Mayflower’s Air Force hotel replacement, now part of a new ski resort, breaks ground
State, local officials gather to commemorate project 20 years in the making
Dignitaries descended on Wasatch County on Wednesday to celebrate a groundbreaking ceremony 20 years in the making that included a U.S. Air Force color guard, patriotic songs and officials recounting the strange story that brought them together in a large white tent under blue skies in the shadow of Deer Valley Resort.
Holding commemorative pickaxes, high-ranking officials posed for photos over a pile of dirt, their ranks including former Gov. Gary Herbert, Utah State Senate President Stuart Adams, Hill Air Force Base Commander U.S. Air Force Col. Jenise M. Carroll and New York real estate developer Gary Barnett.
They were celebrating the beginning of construction of a U.S. Air Force “morale, welfare and recreation” facility, a block of 100 reserved rooms in a planned 442-room hotel at the base of what is planned to become the Mayflower Mountain Resort.
The reserved rooms will be offered at heavily discounted rates to members of the military. The hotel itself is planned to cost $390 million, cover nearly 5 acres and total 642,000 square feet.
It is one of three hotels planned for the first phase of the resort, which Barnett said was targeted to open for skiers for the 2023-2024 ski season. Significant infrastructure work has already been completed at the site and work is underway, as well, on what is planned to be hundreds of homes at one of the resort’s two planned base areas.
Unpaved streets and heavy machinery dotted the scene, with land planned to be future ski hills ascending in the background across from the Jordanelle Reservoir.
Wasatch County Councilor Steve Farrell, the only local representative on the board of the state agency overseeing the project, told the crowd he could remember when the hills were used as rangeland.
“Sixty years ago this area was just home to a couple hundred head of cattle owned by Sonny Crandall and a couple of thousand head of sheep owned by the Bitners, the Bergs and the Gillmor families,” he said.
The ceremony was a long time coming, he said, 15 years after the Wasatch County Council was first approached with the idea of finding a home for the military recreation hotel.
“Mr. Barnett’s vision for this area far surpasses the original vision,” Farrell said.
What officials call the MWR hotel is a replacement for a former Air Force recreation facility at Snowbasin Resort that was closed in the run-up to the 2002 Olympics to make room for the downhill ski competition, according to Utah State Senator Jerry Stevenson.
Around that time, Stevenson said, former U.S. Rep. Jim Hansen maneuvered to secure a replacement site for the facility, land known as the Red Maple parcel that sits on S.R. 248 on the entryway into Park City.
Local officials from Park City and Summit County fought the Air Force’s proposal to build a large-scale hotel at that site for years, eventually succeeding.
The Military Installation Development Authority, a state-run governmental entity that acts similarly to a city in exercising land-use authority and oversees several thousand acres near the Jordanelle Reservoir, had also eyed sites near Quinn’s Junction and what is now the Canyons Village base area for the Air Force’s recreation facility, among other locations, over the years.
MIDA nearly struck a deal in 2010 with local officials to create 1.25 million square feet of commercial development — about the size of 20 grocery stores the size of Smith’s in Kimball Junction — in Silver Creek, the proceeds from which would have helped pay for the development of the hotel. At the time, it was hoped the hotel would be located near Canyons Village.
Eventually, officials settled on land around the Jordanelle Reservoir for the hotel, with MIDA taking land-use authority from Wasatch County but keeping in place many of the plans the county had made for the area.
In an interview, Farrell said Wasatch County was satisfied with the amount of local input it retains in the development.
“I don’t think we had the ability to provide the funding for the infrastructure where MIDA could,” he said, explaining why MIDA stepped in to oversee the project.
Barnett, the developer, said MIDA’s involvement was instrumental.
“Without (tax-increment financing), without the support of MIDA, this project would not get done. I can tell you that 100%,” he said in an interview after the ceremony.
Stevenson, who is on the MIDA board and has been involved with the Hill Air Force Base-related projects since the 1990s, added that MIDA was able to help with transportation improvements, including to U.S. 40.
The Utah Department of Transportation is in the midst of a multi-million dollar project to build tunnels underneath the highway to connect the Mayflower project area to the Jordanelle Reservoir side across U.S. 40.
Barnett entered the scene seven years ago, he told the crowd, buying a 40-acre parcel of land on U.S. 40. Now, 22 deals later, that has grown to 7,000 acres.
Barnett said he didn’t have plans for a major development like the one he is building when he first purchased the land.
“I knew there was a MIDA potential deal there,” he said. “We were thinking much smaller scale, maybe doing a small hotel, some residential. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t thinking too straight, I just bought it. And then one thing led to another.”
Adams, the senate president and chair of the MIDA board, indicated it was exciting to be on the cusp of a development of this size and significance, especially given the project’s origins.
At a recent MIDA board meeting, as officials agreed to issue up to $260 million in debt to finance the project, Adams thanked Barnett for the partnership.
“If you’d have told me in 2002 that we could’ve moved that military facility into a project that has the amenities and the capacity of the project that Mr. Barnett is building, it would’ve made us all giggle,” Adams said.
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