Tennis Meadows land sold

Developer to buy 52 acres near base of the ski area

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The developer of the new Wildhorse Marketplace commercial center has reached a deal to purchase 52 acres representing the bulk of the remaining development land near the base of the ski area.

Whitney Ward of Resort Ventures Inc. intends to purchase the land from the real estate division of American Skiing Company.

He said he anticipates the sale that includes the 44-acre Tennis Meadows site and Snowflower II would close by the end of the year. Terms of the sale have not been disclosed. Tennis Meadows is adjacent to, but does not include, the Steamboat Ski Area's remote parking lot. Also included in the deal is a half-acre parcel in Central Park Plaza.

Ward said he does not envision major commercial development on the Tennis Meadows site. Instead, he anticipates that mixed-density residential projects would be built on the land.

"Resort Ventures intends to listen to what is important to the community and will bring the same thoughtfulness to these projects that went into the recently approved Wildhorse Marketplace," Ward said. "I'm bullish on Steamboat. Steamboat is one of the few ski areas in the United States that is known internationally. It is one of the best values left in Colorado, and it has special qualities that need to be preserved."

Ward said he did not acquire the undeveloped parcels from American Skiing Resort Properties Inc. with specific development projects in mind. Nor has he formed partnerships with third parties that already have projects in mind.

"That would be a backward process," Ward said. He added that his approach to developing the land would be to work with the community to achieve what it wants.

Ward achieved unanimous approval this fall from the City Planning Commission and the City Council for Wildhorse Marketplace, which will include eight buildings off Mount Werner Road, totaling 88,000 square feet. However, that did not happen until after he scrapped a preliminary plan discouraged by the city and started over.

Ward said he is aware that one former proposal for Tennis Meadows called for 1,100 residential units and 60,000 square feet of commercial space. He does not intend to push for something of that magnitude.

"In my view, what is more appropriate density is less than half that amount with a very minimal commercial hub. We already have three commercial hubs (in Steamboat Springs) all with slightly different tenancies. The land is zoned resort residential," which calls for a mix of low to mid-density units, Ward observed.

Ward remains enamored of one aspect of the old plan. He is interested in the possibility of building a people-mover gondola or lift that would transport visitors from Tennis Meadows to the base of the ski area. However, he said he could not accomplish that without the cooperation of the ski area, and he does not consider it a necessity.

Ward said he is optimistic that development of Tennis Meadows could serve as a catalyst to redeveloping what he sees as a "tired" base at the bottom of the ski runs.

"Development of this property should stimulate the redevelopment process of the base area and will help bring back the excitement and activity it deserves," he said.

The 4.2-acre Snowflower II lot occupies what is now referred to as the gondola parking lot and some surrounding land. It sits in a portion of a triangle formed by Mount Werner Circle and AprÃs Ski Way. Ward said he envisions a high-density resort project on the site and believes that is consistent with the city's vision for the parcel.

"I may do a portion of the vertical development myself, and a third party may do a portion of the vertical development," Ward said.

Ward was a founding partner of Invesco Realty Advisors, which has $7 billion in assets. He left the company in January 2000 to start his own business, but says the business relationships he formed while at Invesco allow him access to the funds he needs to complete developments.

"I have access to institutional capital as well as to a dedicated group of well-capitalized individuals who are retired executives with Invesco (real estate division) and Invesco Global," Ward said.

Ward cautioned that closing the transaction with ASCRP will be challenging.

"Although we are under contract, there remains a lot of work to be completed," Ward said. "These are very complex parcels that require a significant amount of due diligence before we will be certain that this transaction will be completed."

Tennis Meadows figured prominently in foreclosure proceedings, which were filed by Fleet National Bank against ASCRP in late September 2002. The foreclosure was subsequently put in "forbearance" by Fleet, and the proceedings did not go forward. Tennis Meadows is one of six pieces of undeveloped land in Steamboat used to secure $81.9 million in loans granted to ASCRP by Fleet in July 2001. The amount of outstanding principal on the loan one year ago was $41.8 million. Undeveloped land at Killington, Vt., and The Canyons near Park City, Utah, also were pledged to the land.

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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