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How Bezos Messed With Texas 87

Posted by Zonk
from the have-to-stay-up-there-once-he-launches dept.
theodp writes "The WSJ has the behind-the-spaceport story on Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' Texas land grab for his Blue Origin space tourism venture. Bezos deputized an attorney (who once handled Amazon SEC filings) to make ranchers offers they couldn't refuse (and can't talk about), acquiring property through corporate entities with monikers including 'James Cook L.P.,' 'Jolliet Holdings,' 'Coronado Ventures,' and 'Cabot Enterprises' — all named for famous explorers and all using the same address, c/o [Star Trek-monikered] Zefram LLC. BTW, FAA temporary flight restrictions are in effect for Blue Origin until Monday ('DUE TO ROCKET LAUNCH ACTIVITY'). Let's hope it's more successful than Blue Origin's maiden flight."
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How Bezos Messed With Texas

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  • Odd that the no fly zone would only extend 10,000 feet... unless it's just a small rocket test, Bezos would be just as likely to knock a jetliner out at 35,000 feet as 10,000.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Because it's not much fun without a moving target.
    • by Duhavid (677874)
      They did say suborbital. Maybe it is *very* suborbital?
    • by FleaPlus (6935)
      In all likelihood it's going to be a very short hop, sort of like the things Armadillo Aerospace has been doing. They probably just want to verify their ability to launch and land, not necessarily test things out to capacity.
    • Discovery Channel's Mythbusters got clearance to 10,000 feet for their salami rocket test, the thing flew only 20 feet but it still counted as a rocket launch.
    • Easy; follow the money. The FAA knows that they could never get away with bullying the airlines to the degree that they push around general aviation with TFRs and other BS.

    • by Dunbal (464142)
      Odd that the no fly zone would only extend 10,000 feet... unless it's just a small rocket test,

            Or they just want to avoid curious people in their piper-cubs and cessnas from having a peek...
    • RTFA.

      This is a VTO/VL test. The first few DC-X flights were similar.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    It sounds like these offers that "can't be refused" are so good, Bezos must keep them secret so others won't be aware of the fact that he's taking it up the ass on above-market pricing because he needs land so badly. I see little evidence in the article to sustain the write-ups charges of "land grabbing" but merely persistence in phone calls.
    • by billsoxs (637329) on Saturday November 11, 2006 @04:07PM (#16807340) Journal
      If you RTFA you will see that he is paying ~$250/ acre. It is above market value but it is not really that much money for someone that rich. In fact he probably found the $7.5 M that he paid one rancher inside the cushions of his couch. If I am reading the FA correctly, he has purchased 5 to 10 ranches - each of about 30 to 60 k Acres - about 300 k acres in total. This is about $ 75 M. For someone with $4.3 B this is close to chump change. He probably earns more then that from Amazon (including options and stock value) each year. Remember Amazon is only about 10 years old - so he has averaged ~$400 M each year.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 11, 2006 @04:22PM (#16807452)
        ...than I would have thought. I guess if most sellers set their prices based on how rich the buyer is, most buyers would rather buy anonymously. This is the best explanation of Bezos' actions that I can figure.
        • extortion (Score:2, Insightful)

          by kureido (830125)
          I guess if most sellers set their prices based on how rich the buyer is, most buyers would rather buy anonymously. This is the best explanation of Bezos' actions that I can figure.

          Not just that, but if it becomes well-known that a rich buyer, especially if it's a large company, is making a land grab, a few property owners could basically extort the buyer for more cash. That is, the current owner could say to the buyer, "I know you're trying to buy up all this land for some important reason, and I know y
          • Actually in some of the early days of the railroads, Huntington would send his agent over to make you an offer on your property. It was typically lowball. If you refused to sell, the agent would politely say goodbye, and then the boys with the pick handles would come in and beat you and your family to death.

            Then, after allowing a few days for the news to travel, they'd visit the next property owner, who would be happy to sell for the lowball price.

            Today, they'd just use eminent domain (which would probably
          • http://www.cnn.com/2005/LAW/06/24/scotus.property/ [cnn.com]

            I think you forgot the Supreme Court doesn't care about the property owners.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Dr. Smeegee (41653)
          "Charge what the market will bear."

          Alleluja.

          I'm sure Mr. B is not particularly worried about overpaying for that land. (Compared to farm and cattle land in say, Ohio that is some dirt-cheap dirt!)

          That is the best reason for rich - sliding over obstacles to your wild-ass goals on a thin film of filthy, filthy lucre. :-)
        • by Dunbal (464142)
          I guess if most sellers set their prices based on how rich the buyer is, most buyers would rather buy anonymously.

          The reality is that most sellers DO set their prices based on how rich the buyer is - or change the price darned quick if they find out a buyer is rich. Oh umm we're not sure we want to sell anymore (cough) but we might settle for _this_...

          And most rich people DO buy through corporations and third parties. For a lot of reasons (including taxes), but th
          • by LindseyJ (983603)
            Yup. Just look at what happened to Walt Disney while he was buying land for Disney World in Florida. As soon as one of the papers leaked that he was the person mysteriously buying up a bunch of land, land prices all over the state shot through the roof.
        • Yeah, I've heard rumours that Amazon is having issues with renting new spaces - lots of property owners are jacking up the rent when they find out it's them. I still want to go work there - especially if I could get bizcards that say 'Rocket Surgeon' and be sort of right.
        • I doubt this action is uncommon for any company with plans to buy a lot of land from multiple sellers. Walt Disney did it when he was buying land for Walt Disney World, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walt_Disney_World_Res ort#Park_history_and_development [wikipedia.org]. According to one of the documentaries I saw on the building of Walt Disney World, after word had leaked about who was buying all that land, the price per acre increased to more then $1500 from the $200 or $300 it was originally. It is up to the seller to
      • So what? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by jcr (53032) <jcr&mac,com> on Saturday November 11, 2006 @05:08PM (#16807852) Journal
        He knows that he can get a better price by not identifying himself, and it's his prerogative to do so. A billionaire is just as entitled to shop for a bargain as anyone else.

        -jcr
        • by Kagenin (19124)
          Maybe you missed the post where someone mentioned that the entire plan could be for naught if someone went into a bidding war against him.
    • It's the same thing Walt Disney did in Orlando to build Disey World. You want to offer people a fair, above average price, but don't want them taking advantage of your "notariety" as a billionare to make unreasonable demands.
  • Kinda cool (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ParraCida (1018494) on Saturday November 11, 2006 @03:43PM (#16807190)
    It's almost something like out of a comic book or a movie. Eccentric billionaire builds launch pad for private space flight, headline of the Daily Planet or something :) Commercial space travel is just still so much in its infancy that it seems hard to imagine that someone is actually willing to invest such huge amounts rather than your average tinkering with miniature rockets kind of stuff.
    • Why not Wyoming, the Dakotas, Montana, Arizona, Nevada, Eastern Washington, etcetera?

      Any specific reason? I think land in some of those spots would be even cheaper..... but probably even more desolate.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ScentCone (795499)
        Ever spend a winter in Wyoming, the Dakotas, or Montana? Farther south, you get a bigger window of decent weather to work with. You also have a better shot at attracting more people to work for you.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by blincoln (592401)
          No kidding.

          I went on a long drive the last couple of weeks. The Eastward trip included those three states, and for the Westward part I went through Nebraska and Colorado instead. It's amazing how much difference it made in the temperature. Wyoming had snow and ice all over, and all three were bone-chillingly cold at night and/or if there was a lot of wind, which there usually was. And that was late fall, not winter.

          Texas is also closer to the water, in case they need to ditch a rocket in the ocean. Historic
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by eln (21727) *
            I hit a frickin blizzard in the mountains of western Wyoming...in June! I was stuck at a truck stop for 8 hours waiting for the road to become passable again.

            Wyoming weather sucks the big one.

        • by billsoxs (637329)
          Ever spend a summer in west Texas? There is a 'joke' comparing west Texas with Hell. Hell wins.
      • In all likelihood because
        (1) launches closer to the equator (if memory serves) take less boost
        (2) most of the stuff on equator is either inconvenient or has various disadvantages from lack of long-term stability to lack of technical talent to infrastructure challenges
        (3) much better choice vis-a-vis huricanes, large stretches of open land than other southern US states
        (4) lots of resouces (technical, infrastructure, etc) in relatively close proximity (DFW, Houston, Austin/San Antonio)

        I can't say I really lik
      • by znu (31198)
        If you're trying to get into orbit, there are benefits to launching closer to the equator.
    • Commercial space travel is just still so much in its infancy that it seems hard to imagine that someone is actually willing to invest such huge amounts

      Do you have a better idea for how to get commercial space travel out of its infancy? Seems to me that, one way or another, large sums of money will have to be spent before we can fly into space as often as we fly across the ocean.
      • No no I agree, but that's always the question with fledging technologies isn't it? Who's going to be the first to invest a substantial amount and take the dare. When is the time right for such actions? It's always about taking a chance, and usually people aren't that happy about taking chances with the amount of money that this particular billionaire is putting down for it.
    • by lonecrow (931585)
      Thats what I felt about Virgin Galactic. Handsome dardevil playboy billionair takes over the universe. The only way Richard Branson's life could be more like a 50's sci-fi novel is if he had a secrete identity as a super spy.

      Hmm...If I come to an untimly end, question Branson first.
  • The mongo ski resort at Vail CO started out the same way: founder Pete Seibert bought up all the land in the Vail Valley from ranchers who thought he was opening a hunting and fishing preserve.

    rj
  • Sounds like he's got a goal and a project plan and doesn't want to be personally distracted by those things that can be delegated.

    290,000 acers = 453 sq miles = Texas size project area.
    • by Shadyman (939863) on Saturday November 11, 2006 @03:53PM (#16807264) Homepage
      "290,000 acers = 453 sq miles"

      Nooo... 290,000 acers = a whole lot of plastic, but where's the AC Adapter? Dangit!
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by andphi (899406)
      So he bought what? Half a county? Unless he's buying up land out east, where there are some darn small counties, e.g. Rockwall County, the average county has an area between nine hundred and a thousand square miles. If you factor in the counties in the Big Bend, 1000 is somewhat under the average.
      • by wesmills (18791)
        Culberson County itself is big, with just over 3800 square miles. For the record, Brewster is the largest, with about 6900 square miles. 453 square miles is just over the size of the city limits of Dallas and doesn't hold a candle to Houston.

        See? Everything's bigger here. :)

        In far west Texas, about the only thing the land is good for anymore is launching space ships. If he tried to do it any closer, the ranchers wouldn't sell (land's still viable) or it'd be too expensive (all the Californians, having b
        • by andphi (899406)
          I know. I'm a Texan. I just didn't RTFA before I posted. I used to work as contractor for a big Austin-based PC OEM. (Can you guess?) I covered 10 counties. Best part of 10k square miles. And yeah, the big counties out west aren't useful for much more than goat ranching, mineral prospecting, and spaceshots.
  • And? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MrNonchalant (767683) on Saturday November 11, 2006 @03:50PM (#16807242)
    He kept his identity a secret as is standard in most multi-property deals. The reason being that somebody could start a bidding war for some critical piece of land and potentially screw you out of a lot of money. As it was he paid a considerable amount for land that was suffering from a drought. The locals main complaint seems to be that he (a) won't support their local development ventures and (b) won't return their phone calls. The ones that got bought out sound happy enough. The only real part of this story was that Jeff Bezos purchased a plot of land in Texas for Blue Origin and that's not how it was spun.
  • by Easy2RememberNick (179395) on Saturday November 11, 2006 @03:56PM (#16807284)
    "Great holy armies shall be gathered and trained to fight all who embrace evil. In the name of the gods, ships shall be built to carry our warriors out amongst the stars and we will spread Origin to all the unbelievers. The power of the Ori, will be felt far and wide and the wicked shall be vanquished."

      Jeff "The Prior" Bezos will walk on the land they call Texas and they will accept Origin!
    • Actually he's building the next BC-304.
    • by macdaddy (38372)
      I can't believe they're canceling that show. I love that show! Amanda Tapping has got it going on. Claudia Black is fine too. Vanessa Angel is a fox. Now I'm bummed out.
      • At least we're getting (at least) two DVD movies and the first one will deal with the Ori meaning that Morena Baccarin will be there(Why'd you mention Vanessa Angel instead of Morena? Vanessa hasn't been on that show for years and I doubt she's coming back since the death threats).
        I still wanna bash Mark Stern's head in though...
        • by macdaddy (38372)
          Because Vannesa is HOT. Morena is ok but obivously she's not as memorable to me as Vanessa of I'd have remembered her. ;-)

          What are these DVDs you speak of? Any links? I hadn't heard about them.

    • by sckeener (137243)
      I wish I had mod points...instead I will just say well said.

      Though I think you'll find that Texas is bringing Origin to the rest of the world....this has been in the works for 12 years. As an example, we already have our President preaching origin!

      He thinks big and wants to take it to Mars next.....right after Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, etc...
  • I just watched The Man Who Fell To Earth last night and now this comes up.
    Does Jeff Bezos drink alot of water?
    • Actually I was thinking about The Man who Sold the Moon by RAH. The character in that book had similar problems launching over inhabited land.

      An alien who wanted to get into orbit these days would just buy a ticket from the Russians.

      • by Tteddo (543485)
        Ahh, but David Bowie's character need to to all the way home.
        It was pretty creepy seeing this today though...
  • Bezos bought some land and used various aliases to do so. So what? Did he defraud anyone?

    The real problem is more profound:

    Government protects property rights, that would not exist in the absence of government, as its primary function. Productive people (measured by income, capital gains, value added, sales, etc) are tired of being taxed to subsidize said protection, as well they should be. The largest single property right so protected is centralized ownership of land.

    Bezos could really stomp on

    • Productive people (measured by income, capital gains, value added, sales, etc) are tired of being taxed to subsidize said protection.

      The cost of protection grows with the amount of time you have to protect something. An annual tax fits the expenditure model much better than a flat tax. Duh. Gotta pay the police and firefighters somehow.

      While we're at it, your measures for "productivity" soak up a lot of people who are good at cheating and ignores a lot of people who increase net happiness without making

    • The definition:
      HomesteadExemption = MedianPriceOfAHome + MedianCapitalizationForASubsistenceJob
      In the case of a land value tax (as opposed to a more general asset tax), these should make reference only to the land value of the home site and job site -- not the total asset value.
  • There are rumors coming out of the Bush Administration that the President was chased around his ranch by the ghost of Ronald Reagan before the election. The ghost supposedly said, "Look at what your 'youthfulness of inexperience' did to the country! Walter Mondale could've done a better job!" :P
  • by theodp (442580) on Saturday November 11, 2006 @04:19PM (#16807436)
    !FDC 6/6007 ZAB TX.. TEMPORARY FLIGHT RESTRICTION, VAN HORN TX. 1330-2000 DLY EFFECTIVE 0611121330 UTC UNTIL 0611132000 UTC. PURSUANT TO 14 CFR SECTION 91.143 FLIGHT RESTRICTIONS ARE IN EFFECT DUE TO ROCKET LAUNCH ACTIVITY WITHIN A 5 NAUTICAL MILE RADIUS OF 312515N/1044515W OR THE SALT FLAT /SFL/ VORTAC 127 DEGREE RADIAL AT 25.9 NAUTICAL MILES SFC TO 10000 FT MSL. BLUE ORGIN COMPANY, TELEPHONE 253-437-9367, IS IN CHARGE OF THE OPERATION. ALBUQUERQUE ARTCC /ZAB/, TELEPHONE 505-856-4500, IS THE FAA COORDINATION FACILITY.
    • ...he's out in the middle of BFWT (BumFuck West Texas) and the only flights he's having any adverse effect upon, are perhaps those of a few turkey buzzards. He couldn't have picked a better place to launch a few rocket accidents... and quite frankly, if he paid as high as $250 an acre for that land, he's nuts.
  • In Soviet America, Texas messes with you!

    Sorry.
  • Land Grab indeed. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bangzilla (534214) on Saturday November 11, 2006 @04:52PM (#16807730) Journal
    The way this is presented "Bezos messes with Texas" is soooooo negative. If the man wants to buy land what's the problem? You don't like it - you go buy the land to stop him. Remember, Walt Disney did exactly the same thing when he accumulated land for Walt Disney World in Orlando. Want something to complain and whine about -- go back to that purchase a few years ago where Manhatten Island was had for a few shiny trinkets.... perhaps a rebate is due there? Don't forget the nasty work that local governments are up to with their powers of eminent domain; buy up properties that have been in families for many, many years to let their developer-buddies line their pockets and provide campaign contributions in return. Now *that's corrupt in my book.
    • go back to that purchase a few years ago where Manhatten Island was had for a few shiny trinkets

      Well duh. They guys who sold it lived in Brooklyn. If some yahoo came up and offered to buy the island next door to you, wouldn't you sell it to him?

    • by suffe (72090)
      You'd be surprised how much a few tiny trinkets at compound interest during all that time would be worth.
  • Like everything else, if these guys ever get it together and actually launch something, it's going to be in Calif*. Calif* is where the customers are, where the investors are, where every single business venture ends up. It doesn't matter how over crowded or expensive it is. Some kind of biological programming requires every investment to be crammed into one state.

    • by billsoxs (637329)

      Like everything else, if these guys ever get it together and actually launch something, it's going to be in Calif*. Calif* is where the customers are, where the investors are, where every single business venture ends up. It doesn't matter how over crowded or expensive it is. Some kind of biological programming requires every investment to be crammed into one state.

      This is simply not true. Mass [neweconomyindex.org] was higher - at least in 2002 and Colorado was only slightly behind.

    • by heroine (1220)
      Good 2 see the tree stump painting, Sonic fast food, and college TA business is booming outside Calif*. We were thinking more in line with real jobs.

  • James Rouse did the same thing in Maryland in the 1960s and yielded Columbia, Maryland. This is hardly an original trick. Wake me when someone has a new idea.
  • by liak12345 (967676)
    A more honest article would discuss how Bezos isn't allowing the town to profit off of his purchases aside from the property deals themselves. From the article they wanted to approach him about building a museum about his project to attract some tourism, they wanted to know how many jobs his enterprise would generate.

    The main point I picked up is that he is insulated with lawyers to keep from being harassed by people in a depressed region desperate to make a buck off of him.
  • Messing with Texas"? Come on...its normal for the business to be done this way when you are buying lots of land from many sellers. It has, after all, been done before [go.com]...
  • The article says "the town could use some publicity".

    That is where they filmed The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada [imdb.com]. Why don't they mention that?

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