Parkite building Blue Sky dream in Wanship
For such a down-to-earth guy, Mike Phillips sure has sky-high dreams blue sky high to be precise. Since moving to Park City twelve years ago he’s realized one lifelong dream and is closing in on another, more recently hatched. At age 59, Phillips is a prime example of the visionary, young-at-heart outlook on life that’s endemic to Park City and highly contagious. He found a kindred spirit when he met Dave Perkins, founder and guiding force behind High West Distillery. Over a shot or two of Dave’s whiskey, they realized they share a common vision that may well transform the landscape and, hopefully, the modest economy of nearby Wanship.
Phillips was spent his early years in Fresno, California. Among his fondest childhood memories is riding in his mother’s 1959 Ford Thunderbird. "I loved riding with her in that car. We used to drive to the taco stand a lot," he grins.
Phillips’ grandfather was a rancher, as were all his uncles, aunts and cousins. "We would all help out rounding up cattle in the fall and branding in the spring," he says. "My cousins and I would tackle the calves and hang on. When we got to ride our horses it was a rite of passage. It was a time when we were all together as an extended family. I always wanted that as an adult for my own family."
Phillips was an all-American soccer player in high school and in college at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. In his junior year, he was the first foreign exchange student at Cranbrook University in England. While there, he got his first taste of Shakespeare when he auditioned and was cast as Caliban in "The Tempest."
He met his future wife, Barbara Stabins, in 1975 at a wedding in southern California. "I knew a good thing when I saw it. She was the prettiest and kindest person I’d ever met," he says. Baring his soul, Phillips adds, "I have never met anyone gentler in nature and I have never loved anyone as deeply as I love her. Every year I love her more."
Phillips earned a degree in political science from USC in 1977 and married Barbara that same year. The newlyweds lived in Santa Monica for a year before going abroad to travel and study in England and Greece. When Barbara returned home nine months later, Phillips remained to work on a master’s degree in international public administration. He took an internship with General Electric to work on rural electrification projects in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. "I went to Egypt to meet the engineers who were installing huge electric generators in the desert," says Phillips.
Returning to California, Phillips took the first of many intriguing career turns. "My father needed help growing his Ralph Lauren stores. My brother-in-law and I joined him to help ‘temporarily’ but we grew so rapidly that we stayed on. We eventually had seven stores in California and Arizona," he says.
When his father sold the stores in 1984, Phillips and family moved to Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where he hoped to learn the shopping center development business. I went to school and had remained friends with the son of Alfred Taubman, one of the largest mall owners in the country. Bob got me in the door and I took a job as a leasing agent for Taubman’s company, upgrading tenant bases from moderately-priced tenants to high-end tenants like Ralph Lauren.
Phillips moved again five years later, this time to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he essentially re-created himself in the grocery business. "It was time to move on and the economic opportunity was significant, so I made the move," he recounts.
In 1991 Phillips left the company to form a partnership with his good friend, Jeff Edison, who he had met at the Taubman Company. "We formed Phillips-Edison & Company and started buying grocery-anchored community centers that needed refurbishing. In 2001 we purchased a company that had the majority of their shopping centers in the Western states. In 2002, we moved to Park City and opened an office in Salt Lake City to increase our presence in the West and expand our national footprint," says Phillips.
"I love living here because the outdoor activities are the best in the world. I love skiing in the winter and playing golf in the summer, hiking the backcountry and experiencing the mystic quiet of the mountains. People here are really nice too," he adds.
The empty-nesters have three grown children, Sara, Christopher and Alexandra, all of whom now live in Park City. The couple will celebrate their 37th wedding anniversary next December. "Barbara is still my best friend and soul mate," shares Phillips.
Back to the dreams: In 2004 Phillips bought Blue Sky Ranch in Wanship. "I had always wanted to get back to ranching, just like when I was a kid in Fresno, and this was my chance. We love to care for animals and ride horses. I call Barbara the ‘horse rescuer’ because she has helped so many horses that were sick, abandoned or just in need of some love. We have 43 horses, three barn cats and about 65 head of cows and calves at the ranch. We also have four dogs and two cats at home in Park City. In 2011 we created Blue Sky Adventures to let people experience a working cowboy ranch. It’s been a joy bringing this experience to so many people, really my lifelong dream," Phillips confesses.
That same year he met Dave Perkins from High West Distillery. Perkins wanted to expand High West and was looking for a new home. "I shared my vision of Blue Sky Ranch with Dave and it was a perfect match," says Phillips. "We will be completing the expansion of the distillery complex in August of this year."
Next year they will begin construction of a 60-room lodge and restaurant where guests can relax and enjoy superb High West spirits and cuisine after a full day of Blue Sky "cowboying." The lodge is scheduled to open in 2016. "I’m passionate about creating a world-class destination location in eastern Summit County that will keep the rural integrity but drive commercial expansion," says Phillips.
Blue Sky Ranch and Adventures, in partnership with High West, completes his dreams. "If I was taken from this world now, I don’t have any regrets or things I need to do," he says. "I want my family to be healthy, happy and productive in the world. That’s my goal now and I hope it stays that way when I’m gone, although I hope I’m around for a long time."
Favorite activities: Ride horses, ski, mountain bike, golf
Favorite foods: Tacos, especially at El Chubasco
Favorite reading/authors: "I read a lot of diverse stuff. Favorites authors include Larry McMurtry and Thomas Pinketty."
Favorite music/performers: "My tastes are eclectic." Willie Nelson, Van Morrison, Miles Davis, Modern Jazz Quartet.
Bucket list: "I’d like to write short stories and have time to write a novel."
Steve Phillips is a Park City-based writer and actor. Send your profile comments and suggestions to him at email@example.com
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