PCMR v. Talisker, the Kimball and Banksy vandalism riveted in 2014
December 26, 2014
There have been few years in Park City’s modern era more newsworthy than 2014, an extraordinary 12 months that captivated Parkites from New Year’s Day to New Year’s Eve.
What would happen to Park City Mountain Resort, they wondered through much of the year. They saw cranes erected and construction fences posted across Park City. And what is this about Park City’s ski industry eyeing the Cottonwood Canyons?
The Park Record’s Top 5 Park City news stories of 2014:
5. Hammers, nails and cranes
Park City’s construction industry seemed poised for a solid year at the start of 2014. Money was continuing to come into the real estate market and Park City appeared to be one of the hot mountain resorts.
But the construction numbers posted in 2014 were stunning. The industry did not set a record, but the year will end as one of the strongest in Park City’s history. The year to-date total at the end of November was nearly $136.2 million. Through the same time in 2013, the dollar figure sat at $68.9 million. It was the first time the industry hit $100 million since 2008.
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The evidence was seen across Park City. There were construction zones along Main Street, on the Old Town streetscape in Deer Valley and the rest of Park City’s neighborhoods. A crane at the site of the Stein Eriksen Residences construction zone looms over Old Town while another crane, at the Rio Grande site, is at a highly visible location steps off Main Street.
"I think it kind of bamboozled everyone there were so many projects," Chad Root, the building official at City Hall, said in October, adding, "The investment’s back in Park City, Wasatch County, Summit County."
The boom involved a combination of large projects and smaller ones. The major construction zones were seen by many, but there were numerous smaller ones, perhaps just one house, scattered throughout the city.
The construction year was not as smooth as a freshly sanded two-by-four. Main Street merchants worried that the construction zones on the street hurt business. City Hall, responding to the concerns, ordered construction shutdowns along Main Street during busy times like the Sundance Film Festival and Christmastime. There was also a temporary stoppage at the Park City Film Studios site at Quinn’s Junction in the fall as the developer sought financial backing.
Still, the numbers were welcomed by the construction industry as Park City builders gained post-recession momentum in 2014.
"Now that it would appear the recovery of the economy is a real thing, people are jumping back into the market," Joe Rametta, the president of the Park City Area Homebuilders Association, said in October.
4. Cottonwoods are calling
The four mountain resorts in the Cottonwoods, the snowy canyons south of Park City, have for decades been seen as separate in culture as well as in geography from Park City’s glitzier ski industry.
There has generally not been the same level of investment on the slopes themselves or the base areas as there has been in Park City over the past decade-plus. That did not matter much this year as, suddenly, there was interest from the Park City side of the Wasatch Mountains in the resorts located in the Cottonwoods.
In what was a major shake-up of the Utah ski industry, Park City interests moved into two Cottonwood mountain resorts in 2014.
First, in May, the Cumming family purchased a majority stake in Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort in Little Cottonwood Canyon. The Cumming family owns the mountain resort firm Powdr Corp. but acquired the Snowbird interest as a family instead of through the corporation. Terms of the deal with the Bass family, the longtime Snowbird owner, were not made public.
"I look forward to working with the Bass family and the team at Snowbird in providing world-class experiences on and off the mountain," the family patriarch, Ian Cumming, said about the deal, noting that the Cummings have long enjoyed Snowbird.
Bass, meanwhile, said the agreement with the Cumming family "will enable Snowbird to achieve more rapid growth and even greater benefits for our guests . . . " Snowbird said the resort could pursue improvements on a quicker timeline as a result of the deal.
Then, in October, came another transaction. Deer Valley Resort acquired Solitude Mountain Resort in Big Cottonwood Canyon. Terms of the deal with the DeSeelhorst family remained private. Deer Valley will assume the operations on May 1. Deer Valley, itself a skier-only resort, said snowboarding would continue to be permitted at Solitude.
"Solitude is an incredible resort and provided a huge opportunity for us to expand our offerings right here in Utah," Bob Wheaton, the president and general manager of Deer Valley Resort said. "Solitude is in a unique position with their widely varied terrain that attracts both local and destination skiers. We are ecstatic to be able to add the resort to the Deer Valley family."
3. A Banksy bummer
The calendar was turning from 2013 to 2014 as a man arrived in Park City and headed for two artworks created by Banksy, the famous graffiti artist, in 2010.
Parkites woke up one morning to learn that the man, a vandal, smashed the glass meant to protect one of the Banksy pieces. He then put his own spray paint on the image of an angel boy on the Cunningham Building garage, situated steps from Main Street. The man tried to get to the Banksy image of a kneeling videographer on the Java Cow building, badly cracking the protective glass. It did not shatter, though.
It was the most notable act of vandalism in Park City since Banksy himself put down a series of stenciled images while in the city alongside a Sundance Film Festival documentary in which he was featured.
The two Banksy artworks — the only pieces remaining on public display in Park City — had become popular attractions on Main Street by the time the vandal reached the city. The owner of the Cunningham Building hired a painting conservator to restore the piece by removing the vandal’s spray paint and then putting down new paint true to the original Banksy. The glass was replaced as well. Java Cow also replaced the cracked glass protecting its Banksy.
The Park City Police Department stuck with the criminal investigation, eventually using an online video that showed the vandalism as it occurred to track a suspect. Prosecutors in April charged a California man, David Noll, in the Park City cases. He also vandalized Banksy pieces in Los Angeles, Summit County prosecutors said.
Noll in September pleaded guilty in the Park City vandalism. A judge in November sentenced him to prison but said Noll would not have to serve time if he complies with the rest of the sentence, including paying restitution to the two building owners in Park City.
After the sentencing, Noll spoke at length with reporters in the parking lot outside the court building.
"I feel responsible and I feel terrible about it. You know, like, I feel guilt, and regret and sadness over it. And I feel I’m now able to empathize with the people that, you know, lost their property," Noll said.
2. Art and architecture
early March, the leadership of the Kimball Art Center had already discarded one design for an ambitious expansion of the historic building Old Town.
The not-for-profit organization asked a famed architectural firm for a second design to build on the art center’s patio at a high-profile corner along Main Street. Bjarke Ingels Group considered approximately 50 designs over upward of five months before opting for a scaled-back concept compared to the first one.
It would add 15,000 square feet and range in height from 32 feet tall to 46 feet tall with a sloping design. The expansion, the Kimball Art Center said, would offer more space for exhibitions and programs. There was confidence at the organization that City Hall would approve the design when officials weighed the proposal against the municipal government’s strict Old Town guidelines.
Parkites were split. Those supporting the design saw the proposed expansion as something that would become iconic. The detractors contended the design would clash with the other buildings on the historic streetscape.
City Hall rejected the designs in August, a significant setback to the Kimball Art Center. Thomas Eddington, the planning director, said in an interview just afterward the expansion proposal did not relate to the historic Kimball Art Center building "aesthetically, visually or historically."
The Kimball Art Center leadership huddled afterward, deciding that the organization would seek a new location instead of appealing the rejection. It was one of the year’s stunning moments. The Kimball Art Center in the fall was put on the market with an asking price of $8 million. Interest was high.
A California developer in mid-December said it had reached a deal to acquire the Kimball Art Center and submitted paperwork at City Hall outlining a major redevelopment of the site.
"We’re very excited to have been selected by the Kimball board to be the potential new stewards of this exceptional real estate," David Luber, the developer’s lead figure, said. "While we are just in the initial stages of reviewing the project’s overall feasibility, we are proposing to introduce a world class residential and commercial development that is commensurate with the quality and visibility of this unsurpassed location."
1. PCMR v. Talisker
A lawsuit pitting Park City Mountain Resort against its landlord, Talisker Land Holdings, LLC, and Colorado-based Vail Resorts was already the most significant news item in Park City when the year started.
Over the course of the past 12 months, the case, its settlement and its aftermath reshaped Park City like few other events in the skiing era.
The case was filed in 2012 and centered on PCMR’s lease of Talisker Land Holdings, LLC’s acreage underlying most of the resort’s terrain. Vail Resorts later entered the fray on Talisker Land Holdings, LLC side as a result of a long-term deal with the Talisker corporate family to operate Canyons Resort. The agreement included a clause that would extend the deal to the disputed terrain at PCMR depending on the outcome of the lawsuit. Late in the spring, the 3rd District Court judge presiding over the case sided with the landlord in a series of crucial rulings.
Judge Ryan Harris followed the rulings by signing a de facto eviction notice against PCMR in early July, launching a high-stakes round of mediation meant to reach a settlement. The tourism industry, Park City leaders and the wider community were riveted as the end of summer approached with uncertainty about whether PCMR would open for the ski season.
The sides offered little information about the mediation as the talks were extended. Then, on Sept. 11, Vail Resorts announced it had reached an agreement with PCMR parent Powdr Corp. to acquire the resort. The price was $182.5 million and the deal settled the lawsuit. It was one of the seminal moments in Park City’s history.
"First and foremost, we are very pleased to bring a permanent end to this dispute and provide assurance to the guests and employees of PCMR, and to everyone in the Park City community, that they no longer have to worry about any disruption to the operation of the resort," Rob Katz, the chairman and CEO of Vail Resorts, said in a statement announcing the acquisition.
Vail Resorts moved quickly, naming a leadership team for PCMR and publicizing its intention to link PCMR and Canyons Resort into one property in 2015. It would be the largest mountain resort in North America.
In December, Vail Resorts outlined an ambitious set of improvements as the two resorts are molded into one. The centerpiece will be an eight-person gondola linking the two.
"We started early, we started very quickly, to try and get out and make sure everybody understood where we were trying to head, so we would have enough time to put this . . . the entire plan together," Katz said in a telephone call with Wall Street analysts. "Is there any risk? There’s always risk, obviously, that’s why we always say that it is subject to those approvals, but at the moment we feel pretty good."
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