Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Warm Springs Ranch changes hands?again

Tischer exercises option to buy property

Express Staff Writer

Express file photo George Tischer, center-left, stands in court last January during an 11th-hour negotiated settlement with Sun Valley Ventures. The parties were engaged in a damages lawsuit stemming from the purchase and sale of the Warm Springs Ranch property, west of Ketchum. Four months later, the property was bought by Whitetail Club, but the Tischer family maintained an eight-month option to buy it back. They exercised that option last week, with Mark Tarczynski, senior vice president at CB Richard Ellis, serving as advisor to Ivanhoe Capital, Tischer said.

Warm Springs Ranch, the property in northwestern Ketchum that has seen its share of controversy, has its third owner in 12 months.

Ivanhoe Capital exercised its option to buy the 77-acre property from Whitetail Club. The sum was not disclosed.

Ivanhoe Capital, which is controlled by the Tischer family interest, transferred its option to Helios, a newly formed limited liability company, on Friday, Jan. 5.

"Ivanhoe will retain a significant economic interest in the property and planned development," George W. Tischer said Tuesday. "The management of the development will be controlled by Helios managing member Anton Vonk."

Vonk, who originates from Holland but lives in the United States, has extensive real estate holdings in Europe, including hotels, Tischer said.

"The new development plan will include a vastly improved executive par three-four golf course, a five-star hotel and approximately 100-plus townhomes and condominiums, with a newly re-opened Warm Springs Ranch Restaurant," Tischer said. "The intent is to keep the existing restaurant."

Since only 12 acres of the property are within Ketchum city limits, a request for annexation is part of the plan. Annexation in theory gives cities more say in projects because annexation is not a given for developers.

Last May, a McCall luxury resort interest, Whitetail Club, bought the land from Sun Valley Ventures, but the Tischer family retained an option to buy the property within eight months from the date of sale.

The sale came on the heels of a complex, multi-year legal battle relating to the ownership of and interest in the Warm Springs property.

Tischer and Sun Valley Ventures owner Steve Roth were one-time business partners who were parties in that dispute.

The battle ended in January 2006 when parties settled out of court on the day a damages trial was set to begin.

John Sabala, president of operations for Whitetail Club, said at the time that he and Doug Manchester of Manchester Financial Group were excited about master planning the property but recognized the "risk" they were taking.

He did not return a call seeking comment on the latest development.

Warm Springs Ranch was the subject of heated public debate and numerous hearings with the Ketchum City Council during the summer of 2005. Sun Valley Ventures had proposed a $200 million development on the site. Plans included annexation of land, a boutique hotel and guest cabins.

It also called for a nature center administered by the Ketchum-based Environmental Resource Center and a 34-acre nature preserve.

"You can't have a nine-hole, par-three golf course and nature preserve at the same time," Tischer said. "It's either one or the other. The golf course is an amenity to both the project and the community."

Lack of recreational options, especially a golf course, caused much of the outcry in 2005, as did the size of the main building.

As it became obvious the city wasn't happy with the plans as submitted, hotel operator Noble House Hotels pulled out of the project and sold its 20 percent share to Sun Valley Ventures' majority partner Roth.

The Warm Springs Restaurant closed last spring after more than half a century in business.

Tischer said it would be torn down "over my dead body," adding that its date of opening will be up to Helios.

"Helios will announce the specific timeline at a later date," Tischer said.

Designers, architects and other professionals working on the project have yet to be determined.

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