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Tamarack turnaround begins

A Nov. 19 drone shot of the Tamarack Resort shows three buildings that that will be finished in the year ahead. Photo courtesy of Tamarack Resort Holdings.

The new owners of the Tamarack Resort have a fresh vision for a problem-plagued property that has seen several different names and operators since opening in 2004.

The four-season mountain resort near Donnelly clearly has languished for more than a decade in the shadows of other Idaho resorts, said a Tamarack official who’s been hired by the owners to put the new vision in place and eventually turn a profit.

Nobody’s talking dollars at this point, but the partnership has an ambitious makeover plan on the drawing boards. To that end, it has hired an experienced hand, a self-described former ski bum, with a knack for turning around resort operations that have hit the skids, to execute their plans.

“It has somewhat of a checkered past,” said Jon Reveal,  president of the newly formed Tamarack Resort Holdings, a consortium of investors and managers with decades of experience at resort  properties across North America. They closed on the property Nov. 30.

Reveal’s CV includes a two-year stint as ski area manager at Arapahoe Basin, a money pit of a Colorado resort that he helped bring back into the black within two years. “It’s not that difficult to do,” said an upbeat Reveal about a turnaround project. “You just have to stay laser focused on the guest experience.”

Reveal, who doesn’t have an ownership stake in the TRH venture, recently described the task ahead as the checklist before him grows day by day. First and foremost is wrapping up construction of three “partially finished condominium” buildings and an incomplete retail component that Reveal calls “Tyvek Village.”

“It’s like someone blew a whistle and (contractors) picked up their tools and left,” said Reveal, describing plans still sitting on tables, sawdust on the floors where boards were being cut, and the hoodie of a construction worker left hanging on the wall in one of the empty condo apartments.

“All this (trouble) dovetailed with the beginning of the Great Recession,” said Reveal, a time when the U.S. economy tanked, resulting in condo sales cratering at Tamarack. Visitation also declined and potential tenants pulled the plug on plans to do business at the resort.

Construction activity essentially came to a halt, said Reveal, who most recently served as general manager of Sleeping Giant, a nonprofit ski area near Cody, Wyoming.

TRH purchased all key assets to operate the property, which comprises the sale of 2,000 acres from the state and another 1,300 acres from various owners.

Those assets on the mountain include ski lifts and operations equipment, lodge amenities, lodging operations, telecommunications, utilities, lake front equipment, sewer and water bonds, a portion of a golf course and the unfinished Village Plaza.

TRH also purchased other private real estate assets and parcels and is taking over the lease to operate The Arling Center event venue. When the transactions closed, the parties did not reveal the terms of the deal that took about 18 months to hammer out. “There were a lot of moving parts to sort out,” said Reveal, who has lived at Tamarack since June.

For the past eight years, the Tamarack Municipal Association has operated the resort.

“Tamarack homeowners have always believed in this place, and we welcome an owner with the experience and expertise that TRH brings to execute on the original vision of the resort,” said Tamarack Municipal Association President Louise Francesconi. “Completion of the long-anticipated Village Plaza, in addition to expanded recreation and lodging offerings, will help Tamarack reach its full potential.”

Asked the total investment of eventually bringing Tamarack to a level that is on par with other Idaho resorts, Reveal said the principals – comprised of the Imperium Companies, MMG Equity Partners, and Blue River Family Office Partners – are still “costing this out.”

He said the owners are awaiting bids from subcontractors for future residential and commercial construction. “We really don’t know dollar wise” what the final budget will be, he said of a resort that’s envisioned as a place that guests will patronize year-round.

“These are guys that are using their own money,” said Reveal about the backers. “There won’t be a lot of debt on this project,” he said of Tamarack, which had 85,000 visitors last year. Construction at the resort, which originally was called Valbois, began in 2003 and chairlift service started the following year.

“In February and March, we plan on having boots on the ground” for a construction project that will see the completion of condominium units in three buildings that have sat empty, said Reveal. “We may have 62 new units finished by next year,” he said of an area in Idaho that’s popular with second-home owners.

At the same time, the development team will be awarding bids from contractors to complete construction of the Village Plaza, with a goal to begin in early 2019 and be ready for the 2019-2020 winter season. The completed Village Plaza will include retail, restaurant, lodging and resort operations.

“We’ll really have a ‘there’ there,” he said of the newly imagined Tamarack, which will offer a blend of short- and long-term accommodations, shopping, dining areas and conference and entertainment facilities.

Visitors to Tamarack Resort this winter will not experience any noticeable changes. The temporary base village will remain intact throughout this season; season passes and Express Cards purchased for the 2018-19 season will be honored; day ticket prices will remain the same; and all previously scheduled events, weddings, conferences and competitions will be honored and will proceed as scheduled.

“It’s the beginning of a new era for Tamarack,” said Reveal. He predicts that, over time, the resort has the potential to be one of the “top 10 to 15 ski areas” in the U.S.

“We want to be as good as we can be and then eventually as good as other ski areas like Bogus Basin and Brundage,” said Reveal about an Idaho industry with a wide-ranging economic impact. “We want to be part of a threesome (of resorts) that’s getting more people to come up and go skiing and taking part in other outdoors activities.”

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