By Amy Donaldson: Contributor to Deseret News
For nearly 40 years, no developer has managed to build and open a new, full-service ski resort, but it’s not because there wasn’t demand for one or a desire to do so.
”I know that the mountains are littered with developers who thought they were going to do something and nothing happened,” said Gary Barnett, founder and chairman of Extell Development Company, who unveiled plans Monday for a ski resort and village that includes hotels, condominiums and residential housing.
”I mean, nothing has really been done in the country in the last 30 years, since Beaver Creek, really. … It’s so hard to do.”
So what makes a guy who doesn’t even ski think he can do what no one else has managed since 1980? A unique set of circumstances and colleagues with a vision.
”I think once again, one of the important things for us was the ability to tap into tax increment financing,” he said, referring to the fact that Wasatch County had designated the Mayflower Resort area as a place where Utah’s Military Industrial Development Agency could build a recreation hotel, which returns some of the property tax generated from development to developers in exchange for reduced fees for military personnel.
”The fact that MIDA is there, supporting it and helping speed up the process, was a very necessary component for me to get involved. I would not have gotten involved otherwise,” Barnett said.
The project — Mayflower Mountain Resort — is ambitious in its scope, with plans for 5,600 acres that are just west of U.S. 40 and Jordanelle Reservoir (near Exit 8) and adjacent to Deer Valley that includes 1,520 residential units, 825 hotel rooms and commercial units and 600 skier parking spaces.
It will be the first recreation project created to work with the military for the state, said Kurt Krieg, vice president of development. The Military Industrial Development Agency is a state-run economic development entity with a military focus, which in this case, offers ski resort vacation opportunities to military personnel at a fraction of the cost.
Among the advantages the new resort will have is its proximity to one of the state’s top rated resorts — Deer Valley.
”We have the ability to connect to Deer Valley,” Barnett said, noting that Extell just renegotiated a lease of land to Deer Valley that makes the future more predictable for both entities.
”Obviously, they’d have to purchase a Deer Valley ticket, but there is that ability to provide skiing. We feel like the access from our side of the mountain is exceptional.”
The location of Mayflower may offer it some unique advantages that other start-ups don’t enjoy, including 35 minutes and no stop lights from the Salt Lake City International Airport to the freeway exit.
”There is no other resort of this scale, maybe around the world, that I know of that is 35 minutes from a major, international airport,” he said. “It’s going to have access to everywhere. … That’s the No. 1 thing Utah has going for it is this access. And we have straight highway, no traffic lights. … So we’ve got everything in our favor to get this thing done.”
The goal is to have the village and some ski runs open within five years. Extell has discussed climate change challenges, as they planned the development and acquired land, Barnett said. It also hopes to be supportive, if not involved in, Utah’s bid for another Winter Olympics in 2030 or 2034.
“We love the idea, and we’d love to be involved in it,” he said. “Anything we do would have to be coordinated with Deer Valley and the state of Utah, but we certainly love the idea of playing a very active role. We hope we get it in 2030.”
Some of what Barnett and his team envision is similar to what’s out there. Some of it is unique. But before they can begin to build anything, they are conducting a voluntary cleanup of the mountain, because the last mining companies left in 1969 without the resources to clean up any contamination. The land has been vacant, even as development occurred around it, in part because of the contamination and in part because it was owned by a foreign trust with a trustee who sought a higher price than anyone was willing to pay.
As the trustees re-negotiated representation, the land became available and then it was a matter of cleaning up the contamination in order to develop it in the ways Extell envisions.
On Monday, several members of the Extell team and the Military Industrial Development Agency representatives took media on a tour of the picturesque site, pointing out where ski lifts might be, where water tanks will be installed and how cleanup will work.
In some places, as much as 18 inches of soil is being removed and it will be taken to a central location and capped, as is standard in these types of cases, according to Krieg, who led the tour.
While no other full service resort has opened in the U.S. since 1980, about a half dozen terrain parks or ski resorts without on-site lodging have opened, including Cherry Peak, which is 20 minutes outside Logan, and two hours north of Salt Lake City. But nothing like most of Utah’s resorts — and nothing like what Extell has planned for Mayflower Resort.
”We have the makings of a really beautiful resort town,” he said. “And that’s what we’re looking at doing.”