Tom Clyde: They found the pony
Amazing things happen around here. After a 35-year standoff between the owners of the Treasure project and Park City, the earth shifted and suddenly there is a deal on the table to buy the whole kit and caboodle for $64 million. It seemed like a miracle when the prior deal to buy half of the project for $30 million was announced. That seemed like a pretty tolerable resolution to the problem, though I still held out hope that there was a way to eliminate the other half. And now there is.
Having spent much of my life working on this kind of stuff, I have to admire the people involved. The property owners probably looked at an offer of $64 million in cash, and weighed that against the risks of having to borrow ten times that much to build a project of that size. Despite a whole lot of study (literally a generation has passed), there are some terrible risks in something like Treasure, beginning with an excavation process that would take more than two years, during which they would encounter who-knows-what in the bowels of the Earth. We’ve all seen the market sputter and flame out around here often enough to be leery of multi-decade projects that don’t stand a chance of turning profitable until about November of year 20. Canyons Village comes to mind.
So while the property owners had every reason to take the money and run, it can’t have been easy to put a deal together. Putting a price on something like that is difficult even if you have construction drawings in hand. Here, there are still the unresolved density allowance and other ambiguities in the ancient approval. Appraisers determine value by looking at the prices paid for comparable properties. The problem here is we don’t know if the comparable is the St. Regis or the Doubletree (which will always be the Yarrow, like the grocery store will always be Dan’s).
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to know if $64 million is a fair price or not. The owners had reportedly asked for $90 million a few years ago. So maybe it’s a deep discount. Unless, of course, the ground is honeycombed with mine shafts and the footings would have to extend to Beijing, or the mountain side is unstable and would slide into the excavation faster than they could dig it out. Then maybe it’s too much. But if we can eliminate this monstrosity and preserve what’s left of the character of Old Town, it’s worth it.
Of course it’s easy for me to say an additional $64 million in bonds is worth it. I live outside city limits and won’t be paying for it, or voting on it. When you add the City’s recent real estate ventures up, it’s big money, even for Park City. $29 million on Bonanza Flat, $19 or $20 million for the proposed Arts District, and now this. They are funded differently, but it begins to add up. The school district still has big plans, paid for by a larger group of taxpayers. But opportunity doesn’t always come at convenient times.
This didn’t happen easily. The City Council, staff — especially the planning department — and the Planning Commission have put in a year’s worth of work in the last few months getting to the 50 percent deal, and are now driving a stake through its heart. Mostly, the only recognition Planning Commission members get is when people scream at them at the grocery store. I left city government when I was threatened in the produce aisle by an otherwise reasonable woman thrusting a bunch of carrots in my face, yelling about a proposed zone change. We all see the planning mistakes. If the decisions are good, we don’t notice so much that amenities are conveniently placed in town, or that circulation works smoothly. Nobody thinks about a sign code until somebody plops a billboard on the entrance to Kamas.
So here’s a big thanks to the City Council, staff and Planning Commissioners for diving into this mess. I’m reminded of the story about a man who saw a young boy enthusiastically digging through a huge pile of manure. “Why would anybody do that?” the man asked. The boy responded, “There’s got to be a pony in here somewhere.” City government has found the pony this time.
Which brings up the other end of the spectrum. I watched the State of the Union speech. Looking at the shots of Congress sitting there, cheering or grimacing on cue, was so discouraging. That group couldn’t agree to vacate a burning building if the flames were singeing their imported suits. If one party voted to exit, the other would stay, just because. The contrast between an effective local government finding a solution to a problem, and Congress raising campaign money by not solving it couldn’t be more discouraging.
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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Tom Clyde was not impressed with Jeff Bezos’ recent trip to “space,” though it does make him wonder if space tourism should be in Park City’s future.