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2014 In Review
The Summit County community breathed a sigh of relief in September when the acquisition of Park City Mountain Resort (PCMR) by Denver-based Vail Resorts Inc. ensured the resort would see a 2014-15 ski season—and more tourists in the local area.
The $182.5 million acquisition came after a years-long legal battle between PCMR and its landlord, Talisker Land Holdings, Inc., which also leases nearby Canyons Resort to Vail Resorts Inc. Utah-based Powdr Corp. had operated PCMR for two decades, but missed a 20-year lease renewal deadline in April 2011 by several days. Fearing eviction, PCMR filed a lawsuit against Talisker a few months later. Vail’s purchase in September subsequently ended the lawsuit.
Rob Katz, president and CEO of Vail Resorts, says it was important to Vail to find a solution to the dispute. “We were pushing very hard to have a solution that would eliminate the issue not for right now, but for forever,” he says. “I’m pleased that our acquisition means the community will never be addressing this issue again.”
A Sigh of Relief
Hans Fuegi, owner of the Grub Steak Restaurant as well as several commercial real estate properties in Park City, was concerned earlier this year when the lawsuit seemed to have no end in sight.
“One concern was what affect it would have had on tenants or shops if we hadn’t had the traditional three-resort ski season,” he says. “It got to be September and there was still no clarity on whether Park City would operate. People were nervous. Obviously the [purchase by Vail] took care of that. Ultimately something like this had to happen for a permanent solution to the problem.”
Park City Mayor Jack Thomas says the entire community took a deep sigh of relief when the resort was purchased. “Last year we had one of our best ski seasons and a great tax year in terms of sales tax,” he says. “We were concerned that would be dramatically impacted if Park City didn’t open this year. I think the purchase saved this year’s ski season.”
“Lawsuits like this create angst,” adds Thomas. “There are still folks that feel strongly about the PCMR side and the contribution they’ve made to the community. Lawsuits create tension and division, and people tend to take sides, but the most important thing was guaranteeing the season and creating a long-term solution to the holistic operation of the resort.”
A Changed Community
Though the Park City community is expecting business to run as usual this ski season, that doesn’t mean changes haven’t already occurred.
Katz says one change skiers will see this year is the addition of PCMR to Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass, which includes season access to 22 resorts in the United States and Europe. Katz says Vail also “absolutely doesn’t have any plans of any kind of radical change on lift ticket pricing or food pricing.” However, he says there are many opportunities for Vail to improve on the food experience by investing in upgrades to resort restaurants and improving the guest interfaces online and on mobile devices.
“We don’t see the culture changing,” he says. “Every single person who works at our company is passionate about skiing and riding, and we’re also passionate about running an amazing resort.”
Katz believes the two resorts operating together will be a major win for the Park City area when it comes to tourism, because more people will be enticed to ski in the area. “We want to respect and protect the Park City culture and what it feels like to be there,” he says. “It’s a balance. We’re going to drive growth, but we’re going to do it the right way with smart growth, so that we’re not in any way taking away from the experience.”
Bill Malone, president of the Park City Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau, says the purchase is exciting for him from a marketing standpoint. “Those two ski areas together comprise in acreage the largest ski area in the U.S. if they were viewed as one entity,” he says. “We’re pretty excited about that fact.” Combined, the two resorts comprise 7,000 acres of skiable terrain.
Fuegi admits he’ll miss that the resort won’t be operated by a local company, most recently the Cumming family through Powdr Corp.
“It’s always nice to have a resort operated by a local entity,” he says. “They all lived here and it was good to have that kind of connection because these people are a bit more aware of things being done here locally. But I think Vail understands there is a pretty strong [culture at] PCMR. I don’t think they’ll take a cookie cutter approach to running the resort.”