Tabby Mountain Ranch, along with an elk herd, still for sale

Published: Monday, Jan. 2 2012 11:58 p.m. MST

Tabby Mountain Ranch in Duchesne County is up for sale. The 13-bedroom lodge with fabulous views was designed to cater to hunters who paid fees ranging from under $3,000 to as high as $15,000 for the opportunity to hunt big-antlered elk. The price for the ranch has been slashed from $10 million to $6.5 million, photographed Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2011.

Winston Armani, Winston Armani, Deseret News

TABIONA, Duchesne County — On sale now outside this eastern Utah town: a 13-bedroom lodge with fabulous views and 50 bull elk.

It's not often a herd of elk will sweeten a real estate deal. But antlered elk are part of the curb appeal at the troubled Tabby Mountain Ranch. It also illustrates an unfortunate truth: Many commercial properties are in serious trouble.

The owners of the private hunting ranch unsuccessfully put it up for sale several years ago. Last year they filed for bankruptcy. Now, a Minnesota bank has taken possession of the ranch and is offering it for sale at a bargain-basement price — slashed from $10 million to $6.5 million, and no extra charge for the elk.

Bruce Zollinger of CBRE Group Inc., a real estate brokerage offering the deal, called it "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to buy a property like this."

Nestled in an isolated valley just outside the town of Tabiona, the ranch was designed to cater to well-heeled hunters. They paid fees ranging from under $3,000 to as high as $15,000 for the opportunity to hunt big-antlered elk.

The once large herd is down to 50 head of elk. "They're all young bulls that are fun to be with, you know," said Darin Jenkins, a hired caretaker who has lived on the ranch for 13 years. "I don't know why it (the ranch) got into trouble. But as far as hunters are concerned, everybody that came here loved their experience."

The ranch property includes nearly 3,800 acres. About a third of it is encircled by high fences to keep the privately owned domestic elk inside. Some 242 acres are under irrigation, producing alfalfa hay to feed the elk.

The amenities for visitors are impressively high-end. An 11,000-square-foot lodge is loaded with hunting-related art and artifacts as well as 13 bedrooms. "They're all master suites," said CBRE broker Patrick Juhlin. "There are 16 bathrooms, two great rooms," and a high-tech conference center.

Part of the reason the ranch failed was timing. The lodge was nearing completion about the time the bottom fell out of the economy. The economic crash made expensive hunting trips less feasible for many, Juhlin said. "That's the first thing they cut in their budget when they need to make their mortgage or they got a decrease in their pay."

From a national perspective, the situation is not so unusual. According to a recent survey, more than 9 percent of all commercial properties are considered "delinquent" on loans. "It basically means somebody is late on their payment," Zollinger said. Delinquency rates below 1 percent are considered healthy; a 9 percent rate is considered very bad.

There are few signs of a rapid improvement. Many properties are now being offered at severely reduced prices as banks try to unload their unwanted properties. "Since 2008, since the economic crash I think the market's been bad. But lately, in the last 18 months, we've seen a lot of properties sell," Zollinger said.

Both Juhlin and Zollinger say they have personally handled $40 million in sales as buyers with large amounts of cash move in to take advantage of reduced prices. They believe the market is leveling out and even showing some signs of improvement.

Jenkins hopes to stay on as caretaker of the Tabby Mountain Ranch if a buyer materializes. "You know, it hurts to see such a wonderful place go under," Jenkins said. "I love the property and I want somebody to come in and buy it who loves the property like I love the property."

Email: hollenhorst@desnews.com

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