Flying High with Utah’s Most Mysterious Mogul – Deseret News

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Flying High with Utah’s Most Mysterious Mogul – Deseret News

We’re hovering thousands of feet above I-15 in what I’m told is the most technologically advanced helicopter in the state, a claim I don’t even know how to begin fact-checking. I’m sitting next to Brandon Fugal, in his crisp, signature suit (he doesn’t own a single pair of jeans, a source tells me), slick-backed hair and designer boots.

“You can see my obnoxious name on that building,” Fugal says into his headset as he points to a modern, multistory building through the helicopter’s domed glass. Indeed, from our vantage point, BRANDON FUGAL reads clear as the cloudless sky not just on the building to which he points, but on what seems like every other building along Utah’s tech corridor.

Fugal is giving me an aerial tour of his commercial real estate projects along the Wasatch Front. Our flight is the closest I’ve come to peering into the future. For every empty plot of land we spot, Fugal has a vision. He describes the development plans underway for new corporate campuses that will arise over the next decade. He’s on the front lines of economic development, he tells me, and he’s doing his best to keep Utah’s pioneer spirit alive. 

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Brandon Fugal points at real estate he has worked on to Desert News reporter Meg Walter, while his brother, Cameron Fugal, flies over Orem on Thursday, July 21, 2022.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

For each building he highlights there’s a story, many of them tales of overcoming the challenges of scaling a company during a global pandemic. He recites square footage and acreage figures from memory. Not because he’s especially good at memorization, he tells me, but because these projects are his babies. He speaks of the builders and tenants as though they are old college pals.

As we zip around the top of Mount Timpanogos and over Sundance Resort, Fugal, who is recently remarried, describes his wedding last fall at the scenic mountain venue. He and his wife Kristen helicoptered in for the event. Air Supply played the reception. Guests included former Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, voice actor Jess Harnell and Green Beret Nate Boyer. A source tells me they left the event ruminating on the variety of guests in attendance — industry leaders, celebrities and politicians, all friends of Fugal.

The wedding happened while he was grieving his father’s death, preparing for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Brandon D. Fugal Gateway Building at Utah Valley University and filming Season 3 of “The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch.”

“I was running on adrenaline and Diet Mountain Dew,” he tells me. “As always!”


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Brandon Fugal is pictured in his office at Colliers International in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, July 6, 2022. In 2016, Fugal purchased Skinwalker Ranch in order to investigate and study the strange and unexplainable phenomena that has been reported there for more than two centuries.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

I first met Fugal in 2020 after I visited Skinwalker Ranch. Fugal owns the ranch and stars in the History Channel docuseries which just concluded its third season. The show, on which Fugal also has an executive producer credit, presents him as an aloof, no-nonsense, somewhat reluctant benefactor of the ranch and the eccentric experiments conducted thereon.

But it’s hard not to be disarmed and a bit startled by the blast of personality that bounces past the reception desk to greet me. Talking at 2x speed, he launches into a tour of the Colliers office, introducing me to each of his colleagues and showing me his collection of rare books and movie memorabilia.

I’m already waiting for Fugal to call me “old sport” when he directs my attention to the first edition copy of “The Great Gatsby” with the iconic eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg on the cover. Then to a first edition of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” on his shelf; and, finally, to the most valuable book in his collection — Oliver Cowdery’s copy of the Book of Mormon.

When we finally sit for our chat, a T-800 Endoskeleton from the set of “Terminator 2” looms behind the table.

Through our conversations, I came to discover a man of profound complexities — a big-time real estate mogul who lives in small-town Pleasant Grove, Utah. A practicing member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and a bonafide reality TV star searching for extraterrestrial life for a third consecutive season. An established philanthropist, but also a guy who geeks out over 1980s movie paraphernalia.

Brandon Fugal’s ambition is equal parts frenetic and fantastical, but it’s also undeniably reshaping the state he loves and the future of the new west.


Fugal began his career in commercial real estate as a teen, he says. He even claims to have closed one of his first big deals — an office building sale — as a brand new missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He knows it sounds a bit unorthodox, but he insists that nothing in the missionary handbook at the time prevented him from owning and using the large brick phone he brought with him on the mission to dabble in his real estate business back home.

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Brandon Fugal holding his cellular phone as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Courtesy of Brandon Fugal

All the same, a zone leader confiscated the device. But Fugal bought himself an Armani suit with the commission — an Armani suit he wore while riding a bike in his first mission area in Hawaii.

He recites square footage and acreage figures from memory. Not because he’s especially good at memorization, he tells me, but because these projects are his babies. He speaks of the builders and tenants as though they are old college pals.

When he returned from his mission he immediately updated his proprietary database and within hours of stepping off the plane he was back to business. Fugal says by the time he was 25, he had more office listings than any broker in Utah. After his noncompete ran out with his firm he “pulled a Jerry Maguire” in 1998 and left to establish Coldwell Banker Commercial in Utah, bringing a number of agents with him. By 2003, Coldwell Banker Commercial was the top commercial real estate firm in the state of Utah. In 2013, he took Coldwell Banker Commercial’s Intermountain operation private and became the sole source of capital for its national expansion. He then recruited Lew Cramer to leave World Trade Center Utah, where he was president, to become his CEO. 

It didn’t take much convincing, according to Cramer. He considered Fugal the best salesman in the state with an exciting vision. “There are a lot of us that would walk through hell with an open gas can for Brandon,” he tells me, lauding the talent and drive of his partner.

Together, Fugal and Cramer managed 30 offices in 11 states managing with tens of millions of square feet. In 2015, they merged with Colliers International and Fugal became chairman of Colliers Intermountain. In 2016 he was named EY’s regional entrepreneur of the Year.

Today he has 200 projects in development, as well as a number of large projects already under his designer leather belt— Zions Bank’s new 400,000-square-foot tech center, Thanksgiving Park, Station Park, and Traverse Mountain.

After we spoke on the phone, I received a text from Cramer with a quote from race car driver Mario Andretti: “If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough.”

“That’s our exciting life with Brandon Fugal,” he wrote.


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Brandon Fugal stands in his hangar in front of his custom Airbus H130 helicopter in Provo on Thursday, July 21, 2022.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

I ask Fugal if his net worth is actually what the internet tells me it is — hundreds of millions — and he says he can’t be sure. Only the very wealthy seem to not know the exact amount in their bank accounts at any given time and speak of wealth being “tied up” in assets as Fugal does. But he has enough to be developing 1,250 acres on Oahu’s North Shore for sustainable agriculture. “A large portion of this property looks like it’s right out of ‘Jurassic Park’ or ‘Avatar,’” he says, two of the many cinematic references he makes during our conversation.

He recently acquired Evermore Park, an immersive experience theme park in Pleasant Grove, or, as he calls it, “A LARPer’s paradise.” He’s an investor in Colossal Biosciences, the effort to resurrect the woolly mammoth, and, of course, he owns Skinwalker Ranch.

In 1996, the Deseret News published a story about a family living on a Uinta Basin ranch. The Shermans had witnessed what Fugal calls “high strangeness” on their ranch — UFOs the size of football fields, balls of light that incinerated their dogs, cattle missing and cattle found mutilated. The story caught the attention of Las Vegas billionaire and paranormal enthusiast Robert Bigelow, who purchased the ranch two years later.  Bigelow planned to gather data for his nonprofit The National Institute for Discovery Science. After nearly a decade of quiet research, during which time he gave a cryptic interview for Deseret News alluding to disturbing discoveries, he was ready to sell. 

Six months into owning Skinwalker Ranch, Fugal claims to have spotted a UFO — a disk-like silver object 40 to 50 feet long, hovering in broad daylight over the mesa plateau that borders the ranch.

According to Fugal, Bigelow’s team approached him about buying the ranch, having met through a separate project. Fugal says he jumped at the chance to do business with the reclusive real estate tycoon and make the most unique real estate play of his career. He finalized the deal in 2016.

He kept the acquisition quiet for years, a departure for the man whose name is on seemingly every property in the state. He tells me he did not want his ownership of this notorious ranch to distract from or compromise his professional endeavors. He made the purchase through a shell company called Adamantium Real Estate, named for the indestructible alloy of Marvel fame used to forge Wolverine’s claws. “I’ve got them in there,” he says, motioning toward his menagerie of movie mementos.

Even his wife at the time had no idea Fugal was the ranch’s new owner. “I didn’t want any fame,” he tells me. “I had no intention of monetizing my ownership of the ranch. I was in it purely for discovery.”

He says he believed there was a 95% chance that there was a natural, prosaic explanation for the anomalies reported from the ranch. But, he tells me, “I believed that even if there was just a 1% chance that what had been reported on the ranch was real, it could very well change the way we look at our world and lead to the greatest discoveries of our time.”


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Brandon Fugal’s Uintah County ranch is pictured where the History Channel docuseries “The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch” is filmed. Fugal is an executive producer of the series, which just finished its third season.

Brandon Fugal

Six months into owning Skinwalker Ranch, Fugal claims to have spotted a UFO — a disk-like silver object 40 to 50 feet long, hovering in broad daylight over the mesa plateau that borders the ranch. “It wasn’t a dot in the sky. It was literally right there, in line of sight, plain as day,” he says. That same afternoon others on the ranch claim to have experienced electromagnetic anomalies, acute medical episodes and cell phone batteries draining from 80 to 0% in a matter of minutes. After that day, Fugal says he doubled down on his ranch investment, establishing systems to monitor and document events on the ranch.

He had become, in his words, “an undeniable witness.”

By 2018, two years after the purchase, Fugal’s ranch managers were fielding calls from producers at the History Channel who wanted to film a show on the ranch. The channel executives pursued the idea until Fugal claims to have reluctantly agreed to meet — so long as they signed a confidentiality agreement. During their lunch at the base of the Hotel Monaco in downtown Salt Lake City, one of the producers asked Fugal, “Are you a believer?” to which Fugal responded, “I’m not a believer. I’m an experiencer.”

Before boarding the helicopter for my tour of the Utah Valley, Cameron Fugal, Brandon’s brother (also the chopper’s pilot) told me not to worry, they had just had the cabin cleaned so there weren’t any hitchhiker spirits from the ranch. I laughed until I realized it wasn’t a joke.

Fugal says the exec “Jedi mind-tricked” him into considering a documentary series filmed on the ranch. But he had three stipulations: 1. Nothing could be faked, contrived or fabricated in any way. He would have ownership of all footage and final approval of anything shown to the public. 2. They had to use his team. “I did not want to have a Hollywood casting call or bring in people that would sensationalize the topic,” he explains. 3. They could not reveal his identity.

While the History Channel team agreed to the first two requests, they would not concede the third. They told Fugal that if he wanted the reality of his “investigation” to be believed and taken seriously, he had to be willing to go public.

Filming began in 2019, and on March 10, 2020, Vice broke the news that Fugal owned the ranch. The next day Rudy Gobert and Tom Hanks tested positive for COVID-19 and the world shut down. Twenty days after that, a viewing public desperate for distraction devoured the premiere episode of “The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch.”

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Brandon Fugal, center, is pictured with the cast of the History Channel docuseries “The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch.” Fugal is an executive producer of the series, which just finished its third season. It is filmed on Fugal’s Uintah County ranch.

Brandon Fugal

The three seasons so far follow Fugal and his team’s attempts to uncover whatever gives the place its undeniable spooky reputation. During my visit to Skinwalker, ranch manager Thomas Winterton detailed the alleged encounters with the paranormal each member of the team claims to have experienced at different locations on the ranch. Spots where they say they found deceased cows, mutilated with surgeon-like precision. Rooms where they had “heard voices.” Monitors that displayed digital messages, ostensibly from the great beyond. He drove me to the top of the mesa, the one above which UFOs reportedly hover, and pointed to a triangle on the property. This triangle, made from three intersecting dirt roads, is what they claim to be the epicenter of “high strangeness” on the ranch.

The bulk of Season 3 is spent trying to penetrate the small plot of dirt.

Spoiler: it proves surprisingly difficult.

I did not see a UFO or “UAP” as the more knowledgeable seem to call them on the ranch (it stands for “unidentified aerial phenomena”). Nor did I see any shadowy figures. Not a single rotting cow. But I did leave with an unshakeable sense of unease.

Before boarding the helicopter for my tour of the Utah Valley, Cameron Fugal, Brandon’s brother (also the chopper’s pilot) told me not to worry, they had just had the cabin cleaned so there weren’t any hitchhiker spirits from the ranch. I laughed until I realized it wasn’t a joke.


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Brandon Fugal is pictured in his office at Colliers International in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, July 6, 2022. In 2016, Fugal purchased Skinwalker Ranch in order to investigate and study the strange and unexplainable phenomena that has been reported there for more than two centuries.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

I ask Fugal how he responds to those who raise their eyebrows at his eccentricities and interest in the paranormal. “I’m unconventional,” he tells me. “But no one has told me to my face that I’m crazy for doing this.” He hasn’t lost any clients, he says, and his professional conduct speaks for itself. 

Fugal believes most people wish they could do what he’s doing, but don’t want to take the monetary or reputational risk. “There are very few people on the planet that would risk millions of dollars in service of funding a scientific investigation dealing with the paranormal,” he says, “even though everyone wants to know whether we’re alone in the universe.”

It’s possible that his great wealth shields him from having to care about the scoffs and scorns that may be pointed in his direction. It’s possible that because he’s never cared about scoffs or scorns, he’s been able to amass great wealth and get his name on every building in the state. It’s possible that a combination of those two facts makes Fugal the man he is today.

Always in a suit. Always talking excitedly about his latest ribbon cutting, the last science fiction movie he saw, and the newest phenomenon on the ranch. Or the most recent industry titan he met, the latest movie prop he acquired (Harry’s wand and glasses from “Harry Potter And The Sorceror’s Stone”), or the oldest artifact he has in his Latter-day Saint church history collection. Always jetting his black-on-black Lamborghini Aventador Miura up and down the freeway, meeting with clients and flying to the ranch.

The night before our helicopter ride, Brandon Fugal was up until 3 a.m. closing his latest deal. “I have five empty Diet Mountain Dew cans on my desk,” he tells me, chuckling. He’s running on a cocktail of caffeine and adrenaline, as always.

Source: The Anomalist

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