Kanye era comes to end in Cody

CODY — The Kanye West experience is coming to an end in Cody. Whether it was good or bad for the town, most Cody residents can likely agree it was a memorable presence.

West was in Cody for slightly more than two years. About a month ago he put his commercial properties off Big Horn Avenue up for sale and about a week later followed suit when he put his ranch on the market.

JW Robinson, the listing agent for all of these properties on behalf of DBW Realty, said there has been real interest in the $11 million ranch.

“We’ve been showing the property three times a week, fielding around 50 or so calls or more a week,” Robinson said. “It was more than expected, and these are for-real buyers.”

Whilebig-name celebrities have bought property in Cody before, West was frequently seen around town. Although it’s been less common in Cody, West’s move is hardly groundbreaking as famous artists and members of society have frequently bought property in less populated areas.

West has been awarded 21 Grammys and Ranker.com voted him the second most popular artist of the 21st century. He was already a well-known name in his hip-hop musical and fashion genres, but his celebrity status catapulted after he married Kim Kardashian.

But all of that means little to many in Cody, who believe actions speak louder than words. This may be one of the aspects that attracted West to Cody in the first place.

West engaged in construction, dirt work, plumbing, dining and other projects at his ranch that resulted in the employment of local workers. When he put the 3,880-acre property up for sale, it was even revealed he had built a go-kart track, and the property comes with six “build-ready home sites that offer electricity, natural gas, domestic water, septic and fiber optics” on each location, according to the real estate listing, which is apparently another investment West made to the land, as these building sites were not mentioned in the prior listing before he bought it.

“This is one of the most important pieces of property for Cody’s future within 30 miles of Cody or more,” Robinson said.

In a few ways, the county is still benefiting financially from West’s presence. When his ranch does sell, a few individuals will receive a payout through their share of the profits. Another profit will be made off his vehicles, which the county will receive sales taxes from.

The fleet of Ford Raptors and other large SUVs West bought from Fremont Motors were recently sold back to the dealership, which hired Musser Bros. Auctions to sell the vehicles. Owner Harold Musser said due to a non-disclosure agreement they can’t actively advertise who previously owned the vehicles, but they are still being billed as “celebrity owned.”

The six vehicles, ranging from $26,750-$50,500, each have drawn a total of 448 bids as of Sunday night.

“We put it on the website and within two hours it was just lighting up,” Musser said. “It’s probably the hottest response we’ve ever had.”

West was a frequent and appreciated customer at Cody Steakhouse, where co-owner Frank Cocchia said he dined on their spare ribs sometimes 2-3 times per week. Cocchia said West would call ahead so that the ribs were ready when he arrived. It pleased West greatly, Cocchia said, to be seated away from the general populace.

“We didn’t let anyone bother him, he enjoyed that,” Cocchia said.

Cody High School freshman Lane Torczon did painting out on West’s ranch, while fellow ninth-grader William Wageman met West through his father, who was doing plumbing work for him. 

“He was pretty nice, polite,” Wageman said.

According to the most recent U.S. Census released this summer, Cody is 94.2-percent white. It is not a hub for hip-hop or fashion. Western art is prevalent in town, and suits the culture and natural surroundings. There are many great aspects of Cody, but a cultural melting pot, it is not. 

During an hour spent interviewing residents in downtown Cody about their thoughts on West, almost everyone had an opinion of the man and his impact on the town.

“Any exposure to something slightly different is good for this town,” longtime resident David Fike said.

Designer Hanna Harrigan said she moved to Cody from Detroit not solely to work for West, but because he put Cody on her radar. She said she was impressed by the beauty of Cody when doing research on the town, and decided to move here, even after he had been rumored to have ceased all his business operations in town.

Although design is still her passion, Harrigan has been working odd jobs like babysitting and mowing lawns to get by.

“I’m just taking it month-by-month, but I love Cody,” she said. “Maybe if I have money some day I’ll get a second place here.”

Others had a more negative perspective of the fashion mogul, saying the work he initiated at his ranch upset the natural landscape. A large dirt berm he constructed on the western edge of the property cut off views of Monster Lake from the highway, a move many like Mary Jean Fike and Nancy Diethelm didn’t like.

“It was bad. I don’t think he had the best in mind for the people or town,” Diethelm said.

Her husband Mark Diethelm was irritated West removed the public fishing access previously allowed with a small fee on Monster Lake. 

Although West promised to bring dozens of jobs to Cody and to employ a local workforce, no more than a handful of residents fulfilled design jobs for him, Cody Mayor Matt Hall said. Karen Nelson moved to Cody from California right around the time West moved to town, but unlike her fellow transplant, West, isn’t planning on leaving. She said it was disappointing to see West get her new neighbors excited about the prospect of an economic boost to their town, giving hope he would partially fill a void left by the departure of Cody Labs.

“Everyone was so hopeful,” she lamented. 

His tendency to put the cart before the horse also irritated county officials like Park County Commissioner Joe Tilden. He said the county put in time and effort trying to expedite his projects as much as possible, but in the end, many of his ideas never came to fruition.

“It kind of all fizzled and caused us a lot of anxiety,” he said.

But what he lacked in commitment, West made up for by embodying the persona most people saw for him all along, not as the neighbor or employer as he tried to present, but as an entertainer.

Shortly after arriving he put on a Sunday Service show in Cody that drew thousands from the entire Rocky Mountain region. If nothing else, he gave residents something to talk and scratch their heads about.

His time in Cody may fade from memory more quickly than the amount of time he spent here. How will the West phenomena be looked at 75 years into the future? Will it be a blip on the radar, or a transition point representing the massive influx of new residents moving to the area? Only time will answer these questions, but Cocchia thinks this may not be the last of West in Cody. He still hasn’t sold his property outside of Shell, after all. 

“He still has holdings in Wyoming,” Cocchia said. “I think he’s going to keep coming around once in a while.”