ST. LOUIS • Beer heir Billy Busch has delivered an inch-thick Grant’s Farm business plan to his brothers and sisters, arguing that, by boosting concessions, corporate sponsorship and big events at his family’s wildlife park, he can produce enough new revenue to make his ownership sustainable.
Busch’s persistence has since sparked a new round of back-and-forth with his siblings, as well as an informal lease proposal from the St. Louis Zoo, which had hoped to buy the farm, and a declaration from zoo leaders.
The zoo, said St. Louis Zoo Association President Matt Geekie, is not interested in any Grant’s Farm proposal unless the six siblings can agree on a plan.
“Our attention must be on remaining the world’s best Zoo,” Geekie said Tuesday in an email to the Post-Dispatch. “Until the family resolves its differences, the Zoo will be focused on pursuing its master plan for the Saint Louis Zoo — with or without Grant’s Farm.”
The future of the beloved south St. Louis County animal park is stuck in court. Busch has asked his five siblings, the children of beer king August A. “Gussie” Busch and third wife Gertrude “Trudy” Buholzer Busch, to sell their shares to him. Four have adamantly and publicly disagreed, hoping, instead, to sell to the St. Louis Zoo.
Billy Busch believes zoo leaders are now taking his potential ownership seriously. He said Geekie called last week to ask whether Busch would consider leasing 160 acres to the zoo for a wildlife breeding program and wide-open animal range.
Geekie, however, said he called more to offer a solution to the siblings’ disagreement. “When the family asked the Zoo Association to save Grant’s Farm, we told them that resolution of their differences was critical to our involvement in Grant’s Farm,” said Geekie, an executive at Graybar Electric.
On Tuesday, Busch said he liked the idea, calling it a “win-win.”
At the same time, Adolphus Busch, who supports his younger brother’s interest, said he was recently called by one of his siblings, Andy Busch, who hinted at an interest in settling the suit.
“He wanted to know if there was any possible way the six of us could come to some possible agreement,” Adolphus said.
The will is clear, Adolphus said. Their father wanted the farm to stay in the family. And Billy’s business plan makes sense, he continued. “I’ve always said I believe Grant’s Farm is an asset that’s been totally and completely underutilized.”
The other four siblings have awaited Billy Busch’s business plan for three months.
They said late Tuesday in a statement that they’re working toward consensus, if possible, but maintain that the zoo is the best owner “for generations to come.”
In November, the four siblings — Andy Busch, Peter Busch, Trudy Busch Valentine, and Beatrice Von Gontard — sued in St. Louis Circuit Court to force the sale of most of Grant’s Farm to the St. Louis Zoo for $30 million.
Billy and Adolphus asked their brothers and sisters to instead sell the 198 acres to Billy for $24 million. Billy said he’d like to build a small brewery onsite and move his Kräftig beer business to the property’s red-roofed Bauernhof.
In either scenario, 22 acres, including the Busch mansion, would remain with the family.
A few weeks later, Billy and Adolphus asserted publicly that the zoo would change the park’s rustic, family-friendly feel. A new tax, which the zoo said was required in order to fund operations and renovations, wasn’t needed, they said.
Valentine and Andy Busch countered that Billy didn’t have the means to run the farm. Nor had they seen a real business plan, they said then.
Last month, Billy delivered a laser-etched, bamboo-bound manuscript to his brothers and sisters. The Post-Dispatch obtained a copy this week.
The plan is broken into phases. In the first year, it aims to clean, repair and paint bedraggled farm buildings. It expands operations year-round, introduces “small authentic food shops,” sells sponsorships, adds festivals and events, and markets space for weddings, luncheons and corporate outings.
In the second year, the plan would unveil two custom bronze statues, of the Busches’ father with baby elephants and their mother, perhaps on horseback. It would add a few exhibits, including a mini-theater, a Busch family photo gallery and a rotating display of the family’s old carriages and coaches. It would build a children’s playground and a 10,000-square-foot event pavilion.
Finally, in years three to five, the plan aims to build a $4.5 million German-style tasting room and demonstration brewery.
Beer samples and park entry would both remain free, Billy said Tuesday.
And the farm would still make money, he said. His financial records say Anheuser-Busch InBev, which now runs Grant’s Farm, loses about $3 million a year on operations.
But under Billy’s plan, Kräftig would pay $60,000 a year for rent, plus $500,000 a year in marketing costs, and Grant’s Farm profits would grow from $140,000 in the second year to $850,000 in the 10th year.
And Kräftig, a business now housed in a Brentwood office building, would get Grant’s Farm as its headquarters.
“Grant’s Farm is such a unique place,” Billy said. “There’s no other place like it in the country.
“To be part of it would be such a benefit, for Grant’s Farm and the brewery.”