Plans for the St. Louis Zoo to buy Grant’s Farm are in legal limbo. Six heirs of August Anheuser "Gussie" Busch Jr. are in litigation over whether the property should be sold to the Zoo or Billy Busch. A hearing was held today - largely on the timing of how things will proceed.
The intended sale was announced last week by the Zoo and quickly drew fire from Billy Busch who is one of the heirs in the trust and who also wants to buy the property. The Zoo and Wells Fargo, which runs the real-estate trust that owns the land, have been negotiating a deal for more than a year. The deal is contingent on voter approval of a tax increase to support running the attraction.
Billy Busch says his purchase would maintain the character of the farm in south St. Louis County. He’s supported by his brother Adolphus.
The Zoo offered $30 million for the property, much of which would come from Anheuser-Busch InBev, which runs Grant's Farm. Billy Busch’s offer is several million dollars less. Lawyers for the trust said that Wells Fargo evaluated the offers and found the Zoo’s offer “superior.”
The Zoo released a statement regarding the sale earlier in the day stating:
- "The Zoo Association was approached about this opportunity by the Trust representing the Busch Family. They expressed a desire for the Zoo to own and operate Grant’s Farm because they thought the Zoo was the best organization to fulfill Gussie Busch’s vision for this iconic attraction
- "The Zoo Association remains committed to preserving and improving Grant’s Farm and to continuing to enhance the world class Saint Louis Zoo.
- "We stand ready to do whatever is best for the community and the Busch family and for the conservation of animals in our care and in the wild.
- "However, at this point, the Zoo Association and Zoo leadership have determined that the best course is to let the judicial process take its course before we move forward with any outreach to the community."
The Busch heirs who support selling to the Zoo are Trudy Busch Valentine, Beatrice Busch Von Gontard, Peter Busch and Andrew Busch. In court today, their lawyer pushed for a hearing on the merits, which would greatly speed up approval of a sale. Both the trustees and the Zoo argue that timing is an issue as they will need time to educate the public about the sale to garner support for the necessary tax increase.
Probate Commissioner Patrick Connaghan decided Billy Bush’s side would have a chance to respond to the initial suit. Connaghan is likely to make a scheduling decision before Thanksgiving, and a decision on the sale is unlikely before the New Year.