Forbes magazine has released its annual global list of billionaires, and as usual there are Mount Desert Island property owners represented on the list. According to the publication, there are more than 1,000 billionaires alive worldwide in 2012.
On MDI, the five local seasonal residents whose estimated wealth is at least 10 figures are commonly known. David Rockefeller Sr., who has summered on MDI longer than the rest, ranks 491st on the Forbes list with an estimated fortune of $2.5 billion. The others include Robert Bass (ranked 304th at $3.6 billion); Mitchell Rales (ranked 296th at $3.7 billion); Edward “Ned” Johnson III (ranked 173rd at $5.8 billion); and Charles Butt (ranked 153rd at $6.4 billion). I wrote about them all in 2009 when Forbes published its annual list of 400 richest Americans.
MDI attracts wealthy rusticators in the summer because the climate and scenery are nice and they kind of blend in, well, with each other anyway. Many own waterfront properties and so have a place by their homes to moor or dock their yachts. They are not really celebrities (unlike Martha Stewart, another seasonal MDI resident) and so aren’t noticed by most people when they pop into the Pine Tree Market for a bottle of wine or box of donuts. They dress well and drive nice cars, but many slightly less well-to-do seasonal residents of Northeast Harbor and Seal Harbor do the same. None drive tricked-out Escalades or wear hip-hop style jewelry. Not even Martha.
So, the local population tolerates their presence, and their spending. Usually it’s not that extravagant, aside from their hefty property tax bills. They each typically employ a few people year-round to manage and run their properties and beyond that they buy gas and groceries like the rest of us. Maybe they eat out every week at tony restaurants that my wife and I visit once every few years.
Where the billionaires don’t blend in, usually, is when they build something on their estates. Rales, for example, tore down a house formerly owned by deceased Washington socialite Susan Mary Alsop and recently constructed a $24 million, 17,000 square-foot mansion overlooking the mouth of Northeast Harbor. At the time, some local folks complained privately about the scope and style of the structure. But to my knowledge, none of the local craftsmen who got work and income out of the project made a peep.