Bought the Town

On November 15, 2012 · Comments Off on Bought the Town

The article-generating loop continues with the recent Creative Marketing article leading directly into this one. It’s not quite a geo-oddity perpetual motion machine although that would certainly be an interesting thought. It’s hard enough to find meaningful topics without having to stitch them together end-to-end so I think the coincidental associations will end here at a sample size of three.

I will however expand upon the topic suggested by the situation of Bikinis, Texas, where a town was sold on Craigslist. In that situation, the town founder a century ago retained unsold lots, repurchased previously sold lots as residents moved away, and later sold them as a complete package to a third-party in the 1920’s. The family controlling these interest for decades and then transferred assets to the proprietor of a jiggly-themed restaurant chain in 2012 via the aforementioned Internet sale. I’ve often wondered how one could own an entire town, probably because I’ve spent a lifetime in towns of considerably larger size, so this explains a plausible way that this could happen.

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Arguably one of the better-known instances involved the actress Kim Basinger, undoubtedly because it involved Kim Basinger. It probably would have gone unnoticed except by geo-geeks had the transaction been handled between unknown private citizens. The Intertubes are filled with accounts of the story about how she bought Braselton, Georgia for 1989 for $20 million and sold it at a great loss in 1994 for $1 million.

The one significant detail these accounts tend to gloss over is that apparently she didn’t take control all by herself so it’s not really accurate to say that she bought the town, not that facts would ever get in the way of a good story. She held a minority interest in a partnership and sold her portion when she ran into unrelated financial difficulties. The story seems to be a bit of an exaggeration. Ms. Basinger may have been in better shape if she’d been able to hold onto her share. Braselton is an exurb of Atlanta that has grown wildly, with 418 residents in 1990 (when she held her share), 1,206 residents in 2000 and 7,511 residents in 2010!

Braselton Quadripoint

That demographic explosion fascinates me although another feature of Braselton interested me even more. The town boundaries extend across four Georgia counties: Jackson, Barrow, Gwinnett, and Hall. Don’t bother trying to click on the map, above. Google Maps by itself will display only a single county at a time so it’s not effective for this purpose. Instead I turned to Mob Rule’s county lines imposed on Google Maps utility, took a screen print and embedded the resulting image. Braselton appears as a slightly darker tan than the surrounding area. Clearly it does cross into all four counties although the quadripoint seems to fall in the middle of a creek along the town limits.

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On the other hand, Google Maps is very effective for demonstrating that one would need to drive only 0.9 miles (1.5 kilometres) through a quiet suburban neighborhood to hit all four counties. I imagine this would have to be a strange situation for the residents living in this little corner of Braselton depending upon functions the town provided versus those performed by the respective counties.

Braselton isn’t the only town that has been bought or sold though. It’s actually a lot more common than I imagined.

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Buford, Wyoming is one of those towns of "Population 1" although it fills a useful purpose and function. It sits directly astride a major highway and operates as the Buford Trading Post (includes video) with a gas station and a convenience store. It started as an 1866 construction point for the Transcontinental Railroad with a couple of thousand residents and slowly dwindled from there until it had only a single inhabitant by 2007. The town sold in 2012 for $900,000 to a Vietnamese businessman: "He said that although he is not exactly sure what he will do with the town just off Interstate 80, he expects to use it to sell items made in Vietnam." I wish him well in his venture although I am not so sure how much demand exists in rural Wyoming for such items.

There are plenty of other towns for sale. However, some towns refuse to be bought.

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Shaniko, Oregon falls into that category. According to the New York Times, a wealthy outsider settled in Shaniko and began to spruce-up the town. Water was scarce so he dug a well and hit an aqueous jackpot gushing at 250 gallons (950 liters) per minute, much to the surprise of all. The town needed to approve easements for him to pipe water from the well to his various properties. He struck an agreement to supply the town with water and then threw-in a condition: he wanted permission to open the town to development. Residents responded that the town "was not for sale" so he capped the well, closed his hotel, shuttered his two-thirds stake in the town and put his property on the market (feel free to call and make an offer). Now the 26 remaining residents are up a dry creek without a paddle.

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of Shaniko is that I drove through it last summer.

On November 15, 2012 · Comments Off on Bought the Town

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