Bonanza Flats deal, once seeming impossible, nearly finalized | ParkRecord.com

Bonanza Flats deal, once seeming impossible, nearly finalized

City Hall plans to close on the $38 million acquisition on Thursday

by Jay Hamburger
THE PARK RECORD

Park City on Thursday plans to close on an agreement to acquire the 1,350-acre Bonanza Flats in Wasatch County in a landmark conservation deal.

City Hall intends to finalize the acquisition of Bonanza Flats on Thursday, a long-desired deal that for decades seemed an impossibility before Park City voters approved a ballot measure funding most of the purchase and then a coalition of governments, businesses, activists and individuals delivered most of the rest during a fast-paced, broadly supported fundraising effort.

Many will see it as the most notable land acquisition by City Hall in the 20-plus years of the municipal government's well-regarded open space program, surpassing the deals in Round Valley and the McPolin Farm. The acquisition, priced at $38 million, covers 1,350 acres of high-altitude land in Wasatch County downhill from Guardsman Pass. The land is popular with recreation lovers who hike and bicycle the acreage in the summer and cross-country ski and snowshoe there in the winter.

The seller is an entity called Redus, LLC. It is tied to Wells Fargo and Midtown Acquisitions, L.P. The two financial firms took control of Bonanza Flats in a foreclosure case brought against the Talisker corporate family. The land had been held by United Park City Mines for decades before that company came under the Talisker umbrella. The $38 million deal was announced in January, two months after voters in Park City approved $25 million in funding for a potential acquisition. The fundraising to close the $13 million gap has been ongoing since the January announcement.

The Thursday closing is scheduled on the same day as the deadline for the deal to be finalized. The deadline has been pushed back from an original date of March 15 as the fundraising efforts continued.

City Hall said on Monday the funding gap has fallen to approximately $500,000, low enough to finalize the acquisition as the efforts to raise the remaining monies continued this week. The Monday statement indicated City Hall's strong bond rating provided a windfall of $2.7 million above the $25 million in bonds approved by voters. Of that sum, City Hall said, $700,000 will be set aside for closing costs and work at trailheads.

"We have always been committed to saving this tremendous landscape," Park City Mayor Jack Thomas said in prepared comments included in the statement. "We want the community to rest assured that we will step up to the plate and purchase the land, but we are reliant on all of the commitments made to date to truly get this across the finish line."

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The statement acknowledged the importance of pledged monies during the fundraising efforts and a $1.5 million contribution under consideration as part of the Salt Lake County budget talks.

The Park City Council on Thursday is scheduled to cast three votes related to the acquisition. Two of them address the $4,250,000 pledged to the effort by Summit County leaders and the other would tap the not-for-profit Utah Open Lands to hold and enforce an instrument known as a conservation easement that will outline the restrictions on the land. A price has not been set on the agreement with Utah Open Lands.

A City Hall-hosted celebration is planned from 3 p.m. until 4 p.m. on Friday at the Bob Wells Plaza, located on Swede Alley at the bottom of the Marsac Building steps.

"Let us not forget Bonanza would be lost had Park City residents, the mayor and Council not stepped up," Wendy Fisher, the executive director of Utah Open Lands, said, calling the efforts to acquire the acreage a humbling experience.

The deal for Bonanza Flats is "no doubt, in my mind, a legacy project" for the Wasatch Mountain region and the state, Fisher said.

"It's one of the last private lands in the Wasatch that could be developed," she said.

The acquisition of Bonanza Flats represents a significant turnabout for the acreage after the prospects of development loomed over the land for years. United Park City Mines in the 1990s saw Bonanza Flats as having potential as a golf-and-ski development. Park City leaders of that era negotiated a cap of 260 units in Bonanza Flats as part of the agreement that led to the development of Empire Pass. A Bonanza Flats project never materialized, but there was chatter in the past year that an exclusive developer was interested in acquiring the land. City Hall sees the acquisition for conservation purposes as blocking major development in an environmentally sensitive location.