Eastern woes haunt Heavenly plans
Towed behind the enthusiastic reports and artist renderings of the planned Grand Summit Resort Hotel at Heavenly is a cart-full of excess baggage weighing down the enthusiasm.
Locally, delays to the Park Avenue Redevelopment Project, which includes the Grand Summit, have some people questioning its viability.
On a national scale, Heavenly’s parent corporation, American Skiing Company, is having financial troubles due to skimpy snowfall in the East and aggressive expansion that some consider an overextension of resources. Layoffs have soured some community relationships and ASC canceled presales of the Grand Summit in Sugarbush due to lagging sales and community opposition.
ASC stocks are sliding downward.
“For every 3 feet of snow (Heavenly) gets, they get 2 inches (in the East),” said Stan Hansen, Heavenly’s vice president of governmental affairs. “The West is blessed with snow.”
Hansen said the lack of snow at Eastern resorts has “had a tremendous impact on our company.”
But Heavenly is blessed with more than snow. Officials say it also has a project strong enough to overcome ASC’s woes.
“Resources are individually allocated based on performance of an area,” Hansen recently explained to the South Lake Tahoe Lodging Association. “We’re performing. We’re on a roll.”
The problems for the planned Grand Summit at Sugarbush, which is being re-evaluated, should not reflect on the Heavenly Grand Summit project, officials say.
“They ran into a situation that’s not anything like what we have here,” said David Bansmer, vice president of sales and marketing for Grand Summit Resort Hotels. “The local community fought it at every step. In the end, it became an extremely expensive project to deliver.
“In the overall scope of things, that was not the place for it.”
According to Hansen, another major difference is that the Heavenly Grand Summit has advanced cost assurances that the Sugarbush project lacked.
“It’s a fully entitled project (which takes away the risk),” Hansen said.
As part of the extensive Park Avenue Redevelopment, it also enjoys enthusiastic support from a large segment of the community.
But not everyone.
“I’m deeply concerned about the company’s ability to enter into a contract and finance the deal,” said City Councilman Bill Crawford.
As time passes, more people lose enthusiasm.
It’s been more than 10 years since planning originally began on the Park Avenue project. Following approval in 1997, it looked like construction could begin in 1999. Changes in developers pushed it back another year.
Hansen said the 1999-start time “just didn’t make sense.”
ASC was a late-comer to the project.
A 1999 groundbreaking was too soon for final engineering plans, city bond sales, property acquisition, asbestos removal, and demolition. On that time line, construction on the Grand Summit could not begin until July with an opening delayed until the end of the ski season.
“We were very concerned with that,” Hansen said.
The new time frame allows for less rush, more public involvement and less chance of bad decision making, he said.
“Our goal now is to work on the (disposition and development agreement) to everyone’s satisfaction.”
The DDA, which Hansen said was 75 percent completed, ensures the city will not be stuck holding the financial bag.
“Our staff comfort lies in the development and disposition agreement,” City Manager Kerry Miller said. “We’re less concerned with ASC than with what they bring to the agreement.”
Should ASC experience the worse-case scenario, which Hansen considers unlikely, he is confident the woes of the parent company will not drag Heavenly’s projects down with it.
“The mountain is not going to go anywhere,” he said. “It’s always going to be a successful ski area.”
For another 35 years, at least, which is the time left on Heavenly’s U.S. Forest Service lease.
“The big thing is that we get the right to do the project,” Hansen said. “Who’s at the helm isn’t important (except to us).
“This is going to happen. (Presales) show that people are willing to buy in.”
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