How Len Barrie positioned himself to become one of the principal owners of the Tampa Bay Lightning, assuming the National Hockey League approves the $200-million sale today, sounds like a fairy tale.
The one about making millions in today's slumping housing market. Only this is true.
It's the winter of 2001. A recently retired hockey player with zero real estate experience, Barrie plunks down $300,000 of his own money as a nonrefundable down payment on a 1,300-acre, $8-million chunk of mountainside just north of Victoria, British Columbia.
Why? Barrie was out riding his bicycle one day, the chain snapped and he thought the spot where he broke down would make the ideal location for a golf resort.
Just 32 at the time, Barrie has three months to come up with the $7.7-million balance or he loses his deposit. But he hits up friends and some of his former NHL teammates, beats the deadline and buys the land.
He still has to get all those pesky zoning and building permits, which local government doesn't seem inclined to grant. So Barrie threatens to clear-cut the land if he doesn't get it rezoned. Then he actually fires up the backhoes and starts clearing.
Two days later, the government caves. And Bear Mountain Resort emerges.
Today, Bear Mountain is a $2.4-billion development with a 156-room luxury hotel, restaurants, pubs, two Jack Nicklaus-designed golf courses, hundreds of homes, condos and townhouses, and $500-million in sales.
On one day alone, in late 2005, Bear Mountain sold $140-million worth of real estate, a record for Vancouver Island.
The project's majority shareholder, Barrie lives in a 15,000-square-foot ranch-style home at Bear Mountain with his wife and two teenaged children. He says he remains consumed with seeing his project through to its completion in about 2023.
"Had I known what would lie ahead, I may not have tackled the project," Barrie, now 39, says on his Web site. "One of the main reasons Bear Mountain Resort has been so successful is that I had no preconceived notions. No one told me 'You can't do this.' I simply didn't know any better."
But Barrie has another love: hockey. And perhaps a small debt to repay the sport. It is not yet known how much Barrie will put up to secure the purchase of the Lightning as part of the OK Hockey LLC group. Some reports have his investment close to $50-million, a quarter of the team's price tag — but it's likely substantial compared with other individual investors.
In his partnership with movie maker Oren Koules and six others to buy the team, Barrie reportedly will become Lightning president and Koules will become governor.
But all bets are off if the NHL voids the deal today.
Barrie did not return calls for comment, but a peek into his first career gives an inkling into his second. What he lacked in scoring ability over 11 seasons of professional hockey, he made up for in grit.
Lightning defenseman Dan Boyle, who played with Barrie when the two were with the Florida Panthers, said he was surprised that a journeyman center with a limited education would end up owning a mountain resort and part of an NHL team.
"But not everyone needs to go to school to achieve," Boyle said. "He and (Koules) are passionate about the game. I think their excitement and passion is something that we probably haven't had here."
Times staff writer Damian Cristodero contributed to this report. Tom Zucco can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8247.