Ward closes on $8.9M purchase

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Whitney Ward of Resort Ventures has closed on a nearly $9 million real estate purchase from American Skiing Co., parent of the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.

Ward said Friday that he intends to bring forward development plans for two key parcels near the base of the ski area within the next 12 months. They are the 44-acre "Wildhorse Meadows" site at Mount Werner and Pine Grove roads, formerly known as Tennis Meadows, and the 4.2-acre Snowflower II site adjacent to the Steamboat gondola building.

"I'm already putting in motion a planning process for both of the sites," Ward said. "I may have a national development and joint venture partner for Snowflower, but probably not for Wildhorse Meadows. I'll do that myself."

Resort Ventures paid $7.5 million for Wildhorse Meadows and $1 million for Snowflower II. The transaction also included a half-acre commercial lot adjacent to Taco Bell in the Steamboat Village Commercial Center. Ward paid $400,000 for the parcel and said he intends to sell it.

Noting that the Ski Corp. today owns a relatively small portion of the real estate at the base of the ski area, Ward said he hopes the community will embrace the need to move forward with reinvigorating the area. He said he intends to contact the many stakeholders at the resort base, and when he unveils his development plans, he hopes to present them in the context of a redeveloped resort base.

"These are two very visible properties," Ward said. "They are part of the community of Steamboat. The community needs to embrace the fact that a vibrant base area is good for everyone. It is stuck in the '70s right now.

"Unfortunately, we aren't going to bring Steamboat's base area into the 21st century yet. But our property should be part of the overall solution."

The new name Ward has given Tennis Meadows is reminiscent of his new Wildhorse Marketplace commercial center, just across Pine Grove Road and west on Mount Werner Road. It is scheduled to come out of the ground this summer.

Ward said he envisions high-density, vertical development at Snowflower, which he said he thought was consistent with the city's development code. He reiterated that he would propose fewer than half of the 1,100 residential units Ski Corp. once envisioned at Wildhorse Meadows.

The sale parcel does not include the ski area's existing remote parking lot, which is adjacent to the site. However, Ward said he has given the ski area an easement on his new property that would grant them an additional 300 to 400 parking spaces. The transaction also assures a transportation easement for a future people-mover gondola that would run from the parking lot to Snowflower II.

"I think we'll be partners working together someday on an aerial tramway," Ward said, referring to the Ski Corp. "I don't know how far out that would be."

Tennis Meadows figured prominently in foreclosure proceedings filed by Fleet National Bank against American Skiing Resort Properties in late September 2002. The foreclosure was put in "forbearance" by Fleet, and the effort to sell the land was accelerated.

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 was $41.8 million in the fall of 2002. Undeveloped parcels at Killington, Vt., and The Canyons near Park City, Utah, also were pledged to the loan.

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 said the business relationships he formed while at Invesco allow him access to the funds needed to complete developments such as Wildhorse Meadows.

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