July 11, 2014

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Industry Leaders of Summit, Wasatch Counties ‘Cautiously Optimistic’

By Rachel Madison

July 11, 2014

“Cautiously optimistic” was the phrase used frequently to describe feelings on the economy in Summit and Wasatch counties during Utah Business’ annual regional roundtable Thursday in that area of the state.

From the banking and real estate industries to the resorts and tourism industry, things are looking up in Utah’s Summit and Wasatch counties. Russ Olsen, CEO of Stein Eriksen Lodge, said occupancy as well as food and beverage sales are up—including what he calls his “wine index”—the number of bottles of wine his resort sells.

Laurie Backus, park manager at Jordanelle State Park, said the state parks have learned to run better and more efficiently with less money because of the recession, and now that’s paid off because the park has been self-sufficient for the last three years.

Mitchel Burns, COO at Red Ledges, said home sales have increased significantly every year for the last three years. While he’s not certain the area is completely out of the recession, he said he’s confident because customers are confident.

“People are buying built homes and they’re buying property to build,” he said. “People in Utah are feeling confident about the economy and their personal situations.”

Bob Wheaton, president and general manager at Deer Valley Resort, said his resort is back to a good level of business.

“What we’ve seen is a sense of caution, and from a mental standpoint we’ll never be able to get back to 2005, 2006, 2007 levels, but people are spending more and have more expendable income,” he said, adding that the resort’s ancillary businesses, such as summer camps for kids and winter ski schools have been filled to capacity the last couple of years.

Bill Malone, president of the Park City Chamber of Commerce, said the good economy was also reflected in last year’s ski season, where the area hit its third best in skier days collectively among the resorts.

“In general, things are trending very positively,” he said. “One thing that’s been different is we’ve been discovered by the media. The media value is growing by leaps and bounds. There’s a steamroll effect in terms of credibility.”

Although the roundtable group was bullish about the area’s future, many are concerned about the effects a pending lawsuit may have on the ski industry this winter. The dispute began in 2011 when Park City Mountain Resort failed to renew its lease of approximately 3,000 acres of mountain land from owner Talisker Corp., which subsequently started three years of legal action between Talisker and Powdr Corp., owner of the resort.

Park City Mountain Resort received an eviction notice in August 2013. In May, a judge ruled in favor of Talisker, stating that Park City Mountain Resort's lease had expired. Talisker also entered into a partnership with Vail Resorts in 2013 to operate Canyons Resort.

The companies have now been ordered to work together on a resolution, with a hearing scheduled for Aug. 27, said Myles Rademan, leadership director for Park City Municipal. If an agreement is not reached, it will ultimately result in Powdr Corp. owning a resort with no mountain and Talisker and Vail Resorts owning a mountain without a resort.

Hans Fuegi, owner of Grub Steak Restaurant, said in his 34 years of living in the Park City area, the one thing that has been a strength has been how well the resorts have played together.

“It’s incredible; you don’t see that anywhere else,” he said. “While we don’t know too much about [the lawsuit] as far as the outcome, our biggest concern right now is that there is a normal ski season next year at the resorts. I don’t think there’s anyone in this town who won’t be affected. Whatever can be done to make it clear to the two parties how important it is to have a normal season, that should be all our priorities. Christmas business is being booked here pretty quickly. It’s almost a shame to have this major issue that clouds over us, because everything is going so well right now.”

Park City Mayor Jack Thomas said he’s optimistic that the lawsuit will be resolved amicably.

“These are big businesses and I think they’d like to get it resolved,” he said. “I think that they will, but we need to be prepared for what may come. Going into the mediation, we won’t hear a lot from either side for the next five weeks. It will be an uncomfortable five weeks to be honest. But what I’m seeing is a willingness on both fronts to resolve [the dispute].”

Rademan moderated the discussion. The Summit/Wasatch Regional Roundtable will appear in the September issue of Utah Business.

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