One of New York City’s most significant developers, Gary Barnett and his development company Extell, is now firmly planted here in Utah as one of the largest property owners in Wasatch County. What was once sheep grazing and mining lands, the property known as Mayflower is now slated to be a premier resort village with hotels, conference space and recreational amenities.
Barnett was first introduced to Park City by his long-time friend Jack Bistricer almost 20 years ago. Bistricer, a businessman from Toronto, Canada, and his company, Talisker, is one of the largest landowners in the Park City area, after Talisker bought the acreage once owned by United Park City Mines Company. Talisker’s land holdings spread from Canyons Village to Deer Valley. Today, much of that property is leased to Vail Resorts which operates the largest ski resort in North America, Park City Mountain. With the exception of the nearly 4,000 acres that makes up Park City Mountain Resort, Jack Bistricer has defaulted on most of his Utah properties.
Barnett told KPCW he and Bistricer were partners in a couple of development projects.
“I was brought to Park City to invest in a piece of land that’s now known as Tuhaye, which is being developed now by Jack Bistricer’s company, so we were partners in that deal and in another deal in Kansas City,” Barnett said. “I was brought there by somebody I knew and we went down the road in terms of the acquisition and land development and then after a couple of years, Jack, we separated, we parted ways and he kept the Park City assets. I got the Kansas City asset and whatever, we split ways and so that was my first exposure and interest in Utah and in Park City.”
Then about six years ago, Barnett was introduced to the Blue Ledge parcel in Wasatch County by Van Hemeyer, who owned the property with Diana Swaner and sold it to Barnett. Both of them are now defendants in a sealed court case that Barnett filed last fall.
The Blue Ledge property piqued Barnett’s interest because it was, at the time, the only property located within what is known as the MIDA Control Area, which allows for a beneficial finance structure known as tax increment financing and overseen by an appointed board, rather than government officials.
“It was a small piece of property, 40 acres, but I was told that it was in the MIDA district which meant that there was more flexibility, but also more speed, less red tape in terms of potentially developing it," said Barnett. "I was also shown a very pretty design to what could be built there eventually. That wasn't quite accurate. But in any event, I went in there, I bought the property. We paid all cash and that was the start of what developed into, you know, significant land acquisition in that area.”
In addition he said land use approvals can be done quicker through MIDA instead of the Wasatch County planning office. MIDA has its own development code. For a project this size, and with this kind of investment, Barnett says time is of the essence.
“Keep in mind this is a substantial undertaking," Barnett said. "It needs certainty. It needs speed and sometimes the existing system can't really deal with something like this. It takes a lot of people. It takes a lot of time and the local authorities have got a ton of stuff on their plate already. On the other hand, we're looking at making major commitments. You know this is going to be multi hundreds of millions of dollars expended. Just the first hotel is going to be very significant, so we need to know with certainty that we're going to kind of get something done. We're going to be able to get the rest of the community done. Because it's all about out a critical mass here. You can't build a village if you don't know you're going to be able to build the end of the village. I mean the resorts towns of the west are littered with developments and projects that started out very nicely and then hit a downturn and then never got finished or got finished over 10 or 20 or 30 years later. So, it's so important to get something that successful that everybody will enjoy that will make an addition to the community so it's very important to have this kind of clarity speed and certainty.”
Barnett says he’s been friends with Jack Bistricer going back some 40 years. He says they have parted ways in the Utah and Kansas City development projects. Given the fact that no operating agreement exists between the Mayflower development and Deer Valley Resort currently, KPCW asked Barnett if he has any plans to connect Mayflower Resort to Park City Mountain Resort since his friend Bistricer owns the land that’s leased to Vail Resorts. Barnett wouldn’t answer, saying he doesn’t comment on speculation.
“I don't know. I mean Park City, I think Jack owns the land under the Canyons resort maybe and lease it to Alterra. I'm not sure what the arrangement is, not told Alterra, oh sorry, to Vail Resorts so but I don't think he controls what goes on terms of linking or not linking, but I really don't know. I'm not familiar with, you know, with other parties' plans."
KPCW's Leslie Thatcher asked, "OK. So no negotiations taking place then to become maybe part of Vail Resorts as opposed to Deer Valley resort?"
Barnett replied, "I'm not just not going to comment on those kind of questions."
Barnett: "Because I'm not. It's a speculative type of question and I'm not answering on that.”
When asked for a comment about whether Park City Mountain Resort is discussing the possibility of connecting the resort with Mayflower Mountain, resort spokeswoman Jessica Miller said the resort doesn’t comment on or speculate about rumors.