April 19, 2013

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Summit and Wasatch Counties Positioning for Future Success

Di Lewis

April 19, 2013

Utah’s 2012-2013 winter season was the best year in a while, but there is still room for improvement. So said a group of business and community leaders at Utah Business magazine’s Summit/Wasatch roundtable Wednesday morning. The group said that real estate in the area is finally looking up too, but there is work to be done to keep and attract businesses and tourists.

Bob Wheaton, president and general manager at Deer Valley Resort, said this year was on track to be a record year, until the very end of the season. Because of holiday timing with Easter, he said people just didn’t really show up the last week.

Every day and holiday counts these days, said Hans Fuegi, owner of the Grub Steak Restaurant. Martin Luther King Day falling during Sundance and Easter coming before the end of the season hurt business slightly, Fuegi said. However, the average check size is up, people are spending more money and the season was up even if it was “sometimes a bit of a nailbiter,” he said.

Myles Rademan, director of Leadership Park City, said he doesn’t think most people appreciate how fragile business can be. “We can’t afford any more to lose a big weekend. Every day is almost that important,” he said.

Ancillary businesses like retail and restaurants are up, said Jenni Smith, Park City Mountain Resort president. People are spending more again and the state is gaining prominence among skiers and snowboarders. “Utah is becoming much more well known,” she said. “And I think people really understand the ease of getting into Salt Lake and the ease of getting to Park City. We have a lot of people who converted from Colorado and said, ‘Wow. We don’t know why it took us so long to get here.’”

Colorado is increasingly losing visitors to Utah, in large part because its airport’s location is inconvenient, said Rich Sonntag, Promontory managing director.

Residential real estate is coming back, Sonntag said. “I have dreams about 2005, 2006, and I don’t know if we’ll ever get there again.” But lot prices are coming up again, and building to order is not more expensive than buying an existing home. “They’re not back to peak, but you’re at the point where we can compete in the business again,” said Sonntag.

Mitchel Burns, COO of Red Ledges, said sales volume is up 38 percent and prices are up 20 percent. Red Ledges is also seeing buyers from the Wasatch Front and Alpine areas getting second homes and spending every weekend in Park City.

Local governments are looking for ways to keep that growth strong. Higher real estate costs make it difficult for business to relocate, but home-grown businesses are being fostered by investors, said Dan McPhun of the Park City Angels.

Sometimes keeping and attracting people is difficult because there is still a stigma around the state’s alcohol laws. “It is probably one of the most frustrating things and probably one of the ones that hurts us the most,” Fuegi said. For every article making fun of Utah’s liquor laws in the New York Times, he said, it is a million dollars lost that the state just spent on tourism promotion. “It is a big stigma still and we’re still paying for it.”

The Summit/Wasatch roundtable will appear in the June issue of Utah Business.

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