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A grandiose plan is starting to take shape to turn the Idaho hillsides overlooking Bear Lake into a multibillion-dollar resort with ranches, condos, hotels, golf, skiing and sailing.

Developers of Black Bear Resort formally unveiled their plans for the 2,200-acre mountain community Thursday at The Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City, just a week after commissioners in Bear Lake County, Idaho, signed off on the resort's conceptual master plan and its first phase of construction.

"We possess the land, the vision and the development team to put it into place," said Bill Poce, vice president of marketing and sales for Black Bear Resort, which has its offices at 346 E. 3300 South.

Resort co-founders Bradley Auger and Bruce Barrett initially had more modest development plans for the plateau northwest of the lake bisected by the Utah-Idaho border.

They intended to build hunting lodges on 20-acre lots across the hillside. But in 2004, the Idaho Department of Water Resources changed a policy to allow water rights to be transferred between properties in a county.

Poce said Barrett and Auger recognized immediately that "if we have enough water, we can create a resort." So they began buying water rights, along with land parcels on the mountain and near the lake for, they said, an average price of $3,000 per acre (compared with $20,000 per acre for lesser quality land near Driggs, Idaho).

For the past 18 months, they have worked with officials in Bear Lake County, one of Idaho's poorer counties and one with a declining population, to develop a resort that would create jobs and a tax base for local communities while giving investors an opportunity to own a second home or a condo in a community offering golf and snow and water skiing, hiking and horseback riding, sailing and fine dining.

In a 2-1 decision last week, commissioners approved the overall master plan and the first phase of construction, which will focus on turning 600 acres in the center of the proposed resort into the mountain village and custom home sites around a golf course designed by former touring pro Tom Weiskopf.

Over the next three decades, the time frame projected for full development, Black Bear Resort plans to add a 20,000-square-foot clubhouse, a half dozen hotels, an indoor water park, an equestrian center, tennis facilities and skiing.

While all facilities would be open to investors in the resort, developers intend to open some of the amenities to the general public. But no decisions have been made on what will be open to all, Barrett said.

The ski area would be geared toward intermediates and snowboarders. A terrain park will be its main claim to fame, said Black Bear Resort Chief Financial Officer Ted Galovan, noting the largely east-facing slopes offer 700 vertical feet of terrain and a 6,200-foot base. The area receives about 250 inches of snow per winter, he added.

Barrett said a lock system will be installed to keep the lake village marina surrounded by water in dry years when irrigation demands lower Bear Lake.

Company documents said Black Bear Resort "will repay construction loans with free cash flow from the sale of property."

Black Bear Resort
About halfway between Salt Lake City and Jackson, Wyo., this proposed resort on Bear Lake's Idaho side is projected to become a four-season community with:

* 2,200 acres, half of which will be left undisturbed

* 10,000 residential units, half in single family lots, the other half in condos, hotels and town homes

* A 7,500-yard championship golf course designed by Tom Weiskopf

* A 600-slip marina on Bear Lake