St. Louis knows Stan Kroenke as the man who took pro football from the city, but there are folks in Texas who know him as the man taking their homes, with one woman blaming Stan for her husband’s death.
People living on Lake Diversion, located on Stan’s latest 520,000-acre land grab, received notice in August they would have to vacate their homes by Feb. 3, 2017. Around that time, The Fast Lane interviewed Annette McNeil, one of the residents who along with her husband Rick Ellis would lose the home they built there years before.
News of Rick’s disappearance and subsequent suicide broke this week shortly before local KTVI reporter Mike Columbo’s expose on the situation aired Thursday on Fox 2 News.
Columbo joined The Fast Lane Thursday afternoon to discuss his visits with Lake Diversion’s residents and what he believes are Stan’s goals in acquiring the land valued at $725 million.
A partial transcription of the interview can be found below followed by audio and a link to 101ESPN’s GoFundMe page for residents affected in the story.
What did you come away with from your visit to Lake Diversion?
“Well, it’s just the deep sense of anger they all have, and with that is helplessness. There is literally nothing that they can do except pack up what they can and move.
“Some of them are on a little bit more sound financial footing than others, but at the end of the day, come February 1 they’ve got to get out.
“Some are moving to their own [new] homes, some moving in with family, some still not sure what they’re going to do. So it was certainly a mixture of anger and helplessness somewhat similar to what St. Louisans felt when we lost the Rams, but when you take in all the other life elements that go into what’s happening in Texas it’s certainly a very severe case.”
What’s the general demographic of Lake Diversion?
“I would say that they’re all lower-middle class. Some are probably more middle class. One of the things that’s made living out on the lake so attractive to them for all these years is the fact it’s been very affordable living. They paid what at last check was a $1500 a year fee for the lease…
“They all own their homes, but if you had to value out these homes we’re talking $10,000…$15,000. Maybe the nicest one would be $20,000. I equate them more to like a river cabin than what you probably think of when you think of a lake house.
“They’re just salt of the earth people. They’re good people and they’re being taken advantage of by Stan Kroenke, who to his credit in this situation isn’t doing anything illegal. You could argue that it’s perhaps immoral, but we know that that doesn’t really matter much to Stan.”
Have the residents been in touch with Kroenke’s people in any way?
“I think they’ve done everything they possibly could to reach out to them just like myself and every other journalist who’s reported on this story are concerned…But as St. Louis journalists know well, getting in touch with Stan Kroenke and getting any answers from Stan Kroenke is a futile effort.
“I think they basically have been told, ‘Sorry. You’re out of here on February 1. You can pack up. You can take everything that you can possibly take, but you will be trespassers here February 1.’”
What surprised you as you put this story together?
“Until you see the place and its beauty…It’s a different terrain so you feel transported. What really struck me was how these two very different places and two very different situations…St. Louis and Lake Diversion…It’s all one common theme. It’s taking advantage of a lease agreement.
“It’s what gave Stan the greenlight to move the Rams and this lease agreement with the Waggoner Ranch is what gave him the greenlight to be able to evict these people. Totally different scenarios, totally different people, totally different parts of the world, but still that common thread.”
What is he planning to do with this land?
“I call it the $725 million-dollar-question because that’s the estimated price or what the land was being sold for. Nobody really knows…Down there they believe he’s going to turn it into some sort of hunting lodge. I think that it’s something much more grand than that.
“I think that there are natural resources on that land that he is probably interested in. And I honestly believe, and this is just my own personal opinion…I think his goal honestly is to become the largest landowner in North America and I think it’s just part of the trophy as he works his way up that list.
What do you know about Rick Ellis’ passing?
“I spoke with Rick’s wife, Annette McNeil last night. She informed me of his passing. She plays a prominent role in this story. Rick makes appearances in the story. He is actually the one who brought her to Lake Diversion many years ago. His family has a long history there.
“I know they were extremely upset. Probably more so than all the other people we talked with, they felt like their backs were really up against the wall here. He built what was probably one of the nicer properties that I witnessed there…There was just such a sense of pride in that.
“I mentioned that helplessness earlier…They truly felt it. This was a man who was retired who was considering what it would be like to have to go back to work now and their whole lives changed. I could tell they were deeply troubled by the situation, but unfortunately as we see in these cases, you just don’t know the depths of someone’s concern and someone’s anger, frustration, helplessness…until you get into this terrible situation.”
In the instance of someone’s passing and given the circumstances, you would think Kroenke would reach out somehow, wouldn’t you?
“You would hope so, but…I think that, as we’ve seen with this guy for years…It’s just business. And it’s unfair for us to know or really speculate on what he feels. That is Stan Kroenke in his heart of hearts, but knowing that people are suffering this way has to get to him you would think. But, again, that’s not for us to know.
“It’s just really upsetting and if there is a positive aspect to this whole story, it really is the way that St. Louisans have reached out to help these people. A credit to 101ESPN for the Gofundme page that you started…One of the things these people were just so grateful for was the outpouring of support from your listeners. Ben Frederickson with the Post-Dispatch and his column.
“I hope my story can help generate some buzz and have people make further donations because there are still people down there who don’t know what they’re going to do come February 1st and some money would definitely help ease their burden.”