Steve McComb owns a restaurant at the base of Park City Mountain Resort, a short distance from the slopes of a resort annually seen as among the elite in North America.
Baja Cantina, a well known Mexican restaurant at the Resort Center, has served its dishes for 30 years under the ownership of McComb, drawing large crowds for lunch, après ski and then dinner. But McComb wonders about the next ski season as PCMR and Talisker Land Holdings, LLC, the firm that owns the land underlying much of the resort's terrain, continue a bitterly contested lawsuit centered on the PCMR terrain.
In the weeks after the end of the 2013-2014 ski season, there are questions about skiing during the next season, which typically starts in November. Talisker Land Holdings, LLC intends to evict PCMR if it wins while the resort remains confident in its case. If PCMR loses, though, it has said it plans to dismantle the lifts and other infrastructure on the disputed terrain.
Businesses like Baja Cantina, which relay heavily on the ski season business given their location at the bottom of the slopes, are left to consider their plans for next winter without knowing how the case will play out in coming months.
"Helpless. There's nothing I can do," McComb said, adding, "It's not helping anyone with what's going on."
He said the mood at the Resort Center is one of "limbo, purgatory." He said he continues to invest in the restaurant.
"I've had the discussions with my landlord: what happens if?" he said.
Another longtime restaurateur at the Resort Center also is considering the case as he plans. Rick Anderson owns Mojos Restaurant at the Resort Center, once known as the Eating Establishment Express. He has owned a restaurant at the Resort Center for 28 years.
Anderson said the case has not hurt business since it was filed two years ago. The lawsuit, though, influenced his decisions as he weighed a timeline for further investment in Mojos Restaurant. He said he considered reconfiguring the dining room after the end of the 2013-2014 ski season. He delayed the work until at least the fall, depending on the case. The lawsuit, he said, "put a damper" on the idea of improvements.
"I'm not prepared to put any major capital expenditures into it," Anderson said.
The lawsuit, filed by the PCMR side in the spring of 2012 and now involving a countersuit, involves most of the terrain at the resort. The lower terrain, the Resort Center and the parking lots are not part of the case.
PCMR claims it renewed the leases on the land in the case and it was denied a right of first refusal on the land when Talisker Land Holdings, LLC reached an agreement with Vail Resorts for the Colorado firm to operate Canyons Resort. The deal could be extended to include the disputed terrain at PCMR depending on the outcome of the lawsuit. The judge is expected to make important rulings later in the spring or early in the summer.
If the judge rules against PCMR, resort officials have indicated they would remove the lifts. The other side has argued PCMR is prohibited from doing so. PCMR has said it could pursue an action sports camp on part of the parking lots and the lower terrain if it loses the case. PCMR is selling season passes for the 2014-2015 season with a caveat addressing the possibility of the resort not opening. It is the third consecutive year a caveat has been attached to marketing material.
There has been uncertainty since the lawsuit was filed, but it seems there have been more jitters since late last summer as the case intensified, including the filing of a de facto eviction notice against PCMR in August. Vail Resorts recently offered to buy the base area and the parking lots. The PCMR side said it would not agree to a buyout.
City Hall, meanwhile, last fall conducted an exercise to consider the impacts on municipal finances if PCMR did not open for a ski season or operated for one year using only the lower terrain.
Aloha Ski & Snowboard opened at the Resort Center in the late 1990s, and, after succeeding, opened another location there about seven years ago. One of the two co-owners, Greg Ottoson, said the store has completed its merchandise purchases for the next ski season. The case did not influence buying decisions, he said, describing Aloha Ski & Snowboard as being "cautiously optimistic." He said the stores are operating as if the lawsuit will not impact the next ski season.
"Any decision that was made in terms of the buy, we made on status quo," he said. "Not any impending disaster."