottery funds from Great Outdoors
Colorado contributed $8.8 million.
Unlike media mogul Ted Turner, Malone typically keeps quiet
about his charity. He is on the board of The Nature Conservancy,
one of the largest land-conservation nonprofit
In addition to the 100,000 acres Malone owns in the
Douglas/Elbert/El Paso county area, he owns an additional 170,000
in Colorado, making him one of the largest landholders in the
Leslie Malone operates a 30-horse hobby farm in Elbert County.
The couple restores any historic structures worth salvaging on the
properties they buy. John Malone employs 65 wranglers who run 3,000
head of cattle in the area. He insists that water rights should not
be severed from the land. He is passionate about conservation of
the land and puts his money where his mouth is on about 230,000
acres in northern New Mexico and similar acreage in
Just as he has a distaste for unplanned, sprawling development,
Malone also said he dislikes government regulation and he has
Libertarian leanings. These political beliefs were strengthened no
doubt through the 1990s, when he faced the Federal Trade Commission
regarding the dizzying mergers and acquisitions he
Malone reportedly said he would rather cut off his leg than go
to Washington, D.C. But he was quick to praise Owens and the
Colorado Legislature for developing the recent tax credits that
inspire conservationists to preserve their land forever in
conservation easements. The easements are one way to encourage
landowners to cooperate for long-term planning as Colorado
continues to grow, Malone said.
"There are two kinds of ranchers," Malone said. "Long-term,
conservation-oriented stewards of the land who want to lock the
land in as agricultural forever, or those who say conservation
easements reduce the value."
Colorado is one of the only states that gives income tax credits
as an incentive for land owners to declare their undeveloped land
as open space forever. Legislators and Owens passed the income tax
credit program for land conservationists in 2000.
The state gave nearly $2.33 million in tax credits to
conservation easement donors who strip development rights from the
title of their properties, said the state's 2001 annual report.
About 100 landowners took advantage of the program in its first
The tax credit is a one-time, income tax credit. Up to $100,000
of the land value that is put into a conservation easement is
credited on the donor's state income tax bills.
But ranchers and farmers do not typically make the $2 million
per year to be able to use the $100,000 credit. Even with the tax
credit spread out over the years, someone who makes $100,000 per
year, for example, would need 20 years to use the maximum
conservation easement credit.
Therefore, state legislators made open-space conservation even
more alluring. They made the tax credits transferable; now a
land-rich, cash-poor rancher could sell tax credits to wealthy
Coloradans after stripping development rights from his
To pair conservationist ranchers with those who want to buy tax
credits, a Boulder nonprofit was established, called The
Conservation Resource Center.
In 2003, the $100,000 maximum tax credit will increase. As much
as $260,000 in income tax will be credited under the conservation
easement donation. For the first $100,000 in land value donated,
the tax credit is dollar-for-dollar. The new part of the credit is
a 40 percent tax credit on up to $400,000 land value for a maximum
tax credit on a conservation easement reaching $260,000.
Conservation-easement donors can also get a federal income tax
deduction as they would on donations to other nonprofit
The tax credits, which are designed for open space deals much
smaller than Greenland Ranch, are good incentives for landowners in
Colorado who are conservationist-minded, Malone said.
When the Malones purchase additional ranches, the families they
buy from often move to Wyoming because they can get five or six
times the amount of land and live a quieter existence.
"It's amazing to think about the new frontier of Colorado
getting crowded," Malone said. "These parks and open space are
going to be very important as the population density
"I hate to see the taking of nonreplenishable, deep water
aquifers. We need to think that through more carefully instead of
depleting an asset where, once it's gone, it's gone, and you have a
larger population running out of water," Malone said. "That's the
last thing I'd like to see happen. I'm in favor of society thinking
about sustainable development. We should plan for 1,000 years, not
five years … or we will run out of new land and resources to
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