Sunday, September 10, 2006
The announcement last week that the Sheraton Steamboat Resort and Conference Center and other assets of Ski Time Square Enterprises are for sale further underscores the dramatic upheaval under way at the base of the Steamboat Ski Area.
Many have longed for this upheaval - it represents an opportunity to transform a weakness of our ski resort into a strength. The long-term impacts on the community and our economy will be huge.
We hope that those impacts will be for the better. We say that because putting "for sale" signs on the biggest assets at Mount Werner does not come without risk. As we have noted, if the wrong players buy these amenities or if the buyers overpay in the deals they make, the transformation many anticipate likely won't happen.
The holdings of Ski Time Square Enterprises include the 315-room Sheraton hotel, Ski Time Square commercial buildings, Thunderhead Lodge, Sheraton Steamboat Golf Course and the Graystone residential subdivision on Steamboat Boulevard.
The Ski Time Square decision comes just weeks after American Skiing Co. announced it is trying to sell the Steamboat Ski Area and just a few months after the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel and Conference Center finally sold its remaining inventory of timeshares. When it was built in 2001, the Grand replaced the Sheraton as the largest hotel at the ski area base.
These moves come in the wake of the creation of an Urban Renewal Authority in the area around the base. The URA gets a portion of future property tax dollars to use for public infrastructure improvements. Many see it as a significant catalyst for change at the base.
Finally, there are the major developments under way in the vicinity of the ski area. Highmark - the six-story, 23-unit luxury condominium complex at Village Drive and Apres Ski Way - is slated for completion in December. One Steamboat Place - a 500,000-square-foot, 85-unit complex - has gained development plan approval, although details on its affordable housing plan must be worked out. Finally, there is Wildhorse Meadows, a 47-acre development that includes commercial, 567 residential units and a gondola to connect with the ski area.
The Sheraton, built in 1968, was the first resort hotel at the base area. Similarly, Ski Times Square's other assets are at least 25 years old. No doubt, the changes at the mountain influenced Ski Time Square's decision to sell. There isn't a better piece of land at the base. But keeping the Sheraton competitive with other facilities will require investment that will take years to recoup a return on.
The marketing of the Ski Time Square properties is similar to the marketing of the ski area. It's a chance for the current owners to cash in on years of investment and to capitalize on a very hot market. And it's a chance for new investors to get into a market that still has enormous growth potential when compared to North America's other top ski resorts.
With all the new development, new public infrastructure and new ownership at Mount Werner, Steamboat could be a very different ski resort in a few years than it is today. But much of it hinges on who the new players at the mountain are. It's certainly worth watching, because these are the kinds of major changes that will have an impact throughout our resort community.