Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Beached whales, and no prospect of new high tide

Mountain resorts share development pain


WHITEFISH, Mont.—With the financial waters still at low tide, what do you do with the various beached whales of development concepts hatched during the last decade?

Consider a project near the base of Whitefish Mountain Resort. There, a 50-lot subdivision called The Glades at Big Mountain was approved by the local government in 2008.

In retrospect, the project looked suspect even during the high tide of financial exuberance. It's below the snowline on the mountain, and to remedy this inadequacy, plans were in place to erect a chairlift. Each lot buyer was to throw in $10,000.

But few people have bought lots, and the ski area wants to vacate the subdivision, reports the Whitefish Pilot.

"It's almost impossible to think anyone would buy these lots," said Dan Graves, chief executive of Whitefish Mountain Resort. "They have no real estate value. If I could sell them for $50,000, I'd be lucky. I don't know if it's good to go into further debt for this phase."

One person who did buy a lot wants to hold out.

"Giving up devalues my property," said John Constenius.

But Graves responded that he didn't expect to see 50 lots sold anytime soon.

"I don't think it will be in my lifetime," he said.

The Whitefish City Council has twice extended the deadline for completion of infrastructure improvements, but consented to the resort's desire to scrap what amounted to a bad idea.

In Idaho, the future of the once ebullient Tamarack Resort remains in doubt. The ostensible owner, Jean-Pierre Boespflug, is on the lam after missing a court hearing over commitments to pay Bank of America.

But similar to Whitefish, lot and home owners at Tamarack hold out hope for some kind of revival several years after bankruptcy. The ski area resumed limited operations this winter after a year of suspended activity. To help satisfy debt, two of the Tamarack ski lifts were to have been sold to Resorts of the Canadian Rockies, operator of the Fernie, B.C., ski area. Homeowners at Tamarack sought restrictions on use of helicopters, reports the Idaho Statesman, causing the Canadian company to back off its purchase.

In Colorado, town officials in Mt. Crested Butte—the resort municipality at the base of the ski area, as distinguished from the old mining town nearby—are pressuring a developer to shape up one of his existing developments. The other end of the conversation is that the developer, Rick Divine, of Colorado Properties Inc., wants an extension of his zoning plan for his project, Solstice.

The Crested Butte News predicts a "white-knuckle ride" in this conversation, based on the tensions evident in a recent public meeting.

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