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There were nothing but smiles Tuesday in western Summit County as Park City Mountain Resort (PCMR) announced it would post a $17.5 million bond to keep the resort operating through the upcoming ski season.
The bond was set by 3rd District Judge Ryan Harris in the midst of a three-year legal dispute between PCMR and its landlord, Talisker Land Holdings Inc., which also leases the nearby Canyons Resort to Vail Resorts Inc.
"Our goal has always been to keep PCMR open for the upcoming 2014-15 season and beyond," said Jenni Smith, president and general manager. "Paying the bond ordered by the judge will provide our employees, the Park City community and our many guests the certainty they've been waiting for about our upcoming ski season."
If PCMR had not posted the bond by Friday, Talisker could have begun eviction. The loss of the ski season at PCMR one of three ski resorts in and around Park City would have meant a big hit to the tourist town's economy.
"First, it was overwhelming relief," Park City Councilwoman Liza Simpson,who also works on Main Street at Dolly's Bookstore, said of Tuesday's announcement. "This whole month has been waiting for the other shoe to drop. ... It's just been a nail-biter."
Resort officials have scheduled a Nov. 22 opening the weekend before Thanksgiving.
The fear of no ski season at PCMR put the Park City Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau into high gear after the story went national, appearing in such publications as The New York Times, Bloomberg News and The Denver Post.
The chamber/bureau, as it is called, had a contingency plan that sought to explain to would-be ski vacationers that Park City's other resorts, Deer Valley and Canyons, were open, along with the rest of the historic mining-town-turned-glitterati-stopover.
"We're all very, very happy to hear the news," said Linda Jager, the chamber/bureau's communications director. "We're doing the snow dance now."
PCMR and its parent, Powdr Corp., missed by several days a lease renewal deadline of April 30, 2011. Several months later, it sued Talisker fearing eviction.
Lawsuit continues • Earlier this year, Harris ruled that Talisker and its partner, Vail Resorts Inc., could evict PCMR. The bond allows PCMR to continue operations for one ski season, while litigation continues.
The bond amount is based on an estimate of $5 million per year rent on 2,852 acres of upper-mountain terrain. The judge tripled the amount, as he said was required under Utah law for damages, and added $1.5 million in attorney fees and interest.
"We applaud PCMR for agreeing to post the bond in the amount determined by the court to ensure the resort will be open for the 2014-15 season," said John Lund, who represents Talisker/Vail. "[We] look forward to continuing to work with PCMR on a long-term resolution to this situation for the benefit of the employees, guests and the entire Park City community."
The relief, however, is temporary. PCMR and Talisker/Vail will square off in a trial later this year to determine the value of the lease on the 2,852 acres in question. The trial should determine how much money PCMR owes to Talisker/Vail for the past three years of rent and should also take into account how much PCMR is owed for improvements it made after May 1, 2011.
Beyond that, PCMR has vowed to fight the eviction to the Utah Supreme Court.
PCMR owns the base acreage and facilities, without which the ski resort cannot operate, according to its attorneys.
If no agreement has been reached and PCMR wants to operate the ski area for the 2015-16 season, it would have to post a bond of $19 million, according to the judge's ruling.
Despite the fact that court-ordered mediation talks have ended, both sides said they are committed to working toward an agreement. The possibilities include PCMR continuing to lease the land in question; or that Vail leases or buys PCMR's base and facilities.
Celebration • But for right now, Park City merchants, workers and residents are celebrating.
"Everybody's real happy about it," said Jack Walzer, general manager of Jan's Mountain Outfitters. "It's a good day."
Jan's has several locations, including a shop on the plaza at PCMR, one on Park Avenue and another at Deer Valley. The enterprise is big enough to survive a shutdown, Walzer said. But he's glad it won't have to face such a predicament.
"It would be more of an impact on the community in general," he said. "How many years would it take to get people back, once they decided to go somewhere else, like Steamboat [Springs, Colo.]?"
A PCMR closure would be especially hard on the small-business owners and employees, he added. "I heard a ski rep say that if they close, he'd have to move out of town."
With headquarters in Park City, Powdr Corp. currently owns and operates nine mountain resorts, including Copper Mountain Resort in Summit County, Colo.; Killington Resort and Pico Mountain in Killington, Vt.; Mount Bachelor in Bend, Ore.; Boreal Resort and Soda Springs Resort in Donner Summit, Calif.; Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort near Las Vegas; and Gorgoza tubing park in Park City.