Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Billionaire Battle in the Bahamas

From Vanity Fair:
An aerial view of the Mayan-inspired Nygard Cay, 2014. Left, Peter Nygard, February 2015; right, Louis Bacon at his Colorado ranch, 2014.
Left, by Phil Roach/Globe Photos/Zuma Press/Alamy; Right, by Yann Dandois.
Peter Nygard is a hard-partying retail tycoon, whose estate is fit for a Mayan emperor. Louis Bacon is a buttoned-up hedge-fund king, whose passion is conservation. Both are locked in an eight-year legal war with each other that has turned each man’s paradise into hell.

The whole thing began over a puddle in a driveway.

The two men are next-door neighbors in Lyford Cay, a gated community on New Providence, an island in the Bahamas, and for years it had been a peaceful adjacency. Because both of them happen to be billionaires, it is a picturesque driveway, lined by casuarina trees and triple Alexander palms, 200 feet north of a stunning body of water known as Clifton Bay and 100 feet south of an even more stunning vista upon the Atlantic Ocean.

It is less a driveway than a road—but also a portion of road that is shared by both neighbors and nobody else, owing to how it cuts right through one man’s property and ends at the other man’s, which occupies the westernmost tip of the island. And we’re talking about a land of eight-figure beachfront properties, where the houses are very close to each other—where one man’s dining room is only about 200 feet from the other’s revolving acrylic discotheque floor and the glass walls that enclose it with a steady cascade of water.

An “easement” is what the driveway’s creator, the developer E. P. Taylor, a Canadian brewing tycoon, termed this shared passage when he established Lyford Cay in 1955. (The road itself he saw fit to name E. P. Taylor Drive.) But just as one man’s driveway is another man’s easement, one neighbor’s cocktail party is another’s sleepless night due to the fact that there are 2,000 Bahamians—plus a lot of young women from islands throughout the Atlantic, not to mention Europe—whooping it up at the topless bacchanal next door. And one man’s overflow of parked cars along the driveway on that sleepless neighbor’s side of the property line is another man’s reason to have the section of the driveway that cuts through his property re-graded and rebuilt, adding a dip and tall flagstone walls on either side, leaving no shoulder space for anybody to ever conceivably think of parking there, while also screening the driveway from view.

The dip created a drainage problem when it rained: the puddling. “It was smelly. And it had mosquitoes. And in order to come to our place you had to go and wear rubber boots to come and knock on our door,” says Peter Nygard, a Canadian manufacturer of women’s wear and the neighbor at the end of the road who threw the parties. In a court filing, he referred to it as “a toilet drain.”
“Nygard likes the idea that people think they’re going to a separate island when they go to his place,” says Louis Bacon, a titan of New York finance and the neighbor who constructed the strategic no-parking zone. “Now it kind of looks like what the English call a ha-ha: the road drops and it feels more private. It’s a better entrance for his guests and better for me too.”

But that was then, and this is now. And somehow, what began in 2007 with a bit of irritation over runoff has escalated to a battle royal encompassing no fewer than 16 legal actions between Nygard and Bacon and their associates, in which both sides are claiming damages in the tens of millions of dollars and lobbing allegations of activities that include vandalism, bribery, insider trading, arson, murder, destruction of the fragile seabed, and having a close association with the Ku Klux Klan.
It has reached a point where neither man, though each used to consider Lyford Cay his rightful home, spends much time there anymore. Nygard, unable to obtain government permits to rebuild his six-acre, Mayan-inspired compound after an electrical fire in 2009 demolished most of the structures—including the 32,000-square-foot “grand hall,” with its 100,000-pound glass ceiling—has been left to live out of his study when he does visit, and has stopped throwing parties altogether. He blames the man next door for all of it, citing a string of environmental-degradation suits that Bacon has filed against him in court.

Bacon hasn’t set foot in the Bahamas in more than a year, claiming it would put his personal safety at risk. In January 2015, he leveled a $100 million defamation complaint against Nygard in New York, where both men’s businesses are headquartered. Nygard, the suit alleges, has been the “ringleader” behind a vast multi-media smear campaign—TV and radio ads purchased, Web sites created, videos doctored, T-shirts printed, and even “hate rallies” staged with parades through Nassau—all in the name of labeling Bacon a racist, a thief, and a “terrorist,” and bearing messages such as BACON GO HOME.

Nygard filed a counterclaim and tells anybody who will listen that Bacon is trying to destroy him out of a simple desire to take over his property, claiming that some years ago—Nygard can’t recall when—a real-estate agent came to his house on Bacon’s behalf and offered $100 million for the place. When he turned him down, the agent replied that Bacon would get the property “one way or another,” Nygard claims, adding that he doesn’t know the man’s name and can’t remember where he worked, “because it was such a joke to me.” Even so, he says, he took it as a threat. (Bacon has said he made no such offer and was never interested in acquiring Nygard’s land.)

Nygard vows he will never sell and says that he has never met anybody “that smart, that competitive, in my life. He reminds me of Hitler.”

“Peter Pinocchio,” Bacon calls Nygard in an open letter he published in the Bahamas Tribune, noting his habit of “playing footsie with the truth.”

And so on.

In This Corner
At 74, with his long white hair and vigorously spread family tree (he has had eight children with five women), Nygard is something like the Hugh Hefner of down-market retail. Aesthetically—shirt unbuttoned to the navel, tight black jeans, and some sort of glitter he applies to his suntanned arms after showering—he brings to mind a mash-up of Sam Walton and Gunther Gebel-Williams, the circus-animal trainer.

Some things you should know about Nygard: His personal history involves emigrating from Finland to Manitoba with his family when he was eight and living out of a converted coalbin. At 24 he purchased a share in a clothing-manufacturing company with an $8,000 loan, and before long renamed it Nygard. Today, it has about a dozen lines of inexpensive apparel, aimed mostly at middle-aged shoppers and available in more than 200 Nygard stores and other retail chains in North America, and does $500 million in annual sales. He dated Anna Nicole Smith for several years.

He is famous in the Bahamas. He flies there in a private jet that bears the words PETER NYGARD N FORCE and once reportedly had a stripper’s pole inside. He sued a former associate for claiming that Nygard had “deliberately hired celebrity lookalikes” to attend his Oscar party, according to the lawsuit. The case was eventually settled. He is obsessed with longevity. He was giving himself testosterone shots every other day and made arrangements with a lab to receive regular injections of his own stem cells. He talks about the virtues of exercise and healthy eating, and he takes about 50 pills a day—“vitamins, supplements, pharmaceuticals,” he says. “What is it that I’m working on? Getting younger.”

More than anything, Nygard is proud of his concrete sanctuary, which in 1992 he persuaded the Bahamian government to rename Nygard Cay to coincide with a Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous segment. For the preceding 400 years it had been known as Simms Point. Nygard designed and constructed the compound himself over more than two decades. (“To give Nygard credit, he’s industrious,” Bacon concedes. “I used to see him out there in his front loader.”) Even with the main house at Nygard Cay mostly in ruins six years after the fire—the grand staircase that ran through it is now more of an open-air gangway—there’s still plenty to marvel at: carved dragons, 60-foot ziggurats with hundreds of torches lit individually every night by his staff, giant statues of nude women modeled on his former girlfriends, and what he claims is the world’s largest sauna, a 6,000-square-foot A-frame lodge constructed of Canadian-pine logs that are 2 feet thick and 28 feet long. “We went and got a special barge, huge undertaking,” he says of importing them, adding that it was the first building he erected. “Every Finn starts with the saunas.”...MORE
HT: Longform