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Hines preps a big splash in Montana

The company responsible for the base village at Aspen Highlands is preparing to make its mark on other Western ski resorts.

Hines Resorts announced Monday it signed on as a partner to develop a $300 million village at the base of Big Mountain in northwest Montana.

Big Mountain’s owner, the publicly-traded Winter Sports Inc., will sell land incrementally to Hines for development at the base of the 3,000-acre ski area. Hines will build luxury single-family homes, townhouses, condominiums, employee housing and at least one hotel, according to Bob Daniel, a vice president with the Hines organization. The 700 residential and lodging units along with 80,000 square feet of commercial space and a conference center will be phased in over eight to 10 years.

The move comes as Hines is close to completing the five-year, $300 million Highlands Village project. The Big Mountain announcement could signal company founder and chairman Gerald Hines’ move into an even bigger role in resort development.

“We have been looking for additional opportunities for our company,” said Daniel, a former engineer in Aspen who has risen through the ranks of Hines after joining the development firm in the early 1990s.

Daniel confirmed that Hines Resorts is interested in exploring opportunities that may arise at the Base Village at Snowmass and the redevelopment at Winter Park.

Gerald Hines owns a small portion of the Aspen Skiing Co., and he worked with the company in the development of Highlands Village. The Skico acquired lucrative property at the base of Snowmass Ski Area last year and is preparing a development plan that features new chairlifts and skier services, short-term tourist accommodations and commercial space.

The Skico has talked with resort development giant Intrawest Corp. about the possibility of becoming a development partner at Base Village. Daniel said Hines Resorts is also interested in assessing a role.

“It’s in a market where we’re established,” he noted.

Hines also entered the Winter Park market by developing the 230-unit Zephyr Mountain Lodge. The future of that ski area, which is owned by the city of Denver, is uncertain. A committee is studying whether Denver should sell it to a private owner and partner with a development firm.

“We’re not in the business of running ski areas,” noted Daniel. But the company wouldn’t rule out a development role.

“We believe in that market. We feel strongly about it,” he said.

Hines is one of the biggest real estate development companies in the world. It has offices in every major U.S. city and 11 other countries. It entered the resort development business in the early 1990s and has developed the River Valley Ranch golf and residential project in Carbondale and the Five Trees affordable and free-market housing in Aspen. Highlands Village is expected to be completed in 2002.

Daniel said Hines was interested in Big Mountain because of its big potential. The ski area, which is the size of Snowmass, had only about 280,000 skier and rider visits last season, so its growth potential is tremendous.

About 1,600 pillows are currently available at the resort, which is about eight miles north of Whitefish, Mont. The new project, called Glacier Village at Big Mountain, will boost that number to 5,400.

Big Mountain also has great summer tourism appeal because Glacier National Park, which attracted 1.8 million visitors last year, is 32 miles to the east.

Speaking from Whitefish Monday, Daniel said there’s only a small amount of development at the base of the ski area. Glacier Village will be built “right at ground zero, right at the base of the mountain,” he said.

A master plan for the ski area and village was developed by Aspen-based Design Workshop.

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