Developer inks deal to buy Sunlight | AspenTimes.com

Developer inks deal to buy Sunlight

Dennis Webb
Glenwood Springs correspondent

Chris Masterson snowboards down to the bottom of Sunlight Mountain Resort on Dec. 1. A contract has been signed to sell Sunlight Mountain Resort to Exquisite Development, a company based in Destin, Fla. (Kara K. Pearson/Post Independent file)

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. ” Sunlight Mountain Resort has signed a contract to be sold to a Florida development company, resort officials said Saturday.

General manager Tom Jankovsky said the ski area, located near Glenwood Springs, has agreed to be purchased by Exquisite Development, a company based in Destin, Fla., on the Florida Panhandle.

Financial terms of the deal are being kept confidential by the privately owned resort. The resort went up for sale last fall at an asking price of $50 million.

The sale is subject to contingencies including winning approval from Garfield County for development of residential units at the base of the resort. Sunlight officials say money from the development is necessary to pay for badly needed infrastructure improvements at the resort.

Sunlight plans to work in cooperation with Exquisite Development to pursue development approval. Jankovsky said the buyer plans to keep him and the rest of the existing Sunlight management team in place. He said Exquisite Development doesn’t have a background in the ski industry and has done much of its work in Florida.

“This is their first venture into Colorado,” Jankovsky said.

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He said the company is working to put together a development planning team. It has hired local attorney Larry Green, also Sunlight’s attorney, and Louis Meyer, a local engineer who also is on Sunlight’s board of directors.

Sunlight officials planned to meet with employees this morning to discuss the sale with them.

Mike Dooley, operating officer with Exquisite Development, could not be reached for comment Saturday. Exquisite officials have been in town to introduce themselves to local officials and begin building a development team.

“I’m really encouraged because they’re using local folks” on that team, said Richard Schafstall, president of Sunlight’s board.

Jankovsky said Sunlight officials had been talking with Exquisite Development since August. They came into contact with the company through a Sunlight board member, Tom Brigham, who is a real estate agent in the Southeast. Brigham’s brother, Peter, used to own the Sunlight Inn and owns residential properties near the base of Sunlight.

A real estate company owned by Jerry Jones of Avon marketed the resort, and company representatives indicated that there had been strong and steady interest in buying it since it went on the market, including by several parties that visited the property.

While other prospective buyers were continuing to inquire about Sunlight, Jankovsky said that recently, Sunlight primarily talked with Exquisite Development.

“These guys have the most wherewithal. They have the ability to do this,” he said.

A deal with Exquisite Development appeared imminent in mid-November. But negotiations continued for several weeks and Schafstall had cautioned just last week that it was possible the deal could fall through.

“There were several issues that were outstanding. I was hopeful that they would be resolved,” Schafstall said Saturday. “… They just fell into place all at once. They just started falling like dominoes and we got them resolved.”

The prospect of the sale and development of Sunlight has created some unease among devotees of the resort, which is seen as a less-crowded, less-expensive alternative to Colorado’s major ski areas. Jankovsky said prospective buyers “have expressed their interest in keeping this affordable for the local skiers.”

While improvements and development must occur, the goal is to maintain the resort’s local flavor, he said.

He said it’s too early to know what amount of residential development the buyers may pursue. An existing master plan for the resort calls for 780 homes to be built there, but it hasn’t been subject to county review.

Sunlight’s asking price was based largely on the development potential for some 450 acres owned by the resort.

Jankovsky said the sale probably wouldn’t be completed for a couple of years, while the development review process occurs.

“What you’re going to see from us initially is not going to be huge changes from the resort. It’s all going to be planning stuff,” he said.

Sunlight, with 470 skiable acres, also hopes the sale will allow for significant upgrades to outdated lifts, to snowmaking, and to the day area at the base of the mountain.

“Whether there is climate change or not, just to give us the stability, the snowmaking is really important,” Jankovsky said.

“It’s been a while since we’ve had anything up here happen” in terms of improvements, Jankovsky said. “It’s time. Our infrastructure’s getting old. Something has to happen.”

Sunlight is marking its 40th anniversary this season.

The resort is owned by Sunlight Inc., a Colorado corporation with some three dozen shareholders, about a third of them local. The resort’s principal investors each own about a third of the company. One is Leonard Lorentson, a manufacturer living in Indiana, and the other is Michael Bodnar, former chief executive officer of the Shoney’s restaurant chain.

The Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.