Public Buyout Plan Thwarted With 'Ponderosa' Sale

By  | 

A western-themed amusement park on Lake Tahoe's north shore based on the hit 1960s television show "Bonanza" has been sold to PeopleSoft founder David Duffield for an undisclosed sum.

Duffield, who became a residential real estate developer after leaving as president and CEO of the Pleasanton, Calif.,-based business software maker in 1999, was vague about his plans for the 570-acre Ponderosa Ranch.

"Some folks are concerned about the development potential of the Ponderosa Ranch," he said in a statement. "I can assure them that I have no immediate development plans for the property. As a full-time resident of Incline Village, I appreciate the concerns about the future of this property as it is the gateway to our community."

Duffield's home phone is unlisted and he could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Local, state and federal officials expressed shock and disappointment, saying the sale thwarts their efforts to purchase and preserve the prime real estate for the public.

The U.S. Forest Service had hoped to use $35 million generated by a recent auction of federal land near Las Vegas to purchase about 490 acres of the ranch. Other agencies had planned to split the rest.

"It was just a real win-win proposition for the state of Nevada and the Tahoe Basin, " said Pam Wilcox, administrator of the Nevada State Lands Division. "We all invested so much time and hard work in this and it's a real blow. We're just crushed."

Supporters of the public buyout envisioned leaving most of the property as open space and incorporating the ranch into a system of trails for hikers and bikers.

They also envisioned using part of the property for parking for nearby attractions and preserving several Ponderosa Ranch buildings.

After putting the ranch up for sale in February, the owners said they preferred to sell to the government, not a developer.

David Geddes, president of the ranch, praised governmental officials' efforts to put together what he called "a very complex project."

But he said their offer "was still in the formative stages and had an awful lot of contingencies. For us, this was the right business decision for our family."

Geddes said he's confident that Duffield will be "a responsible steward of the land."

Royce Anderson, co-owner of the Ponderosa, said the deal with Duffield did not evolve until about two weeks ago.

"We demanded an answer to the completedness of (the agencies') intent and never got an answer," Anderson said.

Karen Mullen, Washoe County parks director, said eight governmental agencies had planned to complete the sale later this year.

"We had the interlocal agreement between the agencies drafted, we had the purchase and sale agreement drafted and the money lined up," Mullen said. "We thought we were sailing along and then we just got the wind knocked out of our sails."

The Ponderosa Ranch, which opened in 1967, was based on the NBC show Bonanza that aired from 1950 to 1973. It concerned the exploits of the Cartwright family who lived on the fictional Ponderosa Ranch.

Bonanza was the No. 1 TV show in the United States for several years and spent most of its 14 years among the top-rated shows. The show now is in syndication.