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Empire Pass attracts luxury hotelier

ANNA BLOOM Of the Record staff

Empire Pass could be welcoming the luxury hotelier Montage Hotels & Resorts should the city agree to annex extra open space from Park City Mountain Resort, an option Park City Council now appears to be willing to consider. Hotel project managers boast that the change to the development agreement would preserve 2,800 acres of open space — the largest conservation easement in the city. They said additional open space would offset the 80 unit equivalents, about 2,000 square feet each, needed to build the hotel.

According to Mandy Scully, vice president of the Talisker Corporation, the company that owns the 1,655-acre development, the 192-room Montage Hotel would turn the area "from a cold, dark corner to an active part of the community."

At the Park City Council Nov. 17 work session, Scully explained that the design would provide Park City with a unique "architectural landmark," while simultaneously maintaining a subtle, secluded presence at Empire Pass, minimizing the visibility from town.

The developer of the hotel would be The Athens Group, whose previous projects include a Ritz-Carlton hotel in San Francisco and the Montage Resort & Spa in Laguna Beach, Calif.

Park City Councilwoman Kay Calvert remarked that building the Montage would be an opportunity to "raise the bar" and "elevate the perception" of Park City.

"In my mind, the value of a resort destination like this is something we don’t have right now," she said.

But the project’s approval is contingent upon annexing open space, and providing traffic mitigations to offset the projected impact on Marsac Avenue and Deer Valley Drive. Doug Clyde, a private-sector planner working for the Empire Pass development, estimates that the hotel will increase traffic by 2.8 percent on Marsac Avenue and one percent on Deer Valley Drive.

At the work session, Clyde emphasized that Talisker is committed to an aggressive transportation plan and would still pay the city $2 million, as stipulated in the original development agreement.

The approved 1999 development agreement for Empire Pass specified only 147 acres could be developed, with the remainder of the land left to passive and recreational open space, according to Park City planner Brooks Robinson.

The developers are proposing the additional units come from PCMR, land that is largely unincorporated into the city. "There is enough density available [at PCMR] to transfer to the hotel area [at Empire Pass], and the city is willing to look at it," Robinson told The Park Record.

Talisker has been talking to Montage for two years, according to Robinson, and would like to begin construction on the hotel by late next spring.

"As far as [the Montage developers] are concerned, I think they’ve spent a lot of money and done a lot of drawing. If they wanted to start construction next spring, they need to be far along I think they’re excited about the site and I think it’s probably a realistic [starting date], but I’m just surmising based on how much work they’ve done," he explained.

Deer Valley Resort President Bob Wheaton, Montage Chief Executive Officer and founder Alan Fuerstman, and Karen Wikstrom, an economic consultant, accompanied Scully to the November meeting.

Wikstrom presented a report assessing the economic benefits to the city once the Montage was stabilized in 2012. She calculates secondary tax revenue from sales outside of the resort at $275,421, and $580,000 in annual revenues to the Park City School District.

City Councilwoman Candy Erickson, however, noted that the economic benefits would be much the same if the project featured condos and not a hotel. Essentially, Wikstrom’s numbers compared the benefit of building the Montage to building nothing at all, Erickson said.

Erickson questioned the lack of employee housing units on site and the traffic study, which showed that the hotel would add 238 additional cars to Marsac Avenue, she said.

"The type of clients you’re dealing with [at Montage] don’t want to share a van," she explained. "Without some incredible benefit to the city, I don’t feel comfortable up-zoning this project. I would love to see a Montage, but I don’t think the units will come from Park City [Mountain Resort.]"

Mayor Dana Williams, however, countered that Talisker had proven that it could "walk the walk," and that he had seen the Montage in Southern California, and was impressed by the quality of the resort. A hotel like Montage, he said, might just "complete the moat" at Empire Pass.

Robinson said that the amendment to the development agreement would continue to be discussed at public meetings in the future.

City staff has not taken a position on the project, and the city plans to form a task force to assess additional details of the proposed Montage Hotel, Robinson says.


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