Sunlight Resort sale far from sure thing
December 4, 2006
The president of Sunlight Mountain Resort is suggesting a sale may not be so imminent after all.”I wouldn’t go out and stand in the cold waiting for it to happen,” said Richard Schafstall, also the Glenwood Springs resort’s board chairman.Schafstall also said Monday that further development of the resort is necessary to ensure its long-term viability.”There’s no question that we can’t keep going along like what we’re doing,” he said.Sunlight is on the market for $50 million. The asking price is based on the assumption that the buyer would develop hundreds of residential units on acreage Sunlight owns at the base of the ski resort.In mid-November, John Watt – managing broker with Avon-based Jerry D. Jones Real Estate, which is marketing the resort – said there was an agreement in principle and that a sale contract could be a week away if final details were worked out. But some three weeks later, those talks have yet to produce a deal with the prospective buyer, who is from the Southeast. And Schafstall, a Tennessee attorney who is handling the negotiations, on Monday was more cautious than Watts has been in describing their status.”He’s a salesman and he’s a broker,” Schafstall said. “A lot of times I think they’re a lot more optimistic than we lawyers are. We’ve got to work through the details and the language, and sometimes the devil’s in the details.”He was reluctant to estimate when, or if, a deal might be forthcoming.”Could it happen in a week? Yes. Could it not happen in a year and a half? Yes. It’s going to sell, but is it going to sell to the person that we’re primarily dealing with right now? … I don’t know,” Schafstall said.With such high-priced deals, “a lot of things can cause things to fall through. When that happens then you’ve got to start over with someone else,” he said. “I’m optimistic. We hope to get it done, but it’s not done.”Even as talks with the primary suitor continue, so do discussions with other interested parties. In fact, Schafstall said the resort has had some new leads recently regarding others interested in the resort, which has been on the market for more than a year.The idea of a major development occurring at Sunlight is creating anxiety for some Glenwood-area residents who like the character of the place now. But Schafstall said change is needed.He said the resort has an old clubhouse and lifts. If it had something like a gearbox go out of one particularly old lift, it might be hard to replace it, he said.”If we were to lose a lift, it would be devastating,” he said.Summing up the problem, Schafstall said, “We don’t have enough bed base up there to generate a profit to upgrade the infrastructure. Without that, the future of Sunlight doesn’t look good, but that’s not to say that we don’t believe somebody will come along and put some bed base up there. It just has to happen for Sunlight to be able to survive. We’re not making a profit up there, and even with some awfully good snow, the locals, there’s not enough of them to support it,” he said.He said Glenwood has lost some of its lodging base to support the resort because people in the natural gas industry are now using some rooms.Schafstall emphasized that Sunlight’s owners have no intention of closing the resort if it doesn’t sell. But he said the owners had serious discussions about trying to pursue development at the resort themselves and decided it was better left to younger people in the development business.”I wish I was 50 instead of 65. If I was I’d be looking forward to being part of the group that was able to get that thing developed up there,” he said.Sunlight Inc., a Colorado corporation with some three dozen shareholders, about a third of them local, owns Sunlight. Schafstall said he owns a small share of the resort.The resort’s principal investors each own about a third of the company. One is Leonard Lorentson, a manufacturer living in Indiana, and a close friend of Schafstall’s who went to college with him. The second is Michael Bodnar, former chief executive officer of the Shoney’s restaurant chain. Schafstall worked with Bodnar at Shoney’s. After retiring, Schafstall became more active in managing Sunlight over the last three or four years, he said.Schafstall said he has heard people say they hope Sunlight “doesn’t turn into an Aspen or Vail or that kind of thing.””I wouldn’t think anybody coming in there, unless the buyer was Aspen or Vail, other than that I don’t think anyone coming in there would want to turn it into that kind of product,” he said.He said Sunlight has talked to numerous interested parties, and only a few left him uncomfortable regarding their intentions for the resort. “But they’ve since come and gone,” he said.He said the top goal for Sunlight is to become even more of an asset to the community, through means such as installing newer, faster lifts and opening more of the mountain to skiers and snowboarders. But people need to be prepared to see other development at the resort as well.”If they think they could just sit back and keep it the way it is, that’s not going to happen,” he said.The Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.