Caught in the crossfire
September 6, 2013
I parked at the PCMR parking lot for Miners Day on Monday. Things were hopping, and not just for the events on Main Street and in the park — the resort’s summer activities were very busy. Monday was supposed to the big eviction day, and nobody was packing.
Under the Talisker/Vail deal, Vail has taken over management of the litigation with PCMR over the lease renewal. The deal gives Vail the upper mountain at PCMR, if only they can get PCMR to move. The upper mountain without access from the base facilities is basically sheep-grazing land, but there are grand plans and rumors out there. Anyway, to jump-start stalled negotiations, Vail served PCMR with a formal eviction notice. There’s nothing subtle about an eviction notice; no room for interpretation. When translated from the legalese, it says, "Move your crap and get out in five days, or the Sheriff will do it for you. We’ll bring in the SWAT team if necessary."
That’s a big deal, and it was reported as such in The Park Record and elsewhere. I watched it on Google, and within hours, it was nationwide. It was reported in Salt Lake, Minneapolis, Denver, Washington D.C., and ABC’s national travel section, among others. The reports were abbreviated, and just said that PCMR was being evicted. Period. Later, a spokesperson for Vail basically said, "Eviction notice? Oh, that. No, we didn’t really mean it. Just those crazy lawyers. Never mind." The official word was that they didn’t intend to interfere with the operation of PCMR’s business for the coming season. Whew.
Except that they already interfered with PCMR’s business, and they interfered with every business in town. Once the doubt is planted out there, people living far away who aren’t familiar with this convoluted dispute won’t understand it. The "never mind" story didn’t get any play at all. So if you are booking a $10,000 ski vacation this winter, you might very well consider going someplace else where you don’t have to wonder if they will be open.
It doesn’t just affect PCMR. If half of the ski capacity in town is thought to be in jeopardy, you would wonder if lift lines at Deer Valley or the Canyons would be so long that your vacation wouldn’t be as planned. If you are bussing tables or running a big hotel, you are collateral damage. It’s hard to know how much damage the eviction-that-wasn’t will do to your restaurant, ski shop, nightly rental, and so on. This is the time of year when vacations are being booked. I don’t know if reservations are being cancelled or if the phones stopped ringing, but I’m certain that the news didn’t persuade anybody to pick up the phone and book a trip to Park City.
I spent enough of my life in the lawyer mode that I understand the dispute, and understand why Vail’s lawyers thought it was a good idea to serve the eviction notice. What I don’t understand is why the management, the client making the business judgments on this deal, allowed it to happen. It will damage the entire economy, including business at the Canyons.
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Friends who had just bought season passes were calling me to get some assurance that they hadn’t thrown their money away. I’ve got no inside information to offer, but really believe that we will see business as usual this winter, just like we have for the last couple while the dispute has been going on. Not even lawyers can be that stupid. But if well-informed locals are concerned, the proverbial tourist from Chicago or Los Angeles has to be completely baffled. That’s not good for any of us.
The court has already ruled that PCMR didn’t properly exercise the renewal option. The litigation is now about whether there were extenuating circumstances that would excuse strict compliance with the notice requirement, and leave the lease in place. In the end, PCMR will probably end up paying market rent (which isn’t anywhere near the $25 million Vail claims it is paying to lease the Canyons). The old rate was so far below market that I suspect Vail/Talisker are pushing for a new rate that will average it up to market over the last 10 or 15 years, while PCMR may be willing to agree to market rent for landlocked sheep pasture, starting today. Or they could switch positions, and Vail could lease the base and run the whole thing.
It’s really not a complicated dispute—just a difficult number to agree on given the history. But it’s a dispute that is bad for the entire community. Needed upgrades aren’t happening, long term planning is in limbo, and now that Vail has made it clear that they are willing to shoot innocent bystanders, everybody is at risk.
Welcome to town, Vail.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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