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Disgraced Minn. auto mogul's former northern lakes home provides a glimpse of the top-end market

The main house on the former Denny Hecker estate near Crosslake. Minn., features a center outdoor fireplace on the lakeside deck. Renee Richardson / Forum News Service1 / 4
An open walkway overlooks the living room in Denny Hecker's former Crosslake home. Renee Richardson / Forum News Service2 / 4
Just off the kitchen in the main house, a lakeside den offers a bar, fireplace and sitting area. Renee Richardson / Forum News Service3 / 4
A life-size Elvis statue, part of the former Denny Hecker estate, is still on the premises in a guesthouse garage at the Crosslake compound. Renee Richardson / Forum News Service4 / 4

CROSSLAKE, Minn.—Living in Denny Hecker's former 11,438-square-foot mansion may require a map for a new buyer—or at least a healthy set of lungs to yell across the house.

But for a mere $8.5 million, the compound on Cross Lake's Echo Bay, with its multiple houses and 800 feet of lakeshore on 5.6 acres, is available for a motivated buyer. Chad Schwendeman, broker/owner Exit Lakes Realty Premier, listed the home last fall.

The home's features provide a glimpse into the lifestyle of a man who was once at the top of the food chain with his auto dealerships across the state, including in the Brainerd lakes area, before a long fall into bankruptcy and eventually a prison cell.

The gated complex on its own point on Cross Lake was constructed in 2007. The main house's front entrance opens onto an open floor plan connecting the living area with a formal dining room and large kitchen. The vaulted two-story room is dominated by a stone fireplace and glass-walled view of a wraparound deck and Cross Lake. To the right, a billiard table and racked cues open into Hecker's office with a gleaming wood ceiling that resembles a polished boat deck.

Just down a hallway, an in-house movie theater provides a 10-foot view screen, stadium seating with mood lighting, popcorn machine and easy chairs.

Upstairs an open walkway connects the two bedroom wings. A guest, or mother-in-law suite, is at one end. A chairlift links to the garage below. The guest suite is basically another house with a full kitchen, living room, bedroom and bath.

Schwendeman said the market for a home like this is nationwide. It's not the type of place with an open house on a Saturday afternoon. Instead, potential buyers need to be pre-approved with proof of funds before the home is open for viewing. At the asking price, for most people with 20 percent down, the mortgage cost is $42,000 per month. Schwendeman said most buyers in this high-end market, likely Fortune 500 CEOs, pay cash.

The mansion has seven bedrooms, each with its own bath. The master bedroom suite has a wet bar, private balcony and fireplace. Whirlpool baths and steam showers are part and parcel with the custom wood cabinetry and granite countertops.

The complex includes five buildings. A basketball hoop and child's playhouse are near a large, four-car garage building with living space above it with a full kitchen, living area, bedroom and bath. Schwendeman said it's rumored the space was used by Hecker's pilots.

On the other side of the main house is another full home off Echo Bay, which Schwendeman said could have been spun off and sold for more than $1 million on its own, but the owners wanted to keep it in the complex. The guest house has its own dock and road entrance.

Taxes on the property are $59,980 per year.

At the top of the market

At its asking price, the former Hecker estate is in rarified air even in a lakes area known for multi-million dollar homes.

Looking at multiple listing service data for Cass and Crow Wing counties, as of December, just one home sold for more than $2 million in 2017. The home was on Schaefer's Point Road in Cass County, selling for $2.8 million. Between the two counties, there also was one home on Gull Lake that sold for $2.5 million in 2016.

"That high-end buyer is a little more challenging," Schwendeman said.

The market for homes priced between $1.5 million and $2 million saw more activity with 13 sales in 2016 and seven sales in 2017.

"I think 2018 is going to be really strong," Schwendeman said, although he noted the housing market was holding its collective breath to see how the new tax bill will affect housing and homeownership, as well as the second homebuyer market, a staple for lake country.

Hecker's history

Hecker had a large presence as an auto mogul across the state, including at his Toyota dealership along Highway 371 in Baxter and his Cross Lake compound of homes. Three of Denny Hecker's Cross Lake properties, in Ideal Township near the city of Crosslake and covering 5.61 acres of lakefront property, were sold in May 2010 at a Crow Wing County Sheriff's Department mortgage foreclosure sale.

TCF National Bank was the lone bidder at $7,010,597. At the time, the three properties had individual market values of $8,919,900, $1,480,300 and $1,408,600, according to tax information from the Crow Wing County auditor's office. For 2009, there were $49,462 in delinquent taxes due on the three properties and taxes of $88,682 due in 2010 that had not been posted, according to the auditor's office.

Hecker had owned 26 auto dealerships in Minnesota along with Advantage Rent-A-Car. His holdings included a Hyundai dealership as well as a newly constructed Toyota dealership, both along Highway 371. All the dealerships either were closed or sold as Hecker went bankrupt.

Hecker's former compound went to the auction block as he was awaiting trial on fraud and other charges. When he filed bankruptcy, Hecker declared the Cross Lake property as his primary residence. Creditors protested at the time that Hecker was just trying to protect the property from a sale. A judge agreed. Hecker filed for personal bankruptcy in June 2009.

In 2011, the Hecker Crosslake compound, with its main house, two guesthouses and a fully equipped living area above a large garage, was sold.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported Michael Frank and his wife, Barbara, of Eagan, Minn., purchased the mansion and two guesthouses for $5.4 million in early December, far short of the $11.8 million assessed value. Frank was a former senior executive with the Marshall Group and worked as a financial consultant, the Pioneer Press stated.

The furnishings Hecker left behind, including a life-size Elvis statue, a Wurlitzer jukebox, a home theater, video game machines and a trophy American elk head, were part of the sale, according to a spokesman for TCF Bank, which acquired the property through foreclosure in May. The Pioneer Press stated that the bank paid Hecker's bankruptcy estate $70,000 to keep the furnishings with the property.

Hecker was released Oct. 5, 2017, from a halfway house in Minneapolis where he had lived since serving most of a 10-year sentence in federal prison for bankruptcy fraud and wire fraud. Prosecutors said he cheated Chrysler Financial and other auto lenders out of tens of millions of dollars while living an opulent lifestyle.

Now the home is once again available to a new buyer. And Elvis is still in the building.

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