Opportunity may knock

Leaders envision improvements would accompany sale

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Community leaders responded favorably Friday to news that the Steamboat Ski Area is once again for sale.

American Skiing Company announced Friday it would put its ski resort back on the market, four years after it nearly sold it.

Jan. 12, 1963: Storm Mountain, under local ownership, opens for business with one double chairlift, Bear Claw and Poma lift. Receipts for the first day were $13.75.

1969: LTV Recreational Development Inc. buys properties and begins $10 million in development of the Steamboat Village Resort.

1979: Northwest Colorado Ski Corporation purchases the ski area from LTV, changes name to Steamboat Ski Corporation.

1989: Kamori Kanko Co. Ltd. purchases Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.

1997: American Skiing Company purchases Steamboat from Kamori International. ASC becomes a publicly traded company.

May 2001: American Skiing Company announced it had retained an investment banking firm to handle the sale of the Steamboat Ski Area as part of its company-wide financial restructuring.

October 2001: Tim and Diane Mueller, owners of the Okemo Mountain Resort in Ludlow, Vt., confirmed they had formed an investment group to pursue the purchase of Steamboat. They had a financial interest in the Catamount Ranch & Club development south of Steamboat Springs.

February 2002: The Muellers came to Steamboat to announce the signing of a contract to purchase the ski area for $91.4 million.

March 2002: American Skiing Company backed out of the deal with the Muellers on closing day, announcing it would instead sell Heavenly Mountain Resort near Lake Tahoe, Calif., to Vail Resorts.

April 2002: Triple Peaks LLC and the Muellers sued American Skiing Company to seek to have their purchase contract for Steamboat enforced.

July 2004: American Skiing Company announced it had reached a cash settlement with Triple Peaks, effectively ending the protracted legal action over the abandoned sale. ASC had set aside $5 million as a contingency against just such a settlement. The Muellers had already moved on, purchasing Crested Butte Mountain Resort.

July 14, 2006: American Skiing Company officials announce plans to try to sell the Steamboat Ski Area. ASC has retained the investment banking firm Bear Stearns & Company to market the ski resort.

"The community response is going to be pretty optimistic," said Steamboat Springs City Council President Ken Brenner. "A new owner would bring that opportunity for investment."

He thinks parties interested in purchasing the ski area will come forward in the coming weeks.

"I think people are going to be surprised by the number of proposals that come forward," Brenner said. "And I wouldn't be surprised to see a proposal that would involve local ownership."

ASC, which owns eight resorts in the United States, has been plagued by financial woes in the past five years, which local officials think has hampered the company's ability to invest in Steamboat.

Brenner praised the work of ASC's Steamboat employees given the budget constraints.

He added that he thinks the announcement comes at a good time, given the progress being made on improvements being funded through the urban renewal authority, which was established in 2005. A portion of tax revenues generated in the mountain area go directly into the fund earmarked for public improvements.

Property owners and managers at the base area are paying close attention to the activity with ASC.

"(The announcement) was a surprise in some ways, but not a surprise given the market out there," said Sheraton Steamboat Resort General Manager Chuck Porter. "I think it's a positive and interesting development and appealing that maybe we can get the business area and ski area to reach its full potential."

He said what happens at the ski area will play an important role in the Sheraton's decisions to make capital improvements. In addition to the hotel, the ownership group that owns the Sheraton also owns Thunderhead Lodge and Ski Time Square property.

He said it seemed reasonable that ASC was considering selling the resort right now.

"As with any business, when you've built the values up, you look at whether it's time to cash in those values and reinvest the capital," Porter said. "The existing management has really created a lot of value in Steamboat.

"It's taking advantage of a strong market and taking advantage of opportunities."

Capital improvements to the base area would only strengthen Steamboat's already healthy real estate market, said Steamboat Village Brokers broker owner David Baldinger Jr.

"Hopefully, the new buyer will have enough financial resources to continue making improvements to the mountain," Baldinger said. "My response would be neutral until you see who comes in to buy it."

Millennium Bank President Paul Clavadetscher said it is encouraging to know that anyone who would be interested in purchasing the ski area likely would be focused on the ski operations and not the real estate that ASC has sold off throughout the years.

"Let's just sit back and continue on with life and find out who the new owner is, and let's work hard to form a partnership," Clavadetscher said.

Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak reiterated the importance of the ski area to the community

"My only hope would be that anyone who is interested in purchasing the ski area would realize that it's an integral part of our community," Stahoviak said. "The current staff has been very active and a good part of our community."

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