In Bonanza Flats talks, is $93 million Treasure price telling?
By the final days of 2011, Park City officials and the Treasure partnership had been in closed-door talks for more than a year about the prospects of reaching a conservation deal for the hillside property overlooking Old Town along the route of the Town Lift.
They were perhaps the highest-profile conservation discussions City Hall had ever held. It is rare that so much was known publicly about the talks. The precise location of the acreage, the seller and the possibility of development on the land are typically not made public when City Hall is negotiating.
In December of that year, just before Christmas, the municipal government released the price tag that the Treasure partnership set for a buyout of the longstanding development rights attached to the acreage. The land was priced at just less than $93 million, a sum that was large enough to end the negotiations about a buyout. City Hall would have needed to raise the money for a conservation deal through a ballot measure. Leaders at the time opted against even asking voters to approve a bond that size.
Nearly five years later, City Hall is eyeing another piece of land that is prized by conservationists and developers. Bonanza Flats, which lies in a high-altitude location in Wasatch County just south of Park City, has long been seen as a desirable tract of land for development. There was once talk of a golf-and-ski project on the acreage but a project has never advanced.
A popular recreation spot, Bonanza Flats is under the ownership of a firm under the umbrella of Wells Fargo and Midtown Acquisitions, the lenders that brought a foreclosure case against the Talisker corporate family that involved Bonanza Flats and other parcels. City Hall on Election Day wants Park City voters to approve a $25 million ballot measure with the possibility of acquiring Bonanza Flats if the land becomes available to the municipal government in a conservation deal. Officials caution that a deal has not been negotiated. There have not been reliable numbers publicly discussed regarding a Bonanza Flats price tag, and it is not known if $25 million would put City Hall in a strong negotiating position.
The talks about a Treasure buyout in the early part of the decade could provide intriguing insight into what could become of any discussions about Bonanza Flats should the ballot measure pass. There are similarities between the two situations, but there are also important differences that make it unclear what sort of precedent the Treasure conservation negotiations set as City Hall potentially launches talks about Bonanza Flats in the period after Election Day.
There has been an interest in development in Bonanza Flats for years, notably by United Park City Mines. That firm historically held the land and considered ambitious plans on the acreage in the 1990s as a sister development to the project that was built as Empire Pass in Deer Valley. The Bonanza Flats project, at that time, was seen as 160 houses, 70 townhomes and a hotel. United Park City Mines wanted to build a golf course and ski lifts linking the project to Deer Valley Resort and Park City Mountain Resort. The firm engaged officials in Wasatch County, receiving a preliminary nod in 2002, but the planning process did not advance to a point that the project could start.
There had been little chatter about a project on Bonanza Flats over the past decade. In recent months, however, as a result of the foreclosure case, Park City officials have indicated Bonanza Flats may come under renewed development pressure. That prompted the Park City Council to put the $25 million ballot measure to voters. Other government entities or interest groups could add to the sum, but it is not known how much outside funding could be secured if the bond passes.
The talks about a buyout of the Treasure development rights have not been widely mentioned as a part of the Bonanza Flats issue even though there are similarities. Both of the parcels are seen as ski-in, ski-out project sites, something that makes them especially desirable to developers. They are also both seen as locations for heavy development.
Park City granted an overall approval for development at the Treasure site in the 1980s while Wasatch County more than a decade ago showed a willingness for a project on Bonanza Flats. Park City itself acknowledged the possibility of development on Bonanza Flats, putting a ceiling on the number of units as part of the Empire Pass approval.
Treasure, though, it seems, has a securer argument for development of some sort than does Bonanza Flats. That is one of the key reasons the price tag attached to Treasure was set at the level it was in 2011. A Bonanza Flats acquisition would need to be negotiated with the understanding that there could someday be significant development approved there.
The disparate locations of Treasure and Bonanza Flats would be another factor that could be favorable to City Hall as it attempts to negotiate at dollar figure. The Treasure site lies on the slopes of PCMR and is a short distance from Main Street’s shopping, dining and entertainment. It is one of the prime spots in all of Park City. It is also centrally located for development-related matters like utility installation and construction deliveries. Bonanza Flats is far from even the dining and entertainment in Deer Valley. Construction in the remote Bonanza Flats, meanwhile, would almost certainly be costlier for a developer.
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Each of the Park City area’s state legislators have a lot more than just ski resorts and restaurants on their mind – try roads, natural gas and a state university as well.