A Permanent Utopia?

Fly Ranch Geyser, Washoe County

In NYMag, Nellie Bowles reports that BMOrg have their sights set on a permanent community, and once again will be bussing investors from First Camp out to the nearby Fly Ranch property.

Burning Man’s leadership, nicknamed “the Borg,” has been quietly pushing the entity toward a new phase.

Quietly? As quiet as you can be with half a dozen people in your media team, a Minister of Propaganda, and staff flying all around the world for panel discussions.

As the six founders who built the festival and still guide it start to age, a new generation of leaders is being tapped, including the charismatic and ambitious Bear Kittay, now “Burning Man’s social alchemist and global ambassador.” The Borg is cagey about plans, secretive about money, distrustful of the press (whose Wi-Fi they’ve shut down this year). But co-founder Marianne Goodell has hinted at another major change…developing a private tract of land as a permanent Burning Man community. 


Time for a change? Bear Kittay, Marian Goodell and Danger Ranger. // Photo by Christoper Michel

Is this Burning Man’s future? Bear Kittay, Marian Goodell and Michael Mikel. // Photo by Christoper Michel

Last year, the Borg renewed efforts to purchase and develop a nearby property, the geyser-filled Fly Ranch, which they’d been eyeing for years. As Goodell recently said on a podcast called Positive Head. “For the long-term survival of the culture, we are going to need a physical space…We will, as time goes by, find it hard to only be in the Black Rock Desert. We may need to find a place that would allow for infrastructure. I’m certain that’s in our future.

fly geyser mapFly Ranch is, by all accounts, spectacular: it’s about 4000 acres (880 of which are wetlands) with 23 hot and cold springs and around 40,000 feral horses. There’s one 104 degree lake that’s a couple hundred feet wide. Rod Garrett, one of the original architects of Burning Man, had drawn up plans for a Burning Man Fly Ranch city, a mix of homes and communal spaces built to blend into the desert.

“Employees and affiliates may build on a ‘Homestead’ basis, or rent or buy into the Village community at the project’s north end,” he wrote, in his lengthy proposal.

According to one plan, Fly Ranch buildings would be made with unpainted, rammed earth and sod. No fences would be allowed, and all members of the community, who could either build homesteads or buy into a communal village, would live by Burning Man’s “Ten Principles”...Organic vegetable farming and a Burning Man-like conference business would serve as the economic base of the community.

Growing organic crops in the Alkaline desert, hundreds of miles from the nearest small town. A conference center in the middle of nowhere, in a place with notoriously harsh physical conditions and world famous bug infestations. Sounds like a lot of smart business planning has gone into this idea over the decade+ they’ve been developing it.

FlyGeyserFestival co-founder Will Roger writes of this new Burning Man city in utopian terms: “I fondly hope that this concept can develop rapidly, and become not only a destination for learning and wonder, but a model to the world of a community, although remote, that is ideal and sustainable. It is for the Burning Man Project to create this wilderness paradise.” 

Development of this scale would require a lot of money, and last year, the organization began giving tours of Fly Ranch to potential investors. People around the playa whispered that well known burners like Elon Musk, Sergey Brin, and hotelier Chip Conley were among those shown the property (though none have confirmed that they actually were). 

Burning Man first tried to buy it in 2005. They tried again a few years ago, but the asking price was around $11-12 million, and they only raised about a half a million dollars, he said. But last year, the landowner Sam Jasick passed away, leaving his son Todd in charge, and Todd said he’d welcome another offer. Roger, who lives in the nearby town of Gerlach, decided this time he would get it right.

During last year’s festival, he said they were leading two tours a day. They had set up a little camp there for prospective investors to lounge and get a sense of the area’s energy.

Because nothing says “Decommodification” like 2 busloads a day of investors going to the real estate sales lounge. And nothing says “sustainability” like building a 70,000 person city for the purposes of entertainment, creating art just to burn it down, and in a week producing the amount of CO2 emissions of a small country

From Roger’s perspective, buying land means Burning Man can serve more people — the demand for tickets already far exceeds the supply. “This year, 60,000 people didn’t get tickets to this,” he said. “By owning our own property, it means putting in our own infrastructure. It could be a retreat center or an art park.” He said the plan would be to build that retreat center and a museum, hold smaller events, and create a city to test out what it would be like to live on Mars (guess which tech billionaire could be thinking of that?). “What interests me is the experiment in a permanent community,” he said, adding that the tech titans felt the same way. “They’re interested in that too, yes.”

So far, not interested in it enough to fund a Series A for this 30-year old start-up. But maybe this is the year.

Part of the appeal of the site is recent moves Will Roger has made on the board of a local Advisory council to get the BLM to re-designate land so that it can be sold.

burning_man suitsAdjacent to the Fly Ranch property is, Roger said, “a playa, public land.” He had joined a political group: the Sierra Front-Northwestern Great Basin Resource Advisory Council. In this position, he helped to declare that land disposable, defined by the Bureau of Land Management as “land that can be sold.” He added, “Getting it on the disposable land list was crucial because we could have our own playa then, something smaller for five to 10 thousand people.” The property is “A-rated solar, A-rated wind,” and Roger said the income from that power generation would become the foundation for a community. “If you look at a 100-year plan, it could be remarkable as a planet changing culture,” he said.

If someone can figure out a way that you can put solar panels miles away from industry or population, and that itself makes so much income that it could sustain a growing community, then that could indeed be planet-changing. Usually, local generation offsets costs rather than creating revenue – and industrial-scale facilities are built near the main power transmission grid.

As Burning Man emerges as an emotional and intellectual center for the tech world, Roger thinks the chances of a deal going through are higher than ever. His employees were leading tours while he hung out at First Camp — “I don’t swim in that world, but my staff swims in that world,” he said. He said he was just thrilled the vision to create a town has finally come closer to fruition. “I’ve had my dream in this and my heart broken so many times,” he said. “Now I’m 66 years old, I’m almost retiring, and it might happen.”

Emerges? Isn’t that how the whole shebang has been marketed, since DARPA first unleashed their Web weapon on the general public in the 90’s?

Although Roger says he doesn’t swim in that world, 4 years ago when they bussed me out to the site on one of these investor tours he was the man in charge. Swimming in the world of hot springs was part of the sales pitch – everyone was encouraged to get naked, of course. The details about how investors would get a return on the most expensive desert land on earth were sketchy…“we’re going to run a business based on the Ten Principles“. Ummm, which ones? Gifting and Decommodification? Leave No Trace? So how does that work again? Everyone volunteers for free, pays to stay in a conference center where you bring your own bedding and catering and take out your own trash, the Founders get the ticket revenue (which of course “isn’t enough due to all our costs”), and investors donate the money?

A year has passed since we sat together in the playa, and it hasn’t quite happened yet. When I asked a Burning Man representative about their plans, the website they had up saying that they’d begun to develop the land came down. But on the Wayback Machine you can still see their statement: “The Burning Man Project is pleased to announce the initiation of the preliminary stages of the development of the Fly Geyser property.”

A quote on the site from Will Roger reads: “The Fly Ranch Project is a key component of a broader plan for economic and community development in the Northern Nevada area.”

Read the full story at NYMag.

Permanent infrastructure for Burners is a great idea. Destruction and pollution is so 1980’s. Leave It Better trumps Leave No Trace. A Center for Philosophy, to spread the culture around the world? I could see that happening. Putting these things together, a couple of dozen miles further out into the wilderness from Gerlach? That leaves me scratching my head. I always thought the key to real estate investment was location, location, location.

If you build it, they will come…maybe they should build it in Colorado and sell weed to tourists to pay for the thing.



66 comments on “A Permanent Utopia?

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    First there was:

    “)$(” = the “)'(” symbol showing the Borg’s focus on money;

    “Tin Principles” = the malleability of Larry’s Ten Principles to be whatever the Borg wants;


    “Commodification Camps” (CCamps) = camps that sell the NV Burn experience like pork bellies, all the same, to the highest bidder;

    “Burnt Man” = the NV Burn after the burners and burner spirit were disenfranchised and excised to accommodate the Borg’s conflicting agenda;

    And now:

    “Flypaper Ranch” = the Fly Ranch drawing the 1%ers to congregate in the same place because they see others congregating there.

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  7. Pingback: Burning Man buys 3,800-acre ranch – is it about to build a year-round festival? | Kotak Hobby

  8. A substantial portion is wetlands, 880 acres. These ecosystems are probably unique and delicate. Is anyone going to bother to do an environmental impact assessment, or follow laws regarding wetland protection? I doubt it, when the investors are so wealthy.
    Also, the direction in which the Borg is moving is, yeah, pretty much against the original intent of the event. Clutching too tightly into something. Elitism. Meh.

  9. A substantial portion is wetlands, 880 acres. These ecosystems are probably unique and delicate. Is anyone going to bother to do an environmental impact assessment, or follow laws regarding wetland protection? I doubt it, when the investors are so wealthy.
    Also, the direction in which the Borg is moving is, yeah, pretty much against the original intent of the event. Clutching too tightly into something. Elitism. Etc.

  10. Pingback: A Permanent Utopia? | Nevada State Personnel Watch

  11. Kudos to Nellie Bowles for an awesome article. And, kudos to our mates constructing an awesome City, the artists, DPW, Gate, and theme camps whom contribute, in addendum of numerous others of our Community, towards whom we owe our Gratitude.

    Within the transition, of the BORG, of their Black Rock City LLC, to their BRC LLC to be a subsidiary corporation of a 501(c)3 non profit, they stated of that they had a 100 year plan, but the details of the 100 year plan of purchasing the Fly Ranch and placing a combination of the Bohemian Grove, the Esalen Conference Center, and the Renaissance Faires, upon Fly Ranch, and upon the Huluapia playa, was hidden from the media, and hidden from Burners, in due of thousands of non disclosure contracts, in the usual secret manner of the BORG.

    Might any person discuss this plan with a Burning Man Project board member, or might a person be queried in regards of a donation towards this plan, request of the Project board member, to halt the secrecy of the BORG, and to vote to require of the BORG to disclose towards donors of cash, stock, art, and labour –

    a) Send the 2014 990 form, of the Project, to the U.S. IRS, and publish it upon their website, including of details of conflicts of interests of the BORG members.
    b) Publish, upon their website, the 2014 Consolidated Financial Statement, in the manner of the regionals whom are 501(c)3 corporations, and, in the manner of other 501(c)3 public benefit corporations.
    c) Publish the 2014 afterburn financial chart, and, within October, publish the 2015 afterburn financial chart, in the manner required of all the regionals.

    In addendum, this is most important, the rubbish Project bylaws are to be changed near to Thanksgiving of 2015. It is most important the new Project bylaws permit the awesome Burner community a big voice in the decisions, and the direction, of the Project. Assimilation without proper representation is tyranny. Request of any Project board members of whom you might converse, to pen, and solely approve new bylaws providing of a proper voice to the Burner community, including of the halting of the hiding of conflicts of interests of the BORG, and permit the Project board proper oversight of the BRC LLC of the BORG, of which, it operates the Burning Man event, without proper representation of Project board members independent of the BORG, and the Project board members are not, at present, permitted oversight in regards of the decisions of the BORG upon the Burning Man event. This must change, purposed to empower the awesome Burner community upon these matters.

    • Bump. My hope is of the donors, in the manner of conditions upon their donations, required of the Borg proper disclosure of their finances, and of their conflicts of interests, and of their cashout, and required of proper representation of the awesome Burner community, of the manner stated within the last paragraph upon these matters, in despite of Larry, and the Borg, desiring to remain in near to total control, with their rich mates. My belief is of this did not occur, in due of the most delusional theme of the 2016 burn, penned by Larry, of near to serfs licking the arses of wealthy patrons, purposed for a tad of their cash.

  12. The cult of Burning Man must find a permanent place to gather and shear it’s sheep by securing a year around revenue stream. Though it seems like they’re also looking for something on private land to perhaps try to limit the eyes of the law? Not sure how that will work in the long run once word gets out that organic farming is just another term for growing weed, mushrooms or other synthetics. They also won’t be able to skirt the State employment laws, like about paying overtime and long days without breaks that have been reported by some that have worked for the departments for the Event or for some of the pnp camps.

    Eventually the cool and novelty factor will wear off and only the hard core will remain. One can simply take a trip down to the Salton Sea and the Slab City area to see what that future looks like when people abandon their once lofty desert installations.

      • will roger(aka mr Kleen) is still around, and IMHO a creep, pushing someone into a fire, and don’t even start me on what he did to Paul: http://www.sfbg.com/pixel_vision/2012/10/29/paul-addis-playwright-and-burning-man-arsonist-dies

        Terry Gross, (aka Lighting) I think is still about, he was/is “general counsel” to the BORG, and chicken’s adopted father…because that way chicken can not testify against him. He is camped @ first camp most likely.

        Larry Harvey (aka swordfish) Odd that they do not have a photo of him…Like he has never had his picture ever taken…right?

        Rod Garrett, I do not know him, so I have nothing to say. https://web.archive.org/web/20131127095851/http://www.willroger.org/willroger.org/Rod_Garrett_Memorial.html

        • Too bad. The ones that looked good were instead:

          “Grant Barbour has been working with Build Inc. for approximately 10 years, managing acquisitions and projects as well as structuring real estate transactions… He continues this work as a Board member of Advocates of the West, a non profit organization… Grant has undergraduate and law degrees from UC Davis, and an MBA from UC Berkeley.”

          “Don Clark is the founding Principal of Cathexes, a highly awarded architectural and planning firm in northern Nevada that has specialized in Architecture, Planning, and Interior Design since 1985.”

          “Rebecca Gasca… is a bilingual communications specialist focusing on public policy, non-profit program development, fundraising, and marketing/public relations. She is a former Rotary Goodwill Ambassador to Santiago, Chile with additional Rotary-related international experience throughout the Americas and Asia. As Legislative and Policy Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada (ACLU), Rebecca is the ACLU’s principal lobbyist on Nevada civil rights and civil liberties issues.”

          “Nick Morgan… is an engineer, event producer, activist and real estate developer whose work supports the convergence of the arts, environmental issues, emerging energy technologies and social issues through investments and project development. An environmental activist for more than three decades, his work to promote citizen involvement in government decision-making through rallies, public meetings and litigation has morphed into a broader commitment to sustainable communities, a commitment which defines all of his projects and especially in New Mexico, Costa Rica and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.”

          “Dr. David Shearer is a clean technology scientist. David is co-founder and CEO of Full Circle Biochar, a clean technology company developing biochar products for global agricultural markets and carbon sequestration applications.”

          “Thomas A. Stille… spent three years travelling around the world gaining an appreciation of how other cultures relate to their environments. For another three years, Tom taught Landscape Architecture and Park Management at Massey University in New Zealand.”

          Those would be valuable people on the BMP BoD! Though now that I think about it… their ethics might not have allowed them to condone what the Larry LLCabal set up for the Borg, preventing them from being on the BoD.

          • In fact, an interesting tale could be told in who of the Borg assembled the ringers I cited above, and why that line of thought did not carry forward to the BMP BoD.

      • Love this picture of Jack London at what is basically a theme camp. The parallels between the two events really are striking, BUT I DON’T THINK IT’S A CONSPIRACY. More human nature than anything else. We need rituals.

        • Don’t you think it is a secret in their business capitalization plan that the event is created by the burners and is largely independent of the Borg? All they do is pick the time and place, and collect the money for the bowls of stone soup made by the burners. They have inflated the operating overhead from less than $1 million to over $20 million as the attendance has only doubled. Now they want to say they need “infrastructure”…. It is a conspiracy to create a resort around the burners and the soup they make for free while explicitly excluding the burners from the benefits as well as sacrificing their interests at every turn to make the Borg’s life easier.

          • I think it’s pretty out in the open. It’s all Larry and Co. talk about, in fact. They hardly mention the event anymore. So no, I don’t think it’s a secret. I think it sucks, but it’s not a secret.

            The BMORG does more then pick the time and place, they also deal with logistics and red tape and all that. They could probably do a few things better in that regard, but the effort itself is pretty substantial.

          • It is a secret in that the Borg propaganda is crafted to make the faithful believe that all that is good comes from them.

          • “The BMORG does more then pick the time and place, they also deal with logistics and red tape and all that. They could probably do a few things better in that regard, but the effort itself is pretty substantial.”

            How can it be ten times the effort with twice the number of participants without willful inflation of their effort?

          • I don’t know a single burner who believes the BMORG is infallible and/or provides anything other than logistical support and strategic direction. If some people do follow the BMORG blindly, that’s on the individual.

          • No, blind belief is what they expect and is their burner communications and interaction model.

            Can you cite another ongoing organization or event where the substance is created by those who pay to attend, where the management is also top-down with no formal enfranchisement of those who create the event?

  13. “Because nothing says “Decommodification” like 2 busloads a day of investors going to the real estate sales lounge. And nothing says “sustainability” like building a 70,000 person city for the purposes of entertainment, creating art just to burn it down, and in a week producing the amount of CO2 emissions of a small country.”

    This type of criticism is shallow and short-sighted. You must know these are two different things. It’s like complaining about all the eco-hippies’ carbon footprint at Burning Man. There are temporary activities and permanent activities. One can be environmentally conscious about everyday activities AND still enjoy driving to the desert to burn things.

    That said, I’m against this whole effort, not because of an environmental concern, but because I think the BMORG should be involved in one thing and one thing only: maintaining the NV burn.

    • I’m not against the idea. I don’t think it’s the right location, and $11 million for 4400 acres in a place where you can get 40 acres for $7,000 is not a great deal.

      • Ha ha. Depends on who is selling and who is buying. Keep in mind that the $11 million purchase is a capital expenditure on the books for all to see. If you dig and don’t find some anonymous member LLC or NV corporations on the seller side I’ll eat the sales contract.

      • it is all about the water…. in Nevada the price of the land IS the price of the water. At one time the creek that runs along side the road that goes to the “80” had water in it, but not any more.

        As to the price of the fly ranch, word on the street (447/34) is the price was 6 mil. and the only 2 buyers are the Hycroft gold mine and the borg. Due to the weak price of gold, perhaps Hycroft is not in the picture? Borg offered 2.75 or 3 mil back in 20012/13. The locals thing that 4mil is the right price.

        Just out of curiosity, who or what owns the borg office, black rock bar, and the house at the north end of town?

        • My best guess answer to your question is Gerlach Holdings LLC

          A lot of the assets owned by the Nebulous Entity were moved into private LLC’s before the handover to a non-profit. There appear to be different companies for real estate and intellectual property. We don’t know what the arrangements are between Black Rock City LLC, the Burning Man Project, and the private founders’ LLCs. However they told us it was all going to be transparent and it still isn’t – which is a message in itself.

        • Your environmental criticism is the line of reasoning that has gotten us in the situation we are in now. Everyone is an exception, right? Why bother to control your carbon footprint when you are with a bunch of people who think like you do?



        • And while you can “make” water with desalinization (and a lot of energy), even if we drop the CO2 levels today, new research has shown that it will take HUNDREDS of years for the pH of the oceans to drop. So I hope you are adjusting your aquatic species expectations accordingly.

          • The solution here has zero to do with greening festivals and everything to do with greening industry and everyday activities. Solar and wind (and nuclear) to generate power for homes, factories and transportation.

          • No, as the writer points out, the NV burn has as much CO2 impact as a large city. It is a conspicuous contributor, like those rich communities in California who have INCREASED their water use in the drought. The disregard for the consequences to others is the hallmark of the Borg and their new 1%er friends. The Burning Man future they are promoting has this same disregard, leaving the consequences to be dealt with by others as long as they make money. The BMP BoD are no different from the Shell BoD, exploiting the environment for fun and profit. The difference is, the Shell BoD does not really have a choice given their business model and existing capital investments, the BMP BoD does have a choice, which makes it all the worse.

            If the BMP BoD was serious about the environment, they would give an accounting of their gross and net CO2 footprint, taking credit for the BM Solar activities and any other offsets. And any claims that the BRC/playa CO2 point-of-use footprint cannot be estimated presumes the listener is stupid.

            Burning Man is a new world model, it must account for the environment or it is no more valid than making water sculpture with sprinklers fed from your domestic water supply. Time to grow up or admit that your are just fooling yourself.

          • It’s a temporary city, so for a couple weeks a year it generates a city’s worth of CO2. This while BRC citizens are not generating any CO2 in their permanent cities, so there’s another source of offset. And even if there was no offset, the focus should be on a more macro level.

            I do agree that the carbon footprint of Burning Man should be available in a detailed report. Would be interesting to see how it stacks up to other events like football games, music festivals, etc. Beyond this information, I’m not sure what you’d like to see. A burn with no burning? No event at all? How does Transformus compare? Etc.

          • “…BRC citizens are not generating any CO2 in their permanent cities…” Your ignorance is showing.

            I’ll give you the same questions I posed to Pooh some time ago: I’ll bet you know how many gallons of gas you use in your car(s) per day or month. Do you know how many KWH of electricity you use per day or month? Do you know how many gallons of water you directly use a day? How many gallons of water you use indirectly for power and cooling? Do you know your carbon footprint from your consumption of gas, electricity and water? If you don’t know, you are part of the problem.

          • To respond to jv…. Why do think that these 70K + people don’t produce any Co2 outside of the event? That’s just not correct.

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