Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba, has just purchased a 28,120-acre property in the Adirondacks, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Ma, whose net worth is estimated to be as much as $23.9 billion, reportedly spent $23 million on the property, known as Brandon Park.
Ma’s main motivation for the purchase was for conservation reasons, but he reportedly also plans to use it as a vacation home from time to time.
The park comprises more than nine miles of the St. Regis River, several lakes, streams, and a great deal of forestland. It sits in an area of the Adirondacks that is protected by the state of New York; heavy logging and mining work in the late 20th century depleted much of its natural timber and water resources.
Ma has made many donations to conservation efforts in his home country of China, helping to create the Sichuan Nature Conservation Foundation and the Laohegou Nature Reserve in Sichuan.
In 2014, Ma created a charitable trust that now has an endowment of $3 billion.
“Protecting the environment in China will always be Jack’s first and foremost priority, and he will continue his strong efforts here,” Alibaba spokesman Jim Wilkinson told The Wall Street Journal. “This international land purchase reflects Jack’s belief that we all inhabit the same planet and we all breathe the same air, so we are dependent on each other for our collective future.”
Mr. Ma has been the chairman of the China board of the Nature Conservancy, an international conservation organization, since 2013, and sits on its global board. He is also a founding member of the Sichuan Nature Conservation Foundation, a Chinese private nongovernmental organization started in 2011 to protect land in western Sichuan and throughout China. He helped create the Laohegou Nature Reserve in Sichuan, the first nature reserve in China managed by a non governmental organization, according to the Nature Conservancy.
Laohegou covers more than 27,000 acres in an area that is a giant panda habitat. The Nature Conservancy in China now manages five land-trust reserves there and plans to add more.
Mr. Ma’s charitable trust, established in 2014 in the months leading up to Alibaba’s record-setting $25 billion IPO, has an endowment of approximately $3 billion, making it one of the largest in Asia. It focuses on the environment, health care and education. By way of comparison, the Rockefeller Foundation, which was founded in 1913, had assets of $4.2 billion as of 2014.
The Alibaba Group, where Mr. Ma remains executive chairman, has directed 0.3% of its annual operating revenue to a foundation for environmental protection since 2010. The company has also launched a campaign to clean up the water in Zhejiang Province, where Mr. Ma grew up and where Alibaba is based.
As for his new land acquisition in the Adirondacks, Mr. Wilkinson said that Mr. Ma’s first move as the new owner was to stop an existing logging operation on the property. Mr. Ma has visited the property twice, Mr. Wilkinson said. LandVest’s marketing materials for the land note that the property has a brook-trout fishery, a hatchery that produces a heritage strain of brook trout and a private-label maple syrup operation.
The Nature Conservancy introduced Mr. Ma to the Adirondacks, an area it considers a priority because of the temperate forest, 3,000 lakes, 30,000 miles of rivers and streams, and 247 rare species, according to the organization’s president and CEO, Mark Tercek. “Jack travels to see how conservation happens and to be inspired back home,” Mr. Tercek said.
Mr. Ma will be one of a number of business magnates and philanthropists in the area. A hundred years ago, many American industrialists summered in the Adirondacks, drawn by the cool mountain air and wilderness. Wealthy families built rustic summer getaways, Tudor Revival mansions and Great Camps here. Philanthropist Marylou Whitney, age 89, inherited Whitney Park, then an Adirondack camp of about 51,000 acres, from her late husband, Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney in 1992.
The Whitneys consider themselves stewards of the land, employing specialists to manage the trees, fish and wildlife. “It’s extremely important that we keep this as pristine as possible. We owe it to history,” said John Hendrickson, Mrs. Whitney’s husband, noting that the family has owned the land since 1898.
In 1997, Mrs. Whitney sold 14,700 acres of the estate to New York state for $17.1 million to create the William C. Whitney Wilderness Area. “We gave the state an extreme discount because they agreed to preserve it as a wilderness,” said Mr. Hendrickson. Mrs. Whitney still owns 36,000 acres of the estate.
Newer names in the neighbourhood include YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley and his business partner Stephen Gordon, the founder of Restoration Hardware and more recently Guideboat Company, who own an interest in a camp that dates back to 1882.
Mike Raymaley, an agent at Merrill L. Thomas, Inc., who was not involved in the deal, said he wasn’t surprised by the high sale price commanded by Brandon Park. “Brandon is the largest privately owned wilderness that has sold in 30 years” in the Adirondacks, he said.