NEWBURY — Concerns over real estate development were raised during a public information session on the proposed transfer of a state lease to a portion of Mount Sunapee State Park to Vail Resorts.
Representatives from Vail, a Colorado-based company that owns several ski resorts across the nation, were on hand at the Sunapee Lodge Wednesday to detail their plans for the property and to take questions from the standing-room-only audience.
In early June, Vail announced an $82 million deal to purchase from the Mueller family Triple Peaks LLC, the current parent company of the resort. As per a 1998 agreement, the property’s lease holder cannot transfer or sell the lease without state approval, prompting Wednesday’s hearing, which was attended by Attorney General Gordon MacDonald, representatives from Vail, several elected officials and the public.
During her presentation, Patricia Campbell, president of Vail’s mountain division, stressed the company’s long-term interest in the resort and spoke to fears that Vail intends to develop real estate on the property.
“We have only ever acquired resorts — we do not sell them,” said Campbell. “We made the strategic decision several years ago that real estate was not part of core business for us.”
Sunapee resident Lydia Hawks challenged that claim when she quoted a section of Vail’s website that reads: “We are resort operators first and developers second. Real estate is a critical part of our mission and core business.”
Campbell stated that she was unaware that verbiage was on the website, and believes it to be outdated content. She reiterated that real estate development is not the business Vail wants to be in.
Sunapee native Holly Flanders, a two-time Olympian and three-time World Cup downhill ski racing champion, said local residents need to be on the alert. Flanders lives in Park City, Utah., where Vail purchased Park City Mountain Ski Resort and Canyons.
“Vail is a very, very good ski operator,” she said. “The local businesses are making more money and that’s a wonderful thing. Property values are going up, but the ski area is more crowded because there’s more people on the slopes. The roads are more crowded. Hotels, restaurants, and everything else is more expensive.”
She said Vail’s is obligated to deliver profit for shareholders.
“Vail does a really good job of running the ski operations on the mountain,” she said. “But in the past, they have liked to develop land a lot. They’re saying tonight that they’re not about real estate development, so we need watchdog groups to make sure that they don’t try to overdevelop this area. In the past that’s what they’ve been up to.”
The state hopes to come to a final decision on the sale by Labor Day, MacDonald said.
“The state’s role, given the nature of the transaction, is to respond to the request with approval and consent to transfer the lease and operating agreement to the entity controlled by Vail,” said MacDonald. “We are at the relative beginning of the process, and the ultimate decision will be made by the commissioner of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.”
Tim Mueller, who has owned and operated the resort for the past 20 years with his wife, Diane, said the transfer of the property is bittersweet, but he believes the resort would be in good hands with Vail.
“If there’s a company that I would have chosen to take over for us, it would have been Vail,” Mueller said. “Not only do they have the resources, but they also understand that it’s important for the resort to maintain its culture and character.”
Nick Gates of Sunapee drew parallels between the current state of Vail and that of the Mueller family 20 years ago.
“The key factors behind the current success of the Mt. Sunapee lease are clear: the Muellers brought two vital factors — ski industry expertise and access to capital for competitive improvements,” said Gates. “Vail brings both of these things, too. Candidly, Vail is a dream partner that’s positioned perfectly to continue the excellence that the Muellers have so expertly provided.”
MacDonald noted that the period for public comment about the proposed sale has been extended to Aug. 8.
Citizens can email their comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.