A court hearing in Park City could be an icebreaker in the deadlocked dispute between ski tourism giants Park City Mountain Resort (PCMR) and Talisker Corp., the owner of nearby Canyons Resort.
Attorneys will square off Tuesday in Summit County's 3rd District Court over a lease dispute that PCMR characterizes as critical to the survival of Park City's oldest still-operating ski resort. It leases about 2,800 acres of its total 3,300 acres of ski terrain from Talisker.
In court filings, PCMR states it has invested$100 million in base facilities with the assurance that it could renew its lease until 2051.
Talisker had earlier stated it had no interest in a hostile takeover of PCMR, but requires a new business agreement, rather than an extension of the original lease agreement. In a July statement, Talisker said it would ensure PCMR would operate during the 2012-13 ski season.
At stake could be a lot of money.
PCMR's lease rate is $155,000 per year, according to court filings.
By contrast, Canyons Resort pays about $3 million to lease its ski terrain from Wolf Mountain. (Not to be confused with the small resort in Ogden Valley.)
A ruling by Judge Ryan Harris on Talisker's motion for dismissal of PCMR's suit could bring the parties back to the negotiating table, said PCMR attorney, Alan L. Sullivan, in an interview.
"It's possible," he said last week. "I am very hopeful that will happen."
Talisker's attorney, John R. Lund, said his client wants to see skiers on the mountain at PCMR.
"The question is, what will be the business relationship between the owner of the terrain and the operator," he said in an interview.
Lease negotiations broke off March 9, when PCMR filed suit stating it had met the conditions for a lease extension as outlined in the original agreement. The action seeks $7 million in compensatory damages and demands a jury trial.
On April 12, Talisker filed the motion to dismiss the suit, stating that PCMR did not extend the lease before the April 2011 deadline.
Since the early 1960s, PCMR and its predecessors, Treasure Mountain and Park City Ski Area, have leased ski terrain from United Park City Mines. In 1975, Park City Ski Area and United Park amended an agreement to clarify that the lease would end in April 30, 1991, but could be extended by up to three 20-year terms to 2051.
Ian Cumming's Powdr Corp. purchased Park City Ski Area in 1994. Powdr Corp. owns the land under the base facilities at what is now PCMR.
Talisker acquired United Park City Mines in 2003.
Any interruption in operations at PCMR would be devastating to Park City and western Summit County, according to municipal officials. The resort provides jobs and tax revenue and attracts tourists who spend money at restaurants, shops and lodges throughout the greater Park City area.
"It's a big deal," said Park City Mayor Dana Williams, who is quick to add that the municipality has stayed out of what he calls "a landlord-tenant dispute."
"They've decided they want the courts to figure this out," he said. "We'd like it figured out sooner, rather than later."
The mayor said he has had discussions with Talisker CEO Jack Bistricer concerning the dispute.
"Jack has made it very clear that Talisker has no intention of taking over PCMR," Williams said.